LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - Uncertainty is following the Bears into the offseason.
There are 27 unrestricted free agents on Chicago's roster. As they cleaned out their lockers Monday, a day after their season-ending loss at home to Green Bay, players considered the possibility that there will be a lot of new faces around for coach Marc Trestman's second season.
''Every year every team is different,'' tight end Martellus Bennett said. ''It's just part of the business. It's almost like every year at school you get new kids that come to your school. That's just how it is. This locker room will be totally different.''
Signing quarterback Jay Cutler to a new contract easily ranks as the biggest issue facing the Bears, but hardly the only important one. Cutler led an offense that was second in NFL scoring with 445 points.
After Sunday's game, Cutler said he hoped to return, but can only let the negotiating unfold. He can be retained by the team with a franchise tag, but general manager Phil Emery has said he prefers not to use the tag because of the high cost.
After a career-best 89.2 passer rating, there's little doubt other offensive players want Cutler back after an 8-8 season.
''One thing I know about Chicago: It's been a long time since we had a quarterback like Jay Cutler,'' wide receiver Brandon Marshall said. ''Next year, if we pick up where we left off, we'll be OK. I think last year we were in the bottom of the barrel, as far as statistically on offense, and this year we're in the top 10.''
Perhaps as important as Cutler's signing is how to restore a defense that collapsed amid pressure from injuries that took away starters Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, D.J. Williams and Henry Melton for big chunks of the season. Also lost to season-ending injuries were nickel back Kelvin Hayden and defensive tackle Nate Collins.
''We lost six starters,'' said Williams. ''That's over 50 percent of our defense. You lose two Pro Bowl, Hall of Fame guys like Peanut (Tillman) and Lance, and lose two starting D-tackles, we lost Kelvin. We lost me. It's tough. But guys fought through adversity and came together and did what they had to do.''
The injury-plagued defense finished last in the league against the run and allowed a league-worst 5.3 yards per rush, half a yard more than any other team.
The overall defensive decline has led to speculation about the future of defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. Players called such talk unfair.
''I thought Mel did an exceptional job,'' said Tillman, who was lost for the final eight games with a torn pectoral muscle. ''I think he did a really good job despite all the injuries we had.''
Tillman, who is third in franchise history with 36 interceptions, will be 33 in February and is without a contract. He said he hasn't thought about retiring and wants to return.
''I think it's the first time in my life that I've had to make decisions like this,'' he said. ''I'm not worried about it. Whatever happens is going to happen. Whatever happens is going to be for the good.''
Melton and cornerback Tim Jennings are the other two past Pro Bowl players not under contract for next season besides Tillman. Williams also is without a deal.
Veteran return man Devin Hester and 34-year-old center Roberto Garza are free agents. Like all the defensive free agents, they want to return to complete what they think was left unfinished by Sunday's defeat - the sixth time in seven years the Bears missed the playoffs.
''You saw at times what we're able to do and be able to finish as one of the top offenses and being able to go out there and score points,'' Garza said. ''Obviously, we've got to continue to build on that. It's not good enough and we've got something really special going on here.''
It's possible others will leave for salary cap concerns, like defensive end Julius Peppers. Others could be added.
Bennett would like to see the Bears get interested in trying to sign his brother Michael, the Seattle Seahawks defensive end.
''Hopefully when that starts, I get to go upstairs and talk to some people about that,'' he said.