New Bears general manager Phil Emery doesn't have to worry about hiring a head coach -- at least for a year -- since one of the conditions of his job was that he retain Lovie Smith for the 2012 season.
But the 53-year-old Emery, who was hired Saturday, will have plenty to keep him busy as he attempts to close the talent gap between the Bears and their NFC North rivals in Green Bay and Detroit, which Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips has identified as Job One.
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Emery's field of expertise is in evaluating college talent, which he has done for the past 14 years. But he will need to hire assistants to handle the pro side of talent evaluation and decide which of the Bears' area college scouts will be retained.
That last part should be easy, considering Emery worked with four of the Bears' six current area scouts when he was one of them from 1998-2004. During that time, Emery was a contemporary of current Bears college coaches Chris Ballard, Marty Barrett, Ted Monago and Jeff Shiver. Barrett and Shiver worked alongside Emery for his entire seven-year stay in Chicago, while Ballard and Monago joined the team in 2001.
Area scouts Rex Hogan and Mark Sadowski joined the Bears after Emery had taken the director of college scouting job with the Atlanta Falcons, which preceded his most recent gig as the Kansas City Chiefs' director of college scouting.
As the new leader of the Bears' football operation, Emery is already contemplating the following topics:
Unrestricted free agency:
The market opens March 13 and is the quickest path to improvement. It's also the most expensive.
Traditionally, a minor player when it comes to making major moves, the Bears temporarily shed their cheapskate reputation in 2010, going all in on defensive end Julius Peppers, running back Chester Taylor and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. Peppers has made the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons with the Bears. The other two were co-captains of the All-Bust team.
A year ago the Bears focused on second-tier players like offensive lineman Chris Spencer, punter Adam Podlesh and tight end Matt Spaeth and got better bang for their bucks. This time around the Bears have pressing needs at wide receiver and offensive line plus concerns about their secondary and their depth in the defensive front seven.
Retaining their own free agents:
The Bears have 14 free agents, including restricted free-agent running back Kahlil Bell. The only indispensable player in the group is running back Matt Forte, who could wind up with the franchise tag and another reason to whine about money.
Defensive end Israel Idonije is also a player the Bears want/need to re-sign, and backup quarterback Josh McCown presents an interesting situation. In addition, there are five unrestricted free agents (Zack Bowman, Corey Graham, Tim Jennings, Brandon Meriweather and Craig Steltz) in a secondary short on talent. None are irreplaceable, but all five have started multiple games at some point in the past two seasons.
No aspect of Emery's performance will be scrutinized more than his ability to add talent through the draft, as his predecessor Jerry Angelo can attest.
With the 19th overall selection, most draft analysts have the Bears going for a big wide receiver, but there are enough needs that they can take the best player available and find an immediate opening for him. The Bears have all their own picks this year plus an extra third-round pick from last year's Greg Olsen trade.
While the defense is still above average, five starters are on the wrong side of 30. Young reinforcements are needed, if not immediately, then soon.
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