if Lovie Smith gets fired, how long after the purge will it take the Bears to have a winning season? -- @joshohmart, from Twitter
No matter what happens the rest of the way this season, I would say the chances of the Bears being worse next season would be enhanced by a coaching change. A new coach would probably want to make system changes and significant personnel changes. He likely would want to purge some of the old guys and rebuild, though he would never call it rebuilding. There were seven coaching changes in the NFL last season. Only three of the teams that made changes -- the Colts, Bucs and Rams -- have shown significant improvement. The Dolphins are playing at about the same level they did a year ago. The Jaguars, Raiders and Chiefs are worse.
No, it would be too early. You have to let the season play out. But I'll say this. General managers and owners all over the NFL need to be prepared in the event that they decide to make a change. Dec. 31 is too late to start doing homework on available coaches.
If/when Lovie is fired, do the Bears have a realistic chance to sign Sean Payton? -- @Mr0Roboto, from Twitter
I am tempted to pull a Chet Coppock and offer to roll a peanut across the Michigan Avenue bridge with my nose should Sean Payton be coaching the Bears next September. But I'm not that daring. Suffice it to say there is virtually zero chance of Payton coaching the Bears in 2013.
How about Brian Billick to Bears if Lovie isn't retained? -- @BearsDraftGuy, from Twitter
This is a more reasonable suggestion. I can't figure out why Billick hasn't gotten any play since the Ravens fired him in 2007. He guided the Ravens to an 80-64 record over nine years, and he won the Super Bowl in 2000. He made it to the playoffs four times. His record is very similar to Jon Gruden's record, and everyone is drooling over Gruden. The knock on Billick is he was an offensive guru with a backfiring offense. But he had quarterback problems in Baltimore. He made the offense work just fine in Minnesota with Daunte Culpepper. Here would be an advantage of hiring Billick: he and Mike Tice would have a similar offensive playbook, and the change would be minimal. Billick could even retain Tice in some capacity.
I understand that the team has invested a lot of money in Jay Cutler, so he's the guy. Almost $10 million is too much to pay a bench warmer. I don't expect to see Cutler gone next year, or Jason Campbell starting (if he's still a Bear), but when are the Bears going to admit that if Cutler was going to be their guy, it would have been by now? Wouldn't it be better for the team to pay some linemen instead? -- Sean, Seattle
Cutler isn't perfect, but which available quarterback would you rather have starting in his place? There are no Andrew Lucks or RGIIIs in this draft. No one is doing cartwheels over Geno Smith or Matt Barkley. Aside from Joe Flacco, who will never hit the open market, the best available quarterbacks coming out of contract include Campbell, Matt Moore, Brady Quinn, Rex Grossman and Byron Leftwich. Some others, such as Michael Vick, are likely to be cut. But you would not be able to find a sane personnel man who would tell you they would take any of them over Cutler. You need a good quarterback to win in the NFL. Any team that tries to get by with an average or below average quarterback probably is doing it because it has no alternative. The best teams in the NFL (Packers, Patriots, Broncos, Giants) have the best quarterbacks. It is not a coincidence. If the Bears ever hope to join them, their best hope probably is to continue to work with Cutler and surround him with what he needs to succeed.
Any chance the Bears let Cutler go and look to bring back Kyle Orton? -- @Korver24, from Twitter
Orton signed with the Cowboys through the 2014 season, so he won't be available unless he is cut or traded. If the Bears thought so much of Orton, they probably would have tried to sign him over Campbell to be Cutler's backup this year.
The more I watch Alec Ogletree play, the more he reminds me of Brian Urlacher. He is a former safety-turned-linebacker, is freakishly fast and strong, and is capable of running in long returns like he did in the SEC Championship game. What is his draft status and do you think the Bears have him on their draft board? -- Mike, Rockford
I was remiss in not mentioning Ogletree in my story about potential replacements for Urlacher that ran Sunday. Ogletree is an underclassman who may or may not enter the draft. But should he opt to go pro, the Georgia linebacker will be high on every draft board and is likely to be a first round pick. I think it may be a bit of a stretch to compare him to a young Urlacher, who was bigger and I believe faster, but Ogletree is a fine prospect who has been productive at the highest level of college football.
