OFFSEASON REVIEW: chicago bears
By Tayyib Abu
As one season ends and another one begins, 32 NFL franchises put 2020 firmly in the rear view mirror and gear up for another tilt at the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The hard work starts here, and for many has already begun; general managers and head coaches are finalising their staff and looking ahead to turning their rosters into potential challengers.
In this series we identify the key components that go into building a winning team, and what each franchise needs to do to be in the mix come the playoffs next January. We continue our team by team offseason review with a look at the Chicago Bears
The 2020 season saw the Chicago Bears endure an erratic year as the team experienced wild swings of form. They started the season red-hot – Matt Nagy’s team won five of their first six games to establish a 5-1 record. That stretch included winning over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It felt like the team from Solider Field was marching towards a playoff spot.
Then these Bears stepped into a series of bear traps. Chicago would lose six-straight as Matt Nagy’s team got caught in more quarterback controversy. Nick Foles took the helm in this stretch and didn’t fare well in the seven games he started under center. After a disastrous winless run, the Bears’ playoff hopes hung in the balance.
Eventually, Trubisky came back into the lineup, and the Bears snuck into the playoffs with an 8-8 record. The extra wildcard berth rescued Chicago; as the lowest seed, Chicago would travel to New Orleans in the wildcard round. The Bears would lose with a whimper in Louisiana; their season finished on a predictable note. Amid all the quarterback trouble and offensive problems, there were positives for the Bears. Chicago’s defense once again played at a high-level, the unit placed 13th in scoring defense. Another positive was Allen Robinson; he enjoyed a stellar year where he posted over 1000 yards receiving despite the suspect quarterback play.
Ultimately, the Bears going 8-8 isn’t good enough to appease the fanbase. The Windy City natives are starting to get restless with Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace. The 12-4 year in 2018 feels like a long time ago. Regardless of how cold Chi-Town is, those two gentlemen’s seats are white-hot. With a talented defense, the front office and coaches must sort the offensive side. Bears fan will want their team to be the leading contender to the Packers for the division title.
The major headline is that GM Pace and head coach Nagy are returning for 2021. The duo is under pressure to reverse Chicago’s offensive woes that can aid this team’s turnaround. Both of them are unpopular figures in Chicago currently. The other puzzles to solve are the rest of the staff. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano stepped down at the end of the 2020 season, with Aaron Glenn the favourite to join Chicago from New Orleans. Sadly for the Bears, Glenn changed direction on the I-94 to take the job in Detroit. Sean Desai is the new defensive coordinator for in Chicago.
Another key member of the staff is John DeFilippo. He rose to fame after playing a part in the Eagles Super Bowl triumph. DeFillipo needs to rebuild his reputation after flopping in Jacksonville as offensive coordinator. If Chicago snags a new quarterback, the former Eagles coach must recapture the form from Philadelphia.
The bigger question will concern Pace and Nagy. Pace traded up to draft Trubisky, and so far, it’s not worked. Is that on Pace’s skills as a talent evaluator, or is it on Nagy for failing to develop around Trubisky? Unless these two hit a home-run this offseason, the quarterback question will get asked on day one of training camp. If they can’t answer it, a messy divorce is coming in Chicago. The Bears are in the quarterback sweepstakes and the market is wild at the moment. They must land a one when the music stops – Ryan Pace’s job depends on it.
State Of The Roster
The Bears roster is lopsided. Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, Kyle Fuller and Danny Trevathan are stars on the defensive side. It is a defense ready to compete with the best teams in the NFC. Conversely, the offense is a disaster-zone. It looks likely that Allen Robinson will test out free agency. The Bears will lose their best offensive player.
That is a significant blow for a team devoid of any elite weapons. David Montgomery is not the future, Jimmy Graham’s best years are behind him, and the offensive line is an unsolved problem. The Bears ranked 15th in pass-block success; that must get better if the Bears are to excel with Trubisky, Foles or a new quarterback. The offensive side of the ball requires a total overhaul.
