It’s a difficult pill to swallow for Bears fans who have seen their team in the playoffs two of the last four years.
Yet, it’s true and has been mentioned here in the past† The Bears are a rebuilding team.
The Tribune’s Brad Biggs painted it this way in his column Friday from the combine as well, and even suggested reasons why they could trade Khalil Mack or Robert Quinn.
This is not a competing team. It’s a rebuilding team. If it gets a team closer to where it wants to be, no one should be above a trade. The question, of course, is whether such a move would automatically get them closer to where they want to go.
Not only are they rebuilding, but the Bears could actually have the worst team in the NFC North, as GM Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus set about fixing their roster to their liking.
It’s time for Bears fans to face facts: The team could really be worse than the Detroit Lions.
Detroit finished 2 1/2 games behind the Bears and lost twice to them but at least they kept intact areas where they had some momentum building.
The Lions can count an improved offensive line as an area of strength. They set about bolstering it last year in the draft and it’s gotten better and better. The Bears offensive line is a complete reconstruction project. and last year rated among the team’s weak spots.
The Lions can also count quarterback as a strength which, of course, is key.
Jared Goff not only is a former Super Bowl quarterback, but he completed 67.2% of his passes in 2021, thew for 19 touchdowns and only eight interceptions and posted a 91.5 passer rating. He’s had four passer ratings of 90.5 or better in six seasons. Detroit’s receiver corps was supposed to be a weakness but Goff managed his success despite this. Detroit even had a receiver who had more receptions last year than anyone on the Bears—Amon-Ra St. Brown had 90 catches for a scant 912 yards, but it was still more receptions.
The Bears can’t honestly look at what Justin Fields has done and say quarterback is an area of strength when they don’t know what they have. They can only project what Fields might be thanks to injuries and the ill-conceived plan last year’s coaching staff had for using him.
For years, teams would look at Chicago’s defensive front and the defense as a whole, and comment about how they’d be competitive as long as they had this group together.
They’re not together now, when free agency and a new defensive system are going to alter everything.
In fact, it’s difficult to look at each position group the Bears have and pinpoint one as a well-defined area of strength.
The Bears seem to have no strengths, only some spots that are less weak.
Here are their less weak to weakest position groups ranked from top to bottom as they set about trying to reconstruct this team.
The one positive Bears fans can look at is even if they are worse than the Lions, and the Vikings definitely have a better offense, they are close enough to both teams that they should be able get back to second best in the mediocre NFC North soon enough merely if Fields ascends and a few holes get plugged.
Doing anything more depends on how long Aaron Rodgers chooses to own them
1. Defensive Line
With Mack and Quinn it’s not difficult to point to this group as their best but remember, both are in their 30s and a defensive line consists of more than just exterior pass rushers.
Biggs suggested the Bears could even move Mack this year because it would provide more draft picks, maybe second- and third-round picks because this was the price Denver got for Von Miller.
There is one team in the draft this year with extra picks in both the second and third rounds, but don’t expect that team to make a deal. It’s Denver, and the Broncos got those picks because they traded Miller. So, essentially they’d have traded Miller to bring in Mack? That wouldn’t make much sense. What the Bears would be looking at is a deal for future years’ picks, and that’s not going to help in 2022 Fields needs immediate assistance.
There are numerous edge rushers in this draft who will be selected early and any team with extra picks would be better off using them to bring in one of those players rather than trade them for a veteran player coming off foot surgery. So don’t anticipate teams lining up to give a second and a third to the Bears for Mack.
Dealing players with such big salary cap hits is never easy, and although there is no doubt Mack would bring a better return, the Bears would also probably be better off for this season by dealing Quinn because he is far weaker as a run defender. Considering the changes coming scheme-wise and in rebuilding the defense, the Bears could use that extra run defense provided by Mack because their own run defense was bad last year.
Regardless, the defensive line can’t be counted as a huge strength because they don’t know who their tackles will be. This is now a four-man line now using a single-gap approach. Interior linemen they had are free agents—Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols—or are coming off poor seasons, like Eddie Goldman.
