The division-winning Chicago Bears of 2018, led by coach of the year Matt Nagy, seems like a lifetime ago.
That 12-4 season on the back of a historically good defense was a false dawn. The following two seasons saw just eight wins, and then last season only six. The defense regressed, and the search for an improved offense was unsuccessful, culminating in the firing of Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace.
Ryan Poles was brought in to be the new GM and Matt Eberflus as the new head coach. The Bears will almost be building from scratch after the decisions made this offseason. Highly-paid star players like Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Allen Robinson were allowed to leave, which gives the sense of a rebuilding season in store in the Windy City.
Despite the excitement of a new first-round quarterback, the Bears finished the season with a 6-11 record, way off the pace of division winners Green Bay and even two games back from Minnesota, a team that viewed its season as so bad almost everyone got fired.
Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith remained very good players on defense, but almost everything else was disappointing, including somewhat unfairly, rookie quarterback Justin Fields. Young quarterbacks are expected to step onto the field and be immediate superstars like Patrick Mahomes.
That is a lot to ask. Although Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow have had relative early success, it often takes time, like in the case of Josh Allen. Fields played in 12 games, starting 10 and winning just two. A low 58.9% completion percentage for 1870 yards for seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. It was a tough introduction to the league for Fields, and it might not get any easier this season.
R2 Pick 39 – CB Kyler Gordon
R2 Pick 48 – S Jaquan Brisker
R3 Pick 72 – WR Velus Jones Jr
R5 Pick 168 – OT Braxton Jones
R5 Pick 174 – DE Dominique Robinson
R6 Pick 186 – OT Zachary Thomas
R6 Pick 203 – RB Trestan Ebner
R6 Pick 207 – C Doug Kramer
R7 Pick 206 – OG Ja’Tyre Carter
R7 Pick 254 – S Elijah Hicks
R7 Pick 255 – P Trenton Gill
DT Justin Jones
DE Al-Quadin Muhammad
OG Lucas Patrick
OG Dakota Dozier
WR Equanimeous St. Brown
WR Byron Pringle
WR Tajae Sharpe
WR Dante Pettis
QB Trevor Siemian
LB Nicholas Morrow
LB Matthew Adams
CB Tavon Young
TE James O’Shaughnessy
TE Ryan Griffin
OT Julie’n Davenport
FB Khari Blasingame
The Rebuilding Process
Last year’s trade that enabled them to select Fields meant there was no first-round pick for the Bears this year. They used two second-round picks to bolster the ranks of the secondary — Kyler Gordon at cornerback and a player I really like at safety in Jaquan Brisker.
Altogether, they had 11 picks in this year’s draft, most of which were at the back end. There have also been a lot of free-agent signings but none that you would call a major signing — no one close to replacing the caliber of players that have left like Mack, Hicks, and Robinson.
It very much feels like quantity over quality as Poles and Eberflus try and put together a competitive team in their first season. They have around $24 million in available cap space, but they might not be in a rush to spend it. The cap space projects to be around $100 million in 2023 and $168 million in 2024. It’s unlikely they will challenge for the playoffs this season, so unless a top young player suddenly becomes available, saving the money would be more beneficial than spending it on an aging veteran. If Fields develops into a success, they will need a lot of money to pay him and then continue to build a team around him that can compete.
Expectations in 2022
A lot will depend on the development of Fields at quarterback. The defense still has some good players and should be solid enough. However, the offensive line has been a problem for a long time, and little has been done to suggest there will be a significant improvement.
Despite a bitterly disappointing season in 2021, the loss of Robinson leaves the Bears without an established star playmaker. They will be hoping Darnell Mooney can kick on from his impressive sophomore season and be that guy. Then, a mix of all the free-agent wide receiver signings can support him alongside a good year from running back David Montgomery.
If the offense can regularly put up points, they will have a chance to win some games. Right now, I’m not convinced they will be able to do that and will struggle to see past a maximum of four wins. Bears fans shouldn’t be worrying too much about the numbers in the win column this season, though. The development of their quarterback is almost the only thing that matters.
If Fields can take significant strides forward in his individual performance and show signs of being the franchise quarterback Chicago are desperate for, they have a clear path ahead to follow.
If he doesn’t, the Bears have a problem.