Salary Cap & Cut Candidates
If the salary cap decreases to $175-$180 million, Chicago could own up to $10.5 million in cap space. That is not ideal with many holes to fill on the roster. Several free agents will command big price tags, a scenario that would put Chicago out of the race for a player like Antonio Brown or Juju Smith-Schuster. They need offensive game-changers, but Chicago might not own the cap space to make a big move for an elite player.
To generate some cap space, Chicago can cut some players. Buster Skrine arrived as a replacement for Bryce Callihan. It hasn’t worked out; Skrine surrendered a passer rating of 125.7 when targeted in the 2020 season. If the Bears cut him after June 1st, they can save around $5 million. Chicago can cut another player in Bobby Massie; the big linemen experienced injuries in the last two seasons. and didn’t play a full 16-game season in either of those years. Chicago inked him to a $30.8 million contract in 2016; it might be time to move on. The Bears can save approximately save $8 million after the June 1st deadline.
Chicago has over 20 unrestricted free agents to negotiate with; Mitchell Trubisky, Allen Robinson, Artie Burns and Tashaun Gipson are big names on that list. Chicago is in a bizarre situation with Trubisky. It is a loveless marriage, like Cal and Rose from The Titanic. Clearly, the Bears want to move on from the man they drafted in 2017. That may prove difficult.
Deshaun Watson is the best quarterback on the trade block. The caveat is Chicago would need to spend an awful amount of capital to get the frustrated Texans quarterback. There are other quarterbacks such as Sam Darnold, Carson Wentz and Drew Lock who might become available at the right price. Ultimately, the Bears may have to sign Trubisky to a one-year deal on favourable cap terms as he provides a safety blanket. Regardless of whether they draft a quarterback or trade for one, a cap battle will occur with Trubisky as one of its combatants.
On the defensive side, Chicago must keep Tashaun Gipson. He is a fine safety, one of the do-it-all hybrid players the NFL sees more of every year. Gipson surely knows that and will demand a sizeable salary. Chicago’s defense will carry them to any future success; Pace must keep it intact. With Allen Robinson set to leave, Chicago cannot let Cordarrelle Patterson go. The speedy wideout and return man is an explosive athlete who can switch the field for The Bears and help the next starting quarterback in the passing game. In all likelihood, Patterson won’t command a high asking price, but his cheap two-year $10 million deal he signed in 2019 should see an increase. Nevertheless, he’ll still be affordable.
The Bears aren’t as far away as people think. The NFC lacks depth, with only the Packers and Bucs as elite teams. Everyone else is part of the same pack. However, they can change that with good drafting and free-agent acquisitions. Offensively the Bears need to find a bell-cow running back in the draft. Players such as Chuba Hubbard or Trey Sermon could be a fit for Chicago. Furthermore, with Robinson on the out, they need to find a wide receiver. The upcoming draft is a treasure chest of wideouts; there are young studs everywhere.
The most significant need in Chicago is a quarterback. Trubisky is not the answer. The franchise is desperate for a leader at quarterback – as my colleague Alex Bartlett wrote, this team has never had one in the Super Bowl era, and it is on Pace & Nagy to find a solution. With Chicago selecting 20th overall, they are out of range for one of the top four quarterbacks in the class. It’d be a massive reach if the Bears drafted Mac Jones at that spot. Chicago’s best options are in free agency or trade to find their signal-caller for 2021. Picking 20th, Chicago can take a top wide receiver to replace Robinson and compliment the quarterback.
Chicago’s offense needs to be upgraded ahead of the 2021 season. Luckily for them, the draft and free agency offers them the perfect opportunity to do that. There are still plenty of questions regarding the Bears, but, they can start putting together a roster capable of answering them. Now comes the hard part, the actual execution of a plan.
TAYYIB IS AN AVID NFL FAN AND, AS A FOLLOWER OF THE DETROIT LIONS, IS A PERMANENT RESIDENT IN THE HONOLULU BLUE HEARTBREAK HOTEL. WRITING FOOTBALL ARTICLES SINCE 2019, TAYYIB LOVES EVERYTHING ABOUT THE SPORT EXCEPT THAT WINS ARE NOT A QB STAT. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @TAYYIBABU1