Ask David Haugh

Friday marks the busiest shopping day of the year. And Monday the Bears will begin making a list of their own if they let the Broncos hand them their seventh loss.

That's the reality of what Lovie Smith meant by stating flatly it would take 10 wins to make the playoffs.

Losing Sunday makes the playoffs nearly impossible for the Bears. If that happens, the calendar immediately flips to 2008 at Halas Hall.

Good for Smith, who, in a rare moment of candor, publicly challenged his players by putting the necessary pressure on them to save the season. Now.

What will top the Bears' list if they can't do that?

Besides re-signing Lance Briggs, an early peek might reveal a right tackle to replace a disappointing Fred Miller, a gamebreaking wide receiver to pair with Bernard Berrian (who might flee to free agency), a playmaking safety to complement Danieal Manning and, oh, yes, a running back.

What about a quarterback? That's been among the most popular questions lately among Bears fans in light of Rex Grossman's six-quarter resurgence ... but not the only one.

Wouldn't it be more prudent for the Bears to spend money improving the offensive line this off-season? How much sense does it make to invest a ton of money to get running back Michael Turner if the line cannot open adequate holes for him? Or give up a couple of high draft picks on quarterback Derek Anderson if they cannot provide ample time for him to throw? --Ken Sawilchik

Your question lends insight into the Bears' long-range thinking as they enter the final six games. Grossman turning his career around and re-signing with the team for an affordable price would allow the Bears to allocate resources to the offensive line and other areas of need. The Bears would like nothing more than to build around a drafted quarterback that overcame his consistency issues. There was hope that Brian Griese might emerge and keep the team from worrying about finding a quarterback in the off-season, too, but that thinking was premature.

As for the running back, if the Bears conclude Benson is a bust, it will be an expensive conclusion. Besides the heavy salary-cap hit, Turner would be overpriced given the expected interest in him. So would Julius Jones of the Cowboys if he tests the market. One league source who had spoken to the Bears about their possible plans at running back revealed the team realizes it could be stuck with Benson another season because pursuing an expensive free agent a year after dumping Thomas Jones in part for economic reasons reflects poorly on management.

It seems as if Cleveland is looking to lock up Anderson long-term to be their QB of the future. Do you think they would allow Brady Quinn to come to the Bears for a second-round pick in next year's draft? --Bryce Cooper, Washington, D.C.

Maybe if the Bears threw in a defensive starter, another draft pick and a year's supply of Eli's Cheesecake. Get serious. Teams need two quarterbacks, and even if the Browns prevent Anderson from leaving via restricted free agency, as expected, he likely will be competing with Quinn for the No. 1 job next summer and beyond. Look at past situations such as Philip Rivers/Drew Brees in San Diego and Jon Kitna/Carson Palmer in Cincinnati as examples that the high draft picks usually take at least a season or two before nudging the veteran aside. For the Bears, that means entering the off-season with realistic plans regarding Anderson.

Do you think the Bears need help on the offensive side of the ball by bringing a consultant such as Jim Fassel? --Firmin Fleurisca, Chicago

The mere suggestion of hiring a consultant earlier this season set off Lovie Smith, so that's unlikely. But it happens in the NFL, and the 49ers' hiring of longtime offensive guru Ted Tollner this week provided the latest example. Fassel served in that capacity with the Ravens and has a reputation of being an innovative play designer and play caller. As much as the Bears offense could use both to liven up their attack, nobody expects Smith to abandon offensive coordinator Ron Turner during the season. After the season, stay tuned.

Is there no possibility of sliding Ricky Manning Jr. into the safety spot to get him more involved and get Adam Archuleta less involved on obvious passing downs? --Scott, Atlanta

Manning lacks the size to play either safety position and possesses good enough feet to remain at cornerback. He seems a more likely replacement at right cornerback in place of Trumaine McBride than at safety. Why Manning hasn't played more than the nickel position remains one of the season's biggest defensive mysteries. Archuleta missed a key tackle against Seattle but hasn't been exploited in the last couple of games the way he had before in isolated cases such as against the Vikings.

