After a strong start to the 2012 season, the Chicago Bears ended up missing the playoffs despite a 10-win season. Plenty of blame went around in the days following the end of a disappointing finish to the season, culminating with the firing of coach Lovie Smith.
With new coach Marc Trestman seemingly situated after replacing Smith, he can now look upon the 2012 campaign as a place to build from in 2013. Last season's edition of the Chicago Bears had plenty to be proud of production-wise, especially in the first half of the year, during which they compiled a 7-1 record after finishing 2011 8-8.
The team ranked near the top of the league in those first eight games in both scoring defense and offense and was seemingly returning turnovers for touchdowns multiple times per game.
But after dropping five of their last eight and scoring fewer than 10 offensive touchdowns in the season's second half, plenty will need to change if the Bears can again improve upon their record next season.
Chicago got a start on its offseason by using the franchise tag to hang onto Henry Melton. That move gives the team a window through July to get the defensive tackle inked to a long-term deal.
Biggest need: Offensive line
The team's strongest internal interest is also a good place to start if the Bears want to make the NFC playoffs next season.
Quarterback Jay Cutler was hurried and hit often in 2012, which resulted in the Bears ranking in the bottom five teams in passing. In four seasons, Cutler has been sacked 148 times, fourth-most in that frame, according to ESPN.
And though some metrics claim that the Bears' offensive line is middling — Football Outsiders ranked the Bears' line 16th out of 32 teams in 2012 — simply middling isn't enough to bring the Bears an elusive playoff bid.
Other needs: Linebacker, tight end
The Bears' offseason could be shaped by the stark reality that Brian Urlacher might not be wearing a Bears uniform come the 2013 preseason. Urlacher is a free agent this year and has expressed some interest in going elsewhere. Injuries have slowed Urlacher, who turns 35 in May, which should push down his value on the open market. Even if the Bears do manage to bring him back, finding a replacement for the cornerstone of their defense is a priority.
Elsewhere around the field, the Bears lacked any real output from the tight end position in 2012. Kellen Davis, Chicago's leading receiver at the spot, hauled in just 19 receptions for 229 yards. If the Bears want to improve their passing game in 2013, acquiring a tight end to pair with a strong wide receiver corps would go a long way. They are expected to make a push for Titans free agent tight end Jared Cook.
NFL Draft outlook: Bears have last lottery pick
At 10-6, the Bears finished with the best record among non-playoff bound teams. For that accomplishment, the Bears received the No. 20 pick in the 2013 draft. With that pick, the Bears could go a variety of different ways, but many seem to point to the Bears filling that top need — at offensive line.
Salary cap situation: Room to maneuver
Using the franchise tag for defensive tackle Henry Melton, a one-year deal worth $8.45 million, takes up much of what cap space the Bears had for the offseason. The team can, and will most certainly have to, restructure some contracts. Defensive end Julius Peppers counts more than $16 million against the cap.