General manager Jerry Angelo made it clear Tuesday he's in the market for a quarterback after his team went 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the second straight year, although he's not necessarily ready to give up on the one in place. He also praised former Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli and appeared to put defensive coordinator Bob Babich on notice during his season-ending news conference.
But the top priority is adding a quarterback.
"I think we have to have competition at that position," Angelo said. "We have to get that position right. I know there's going to be a lot of talk about a No. 1 receiver. Guys, it starts with the quarterback. It's all about the quarterback. You don't win because of wide receivers. You don't win because of running backs. You win because of the quarterback. We've got to get the quarterback position stabilized."
Will he go after a free agent?
"I don't know that yet until I know who's out there, but if we feel that's our best option then we have to look at it very seriously," Angelo said. "That position has to get righted. The offense starts with the quarterback, the most valuable position on a football team."
One who might be out there is Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb, a Chicago native with an expiring contract, although he has said he would rather get a new deal than play for a new team.
Whether they make a big splash or a ripple in the offseason, Angelo wants some competition at the position even though Orton has the backing of his coach and teammates. The general manager likes him, too. He's just not convinced "100 percent" that Orton's a long-term solution.
He threw for 2,972 yards while completing 272 of 465 passes and throwing more touchdowns (18) than interceptions (12) after beating out Rex Grossman for the starting job. But he wasn't the same after being carted off the field with a sprained ankle against Detroit midway through the season.
Orton went from throwing a club record 205 passes without an interception to throwing eight in four games before a strong finish at Houston on Sunday. He threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns without getting picked off, but the Bears fell 31-24 and missed the playoffs again after going 7-9 a year ago.
"I don't want anybody coming out of this thinking we don't believe in Kyle; we do believe in Kyle," Angelo said. "Kyle has got to take another step and that's the bottom line."
It would help if the wide receivers did a better job getting open and hanging onto the ball and Devin Hester settled in as the No. 1 threat.
Angelo defended the decision to give Hester a bigger role on offense even though he struggled at times and saw his production on special teams plummet after two record-setting seasons. Although he finished with a team-leading 665 yards receiving, he had no touchdown returns and was only running back punts by the end of the season.
"There's never been a No. 1 receiver and a No. 1 returner," Angelo said. "There's probably a reason why."
So he expected that drop-off.
What he didn't expect to see was more erratic play from a defense that led the team to the Super Bowl two years ago.
"I am disappointed with a few players and those players are going to have to be held accountable," said Angelo, who would not reveal names.
The Bears hoped the defense would show some of the old dominant form following an injury-ravaged 7-9 season -- Babich's first after replacing Ron Rivera. Instead, Chicago ranked 21st overall and 30th against the pass while registering only 28 sacks even with more blitzing than in the past.
It didn't help that Tommie Harris and Brian Urlacher were limited by injuries. Angelo said he thinks both can play at a Pro Bowl level again, but Babich might be feeling a little uneasy after seeing this response to a question about him.
"When you're not playing consistent football, your job is not good enough," Angelo said. "You have to be consistent in this league. If you're going to win you have to be consistent. We weren't consistent. Those are things we'll get into. I don't want to go further than that because we haven't talked about anything. ... I can't say all the things I feel to you today. We'll be very honest. We see what you see. We'll be very objective. And things that need to be changed will be changed."
As for Marinelli, Angelo had nothing but praise.
Although he got fired after the Lions went 0-16, Marinelli and Chicago coach Lovie Smith are friends who worked together in Tampa Bay. The Bears tried to hire him as defensive coordinator in 2004, but the Buccaneers blocked them because he was under contract as their defensive line coach. Now, Marinelli is available at least to work with a Bears line that struggled.
"I think the world of Rod Marinelli," Angelo said. "I would love to have Rod Marinelli on our staff, and I think Lovie would say the same thing."