Even if they retained all of their interior defensive linemen there is no guarantee those players could even make the front what it once was. Hicks is 32, has been injured often the last three seasons, and doesn’t really fit a one-gap system. Nichols is a versatile player but hasn’t proven he is elite at anything. Backup Angelo Blackson doesn’t fit the single-gap at all. Neither does second-year Khyiris Tonga, for that matter.
The defensive line: Ladies and gentlemen, that was your strongest Bears unit.
2. Running Backs
At least there are two of them here. David Montgomery is definitely an above-average NFL starter. Khalil Herbert shows promise as a complementary backup. Beyond those two there is mystery, like whether Tarik Cohen is healthy or whether they would even want to retain 30-year-old free agent Damien Williams after a year when he wasn’t healthy at the most critical times. What there isn’t here is a back who really scares defenses, like a Derrick Henry or Jonathan Taylor.
Notice the word linebacker is singular here. Roquan Smith is an excellent linebacker bordering on great. He alone makes this their second-best group. And he’s alone.
Alec Ogletree was a street free agent ranked next to last in the NFL by Pro Football Focus at linebacker last year. Danny Trevathan is a 30-something, often-injured player with a big salary who seems likely to be dumped. Joel “Iggy” Iyiegbuniwe and Christian Jones are free agents better suited to a 3-4 defense, and in Iggy’s case no one really knows what he is because he says the past coaching regime wouldn’t give him a chance.
The Bears were weak in the middle and it’s why they fell to 23rd against the run last year.
One linebacker in a defensive scheme utilizing three of them is not enough to count as a real strength. And their one linebacker is about to negotiate to reset the team’sentire salary cap structure for future years.
Eddie Jackson wasn’t good last year with a ridiculously high passer-rating against of 143.6 and six touchdown passes allowed, according to Sportradar. He hasn’t had a pick in two years. The reason safeties can rate this high is their experienced depth, but even this is in question as Tashaun Gipson, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Teez Tabor and Marqui Christian are all free agents .
5. Corner back
Like with safety, receiver and linebacker, there’s one player here. Jaylon Johnson can’t cover every receiver, even though they tried to make him do it last year. They need two more starting cornerbacks for left corner and the slot. It’s possible Thomas Graham Jr. is part of the answer, but no one knows that from four games played last year. This is a weak area, easily exploited by opposing quarterbacks of all levels if they look away from Johnson.
Darnell Mooney went from a fifth-round pick no one had ever heard of to the ace of the receiver corps in two short seasons. They have nothing else, literally. Dazz Newsome didn’t play enough to let anyone think he has potential beyond being a backup punt returner. No one else is under contract who caught more than two passes and it’s difficult to make a case for keeping them, beyond the hopeless cause of arguing they should spend $17 million a year or more to keep Allen Robinson II.
Fields must prove consistency to make this a strength. Whether either of the backups will be back is open to debate, although whether the team should want either back probably shouldn’t be open to debate. Both Andy Dalton and Nick Foles are capable veterans who can keep a team treading water for a few games while a starter is out injured, but definitely have shown the limits of their skills end here. Neither wants to play for backup money but have to be realistic. In Foles’ case, he’s under a contract which almost makes it silly for the Bears to cut or trade him. Then again, he has been terrible when playing outside of the Andy Reid style of offense, and when a piece doesn’t fit the puzzle what’s the point of keeping it around during a rebuild?
8. Tight Ends
At least Cole Kmet can say he is trending up because he had 32 more catches than his rookie year and is still young. He didn’t catch a touchdown pass, though, even if he did haul in 60 passes. And red zone is critical for a starting tight end. Neither of their next two tight ends are under contract. JP Holtz is just a blocker who might even be replaced by an actual fullback. Jesper Horsted probably should get a chance to play more but can’t be counted as an asset until he does, and his blocking will always be a question.
9. Offensive Line
There are possible foundation pieces here but when you give up more sacks than any NFL team, blocked well enough for your running backs to average just 3.9 yards a carry and your two best players were 40-year-old free agent Jason Peters and free agent James Daniels, you’ve got real problems. There are young pieces and veteran players who have been better in other years but this group was a bigger mess with a more uncertainty than other unit at season’s end.