Since Urlacher's great career may be over, replacing him should be a top priority in the first round of the NFL Draft next April. With Manti Te'o winning multiple awards this year, being named finalist for the Heisman trophy, and leading his team to the BCS Championship game, do you foresee any scenario in which Te'o ends up in Chicago? -- J. Ryan Miller
The only way I could see Te'o in a Bears uniform is if his draft stock would plummet precipitously. And there were have to be a reason for that to happen. In other words, I doubt highly the Bears have a chance at the Notre Dame linebacker. He will be a top 10 pick.
Any chance the Bears take a look at Visanthe Schiancoe? -- @Kyle1022, from Twitter
If Bill Belichick couldn't find a way for Shiancoe to help the Patriots, what makes you think that Tice could find a way for him to help the Bears? Don't forget, the Patriots needed a tight end to step up after Rob Gronkowski's injury. Schiancoe didn't even catch a pass for New England before getting released. The Patriots have been playing Daniel Fells more than Shiancoe. The Vikings weren't very interested in bringing back Schiancoe last offseason. At 32, it appears he isn't what he was.
If Jake Long is available as a free agent, do you think Bears will go after him? -- @crimsonmasque, from Twitter
I do not. My guess is Long will command somewhere in the vicinity of $11 million a year, and a monster signing bonus. He would be one of the Bears' highest paid players, and prevent them from signing others, or possibly force them to cut others. He has not played like an elite left tackle this year. The Bears have too many other budget issues to make a big splurge on a free agent who is not an absolute difference maker.
James Brown was in for about 40 plays at LG against the Vikings. How did he grade out? Barring a free agency move or a high pick at guard in the draft are we seeing the future at LG? -- Vic Fiebig, Springfield, VA
Brown played OK for his first extended exposure. Nothing great. Nothing terrible. We don't have anywhere near enough evidence to say if he will be a permanent starter in the near future. From the looks of it now, the Bears will be shopping for a veteran guard who can step in and play the position next season while Brown develops. But it will be interesting to see how he plays for the rest of the season, assuming he does play.
With the production Michael Bush has had along with the struggles Forte is having does a Matt Forte trade make sense in the off season? What do you think we could get in return for the running back? -- Joe Devine, Edmonton, Canada
My impression is Forte is worth more to the Bears than he would be in a trade, but I could be wrong. Teams don't want to pay much for older running backs. Forte just turned 27. He has not been as productive as he was in 2011, and he is the 17th leading rusher in the NFL. What could you get for him? Probably a third round pick. Maybe a second. Maybe not. But he is an all-around back who can help the Bears offense as a runner, receiver and pass protector. Players like him are not easy to find. I would not be looking to trade him, and I don't think the Bears will be either.
Harvey Unga, why? He's never going to make the team. What's the point of re-signing him? -- @papabear015, from Twitter
I've had a number of questions on Unga, who was chosen in the 2010 supplemental draft. It's clear the Bears like him. They keep bringing him back. There was a reason to bring him back last week because Michael Bush was banged up. He's a similar runner to Bush. Unga has quick feet, good vision, and he is a bigger back who could get the tough yards. If you needed him to, he could play fullback or H-back in addition to tailback. It is not unheard of for a player to break through after a long internship on the practice squad. Perhaps it will happen with Unga.
While watching the Bears game yesterday I started wondering about how many coaches Mike Ditka had "trained." Today I looked it up, and saw your article from last year. It mentioned that there were more than just the current NFL 6 coaching at all levels. I was just wondering if you actually had a list? It must be something for Da Coach to know he was such an inspiration to so many of his players. -- John Grabarczyk
It is quite a legacy Ditka has left. He should be proud. Six of Ditka's protégés went on to become NFL head coaches: Jeff Fisher, Les Frazier, Mike Singletary, Jim Harbaugh, Ron Rivera and Sean Payton. Ten became NFL assistants: Markus Paul, Jay Norvell (he currently is the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma), Dan Neal, Al Harris, Wendell Davis, Richard Dent, Jerry Fontenot, Doug Plank and Mark Carrier. And at least a dozen became coaches at other levels: Ashley Ambrose, Kurt Becker, Brian Cabral, Maurice Douglass, Mike Hohensee, Glen Kozlowski, Sammy Knight, Ken Margerum, Steve McMichael, Doug Nussmeyer, Terry Price and Mike Stoops.