If Nathan Vasher can't play this week, would you risk bringing him back for the final five games or shut him down to fully heal for 2008? --Tim Kluppa, Plano, Texas

Vasher's future status depends on the outcome. If the Bears have any shot of advancing to the playoffs, keeping Vasher on a schedule where he could return for the final few games and contribute to the postseason makes sense. Playoff teams need playmakers such as Vasher on the field, even if it's limited duty. But if the Bears fall out of contention, then there's no need to risk reinjury to such a valuable part of the future in a meaningless game.

How many times are we going to hear Muhsin Muhammad whine about not getting the ball? If I remember correctly, he could not wait for Rex to return after Kyle Orton led the Bears offense. Now he's [complaining] about Rex. It appears he will not be leaving the stage graciously. Do you see him returning to Chicago for 2008? --Mark Serloover, Clinton, Ohio

The thing with Muhammad is he possesses so much savvy and awareness that he must realize the comments he has made will be perceived and interpreted as a lack of confidence and support of Grossman. He's not naïve, which leaves one to conclude his veiled criticism is more calculated. But Moose's mouth won't be the deciding factor in whether he returns. He is scheduled to earn a $500,000 roster bonus in March and make $1.6 million in 2008. So the Bears have to decide whether $2.1 million is money well spent for a possession receiver who, despite the ability to make terrific catches, has lost a step.

After the Seattle game, you acknowledged that Brian Urlacher has lost something. Do you think he might just be out of gas after playing so hard throughout his career, last year's run and eventual Super Bowl loss? Or is it really a bad back? --Bill Prestanski, Windsor, Ontario

Even with a bad back that limits his lateral quickness and might have contributed to a reduced number of big plays this season, Urlacher plays the middle linebacker position better than 90 percent of his peers. But he set a ridiculously high standard for years, so when he falls short of meeting it, people notice. Urlacher considers this a slight. But the fact that the back issue was raised earlier this season as a potential cause for the relative decline instead illustrates how willing observers were to offer legitimate excuses for his play rather than jump to conclusions that he no longer was the same player.

It may be surprising that after 10 games Benson has only had 20 or more running attempts three times, and in each of those games the Bears have won. So why do the Bears insist on not giving him the ball more than 20 times, regardless of his yards per attempt? -- E. Johnny Park

That's a telling statistical link. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner spent the week acknowledging he should have made sure Benson got the ball more than 11 times against the Seahawks after his quick start. The Broncos and the NFL's third-worst rushing defense provide another ideal opportunity for the Bears to grasp the obvious and feed the ball to Benson at least 20 times to follow what has been a winning formula.

Nobody seems to want to pin anything on Lovie Smith, but it was his stupidity leaving Tommie Harris, who already had some health issues early in the season, on the field late in the blowout loss to Dallas that got him hurt when he was leg-whipped by tackle Marc Colombo. --Steve Orton

There were 8 minutes 7 seconds left in the game, and the Bears trailed the Cowboys 27-10 at the time of Harris' injury. At that point, the Bears still had concerns over Harris' hamstring, but it wasn't so late in the game that the Bears definitely should have taken their most disruptive defensive lineman off the field. At that point in the season, the defense still felt powerful enough to think it could score and get the ball back for a furious fourth-quarter rally. The Bears haven't always made smart decisions exposing starters to potential injuries - i.e., Greg Olsen injuring his knee in the second quarter of the fourth preseason game - but the Harris injury is hard to pin on Smith.

When will the Bears realize Urlacher's value and put him at the outside linebacker spot a la Lawrence Taylor? If, in fact, his sore back is beginning to catch up with him, this actually would be a better spot than having him cover as a deep defender. --John Devine

Moving Urlacher to outside linebacker in the Cover-2 isn't such a wild idea, considering that it would reduce how often he would be required to cover the middle of the field with an arthritic back. Also, if the Bears sign Lance Briggs to a long-term deal, he has the combination of speed, strength and savvy to man the middle if the Bears felt it was in everyone's best interests to move Urlacher outside.