Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 10/10/12

It’s never too soon to think about how the Bears can improve for next season. I have some suggestions for GM Phil Emery.

Spirits are high in Chicago. The Bears moved to 4-1 with a dominating 41-3 victory in Jacksonville over the weekend. As an aside, I’d like to point out that I predicted the Bears would be sitting at this exact record heading into their bye week (you can find that proof here and here).

But I digress. Instead of celebrating the huge win, or gloating about my apparent psychic powers, I wanted to focus on how the Bears can get better.

Why did I decide to rain on the parade of a win by critiquing the team’s talent? Because I think with 2 key moves in the offseason, the Bears can find themselves on the right side of lopsided final scores like we saw last Sunday, only against much better opponents than the Jaguars.

Don’t mistake my constructive criticism for a lack of excitement about the current team. But the truly great teams never stop focusing on how they can get better, no matter how good they are. That constant drive to be better than the day before separates the elite teams from the championship teams.

Right now, the Bears are an elite team. With a couple of smart moves, Phil Emery can turn this team into a perennial title contender.

There are 11 players on the roster who can potentially test the open market, but only Brian Urlacher stands out as a guy the Bears must resign.

It’s impossible to imagine Urlacher wearing anything other than navy and orange, and he has already stated he wants to finish his career as a Bear. And unfortunately for Brian, age and injuries are catching up to him in a way that may disinterest many potential buyers.

I have total confidence in Phil Emery that he can strike a short term deal with Urlacher that both sides can be pleased about. Urlacher can fulfill his wish of being a life-long Bear, and the team won’t be financially handcuffed by a long term deal.

Other than Urlacher, the rest of the list of Bear’s free agents is made up by Johnny Knox, Henry Melton, and a few other serviceable players who the Bears should have no problem resigning. But if they don’t resign all of them, who cares? It will be an easy job to replace a guy like Khalil Bell or Geno Hayes.

I don’t intend to focus on how the Bears can fill minor holes in their roster. I’m looking at how the Bears can make an immediate impact on their roster with 2 crucial moves.

The first move that the Bears must make is addressing the offensive line, particularly left tackle. I don’t know how many years back you can go where this statement would still apply, but it’s about time they do something about this shoddy bunch up front.

The line has been mediocre this season, but they’ve had their fair share of nasty moments in only 5 games. In one of my previous articles, I noted that the Bears have the lowest strength of schedule in team history this year. It’s good that they’re taking advantage of lowly opponents, but we can’t project that the line will hold up just as well against the better defenses the Bears will face down the road.

The Bears should try to fill this gap on the line in free agency versus in the draft. Drafting linemen can be a crapshoot. The jump from the NCAA to the NFL is extremely hard to make, and many guys never find a way to overcome this talent gap. That’s why a young free agent with NFL experience would be the best route for the Bears to take.

Luckily for the Bears, the crop of free agent offensive linemen in this upcoming offseason is loaded with young, proven talent.

Top 2013 Free Agent Offensive Tackles*

-          Jake Long, Dolphins (26 yrs old): 4 time Pro Bowler, 1 time 1st Team All Pro

-          Ryan Clady, Broncos (26): 1 time Pro Bowler, 1 time 1st Team All Pro

-          Sebastian Volmer, Patriots (28): 1 time 2nd Team All Pro

-          Branden Albert, Chiefs (28): 2008 15th Overall Pick

-          Andre Smith, Bengals (26): 2009 6th Overall Pick

-          Jermon Bushrod, Saints (29): 1 time Pro Bowler

All of these players are either right in the middle of or are just hitting their prime. Even if we’re to assume that Jake Long and Ryan Clady are most likely going to resign with their respective teams, you would still have 4 stud left tackles to choose from who are listed in the “Top 50 NFL Free Agents of 2013”*.

Take your pick; any name on the list will be a better pass protector than J’Marcus Webb. Both the passing and running games would benefit, and any of these players could serve as mentors to right tackle Gabe Carimi.

The mentoring aspect leads me to my 2nd crucial move the Bears should make this offseason: using their 1st round pick on a middle linebacker.

I just made the case for why Brian Urlacher will most likely return to the Bears next season, but that shouldn’t detract from the Bears looking in to someone who can take his place in the near future.

If the Bears keep up their winning ways they’ll have a low 1st round pick. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of talent at the linebacker position to choose from. The crop of middle linebackers slated for the 2013 draft has been declared by some to be the deepest pool of talent at the position in decades.

The Bears should have no problem finding Urlacher’s future replacement somewhere in this list of names:

Top Middle Line Backer Prospects for 2013 NFL Draft**

-          Manti Te’o, Senior, Notre Dame

-          Shayne Skov, Senior, Stanford

-          C.J. Mosley, Junior,Alabama

-          Alec Ogletree, Junior,Georgia

-          Kevin Reddick, Senior,North Carolina

These 5 players, and a few others I didn’t list, all have the talent to go in the 1st and 2nd rounds. Not many other teams in next year’s draft will be looking for help at the linebacker position either.

It will be up to the front office to decide which of these players would fit best in the 4-3 defensive scheme the Bears run, but if the Bears do decide to draft an inside linebacker, he will be one lucky man. Not only will he get to learn from a living legend in Brian Urlacher, he will have a defensive unit surrounding him that is one of the best in the NFL.

As the season progresses, bigger needs may arise for the Bears to address in the offseason. But as it stands right now, signing a franchise left tackle and drafting a top middle linebacker prospect would put this team in position to win in the present and well into the future.

Do you agree with my proposed moves? Or are there more important needs you feel the Bears should address first?

*List of Top Free Agent OTs and Top 50 Free Agents according to NFLTradeRumors.com

**List of Linebacker Prospects according to SBNation.com

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