After failing to make the playoffs despite a 10-6 record in 2012, the Bears decided that they had to move on from Lovie Smith. Two years later, they are still picking up the pieces from that decision.
Chicago fired head coach Marc Trestman and GM Phil Emery on Monday, the end result of a miserable 2014 season that saw the Bears land in the basement of the NFC North.
• Tale of tape: 5-11 in 2014; Trestman was 13-19 in the regular season; Emery was 23-25 in three seasons as general manager.
• What went wrong: The defense was an overwhelming debacle this season, hence the 5-11 record and 27.6 points allowed per game (second most in the NFL). At the heart of both Trestman and Emery's downfalls, though, is Jay Cutler.
Trestman, off a successful CFL stint and with multiple successes as an NFL offensive coordinator, was supposed to be the coach capable of taking Cutler to the next level. Emery showed his faith in that process, first by hiring Trestman and then by handing Cutler a seven-year contract extension worth $120 million.
"When you evaluate a quarterback, you say, 'Does he have an inventory of passes? Can he make all the throws? Does he have mobility? Is he a quick decision-maker?' Jay has all that," Trestman said back in January, when the deal was struck. "He can do all those things. But what's most important is, is he mentally tough enough? Can he fly the plane and not be on autopilot? And I think during this process he's proven that he can do that."
Fast-forward to Week 16 of this season, when Trestman benched Cutler in favor of the thoroughly uninspiring Jimmy Clausen. It was a move seen as a potential Hail Mary by Trestman -- an attempt to save his job by tossing Cutler under the bus.
Obviously, the plan failed.
Cutler actually wound up starting again in Week 17 because of a Clausen injury. He and the Bears lost their season finale, 13-9, another half-hearted effort to wrap a season-ending five-game losing streak.
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will be replaced, as well, and that move probably should have happened weeks ago. While Tucker did coax a career-best 10.0 sacks out of free-agent addition Willie Young and rookie CB Kyle Fuller showed some early flashes, the Bears were laughable at times on that side of the ball. Seven times they allowed 30 or more points in a game; the Patriots and Packers hung 106 combined points on Chicago over a two-game stretch.
• Roster outlook: Whether Cutler is in or out as Chicago's 2015 quarterback, the strength of this team sits on offense. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery posted 18 touchdowns and more than 1,800 yards between them this season. RB Matt Forte topped the 1,000-yard mark on the ground and caught 102 passes of his own. TE Martellus Bennett broke through with career-best numbers: 90 catches for 916 yards and six touchdowns.
Clearly, there is something to build on there. The next GM might explore his trade possibilities with Cutler, whose contract could prevent him from being moved. Otherwise, Chicago will move forward with a similar cast of characters.
Defensively, it is anyone's guess as to how the depth chart will shape up come next September. Longtime stalwarts Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs almost certainly have played their final games in Chicago (Tillman appears set to retire). D.J. Williams, Chris Conte (who was awful this season) and Stephen Paea are among the other impending free agents in Chicago.
In a division featuring the high-powered Green Bay and Detroit offenses, plus an emerging Minnesota team, Chicago has to find a way to come up with more stops in 2015. That will be the case no matter what happens at quarterback.
• Possible replacements: Todd Bowles, Darrell Bevell, Dan Quinn, Rex Ryan, Mike Shanahan, Pep Hamilton, Adam Gase. Keep a keen eye on Shanahan, who recently talked up Cutler -- the two were paired together in Denver for multiple seasons.
Chiefs' director of player personnel Chris Ballard already has been linked to Chicago as a possible Trestman replacement. The Bears may not be alone if they express interest in him. Ravens assistant GM Eric DeCosta is another name to remember.