2020 was another year like so many for the Chicago Bears. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t bad either. A maddening position for both the organization and the fans. They started the previous season with a 5-1 record and lost six times in a row. Despite that, they made it through the postseason with their heels over the ditch. They didn’t stand a chance against the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card Play-offs. All the Bears were left with from 2020 were a lot of question marks.
Due to the lowering of the salary cap, a few unpopular decisions had to be made. Among other cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine and offensive tackles Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie were allowed to seek refuge elsewhere. There was no financial room to sign return man Cordarelle Patterson any longer. The inevitable happened for Mitchell Trubisky too : his contract was not renewed. Though no one would have regretted that. He has since signed a backup contract with the Buffalo Bills.
It was also uncertain whether general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy would be allowed to stay. Pace’s track record when it comes to the draft is mixed. He finds enough value in the later rounds, but his picks in the first and two rounds generally don’t work out well. The Trubisky pick in particular – while Mahomes and Watson were available – will forever be a stain on his blazon. For Nagy, he just can’t get the offense going. The defense also did not survive the season. In the end, the McCaskeys decided that both could stay for one more season; although both are in the hot seat.
Nevertheless, there is one bright spot. After the experiment with Cody “Double Doink” Parkey, the Chicago Bears in Cairo Santos seem to have finally found a successor to Robbie Gould.
Quarterback Nick Foles didn’t do too badly last season. However, he alone is not the epitome of a strong quarterback room. Throughout the offseason, multiple sources reported that Russell Wilson was dissatisfied with the way things were going at the Seattle Seahawks and was looking for a split. The Bears would have made a serious attempt to take him over. However, what was offered was not enough to entice Seahawks GM John Schneider to sell Wilson. Once Bears fans got over that disappointment, the next one presented itself. Andy Dalton signed a one-year contract in the Windy City for $10 million. Flashbacks to Mike Glennonpresented themselves. From Russell Wilson to Andy Dalton: it can be different.
On the defensive side of the ball, inside linebacker Christian Jones and safety Tashaun Gipson were rewarded with a new contract for their good performances. In addition, Desmond Trufant (CB) was recruited to replace Kyle Fuller. During training camp, linebacker Alec Ogletree was captured. He immediately left a very good impression.
Offensively, Marquise Goodwin (WR) must provide speed and danger on the outside. Elijah Wilkinson (G/T) needs to strengthen the still weakened offensive line. After the first preseason game against the Dolphins, the surprising news came that the Bears were able to tie multiple Pro Bowler and All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters. It remains to be seen what his contribution, partly due to injuries and age (39), will be.
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As mentioned, GM Ryan Pace was not always accurate with his picks in the early rounds of the draft. Think of Kevin White, Mitchell Trubisky and Leonard Floyd. He was (rightly) accused of reaching out to players who had either not yet proven themselves, or who would still be available when the Bears were allowed to choose.
Still, the Chicago Bears traded their 2021 first and fifth round picks and their 2022 first and fourth round picks for the eleventh pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Given the course of the draft up to that point, that could only be for one man: Justin Fields (Ohio State). The Bears seem to have finally found their franchise quarterback. The Justin Fields hype train immediately started rolling in Chicago; and how.
In the second round, there was another surprise: the Bears moved up ahead of offensive lineman Teven Jenkins (Oklahoma State). A back injury kept him out of the first round, according to the experts, but the Bears seemed worth the gamble. Seemed, because Teven Jenkins has not yet been in action in training camp due to the same back injury. It now appears that Jenkins has to undergo surgery on his back. So it remains to be seen if and when we will see Jenkins in action this season.
Because of all that swapping of picks, the Bears didn’t get to turn again until the fifth round. In it, the O-line was reinforced with OT Larry Borom (Missouri). In the sixth round, depth was especially added with running back Khalil Herbert (Virginia Tech), wide receiver Dazz Newsome (North Carolina) and cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. (Oregon). Newsome and Graham Jr. seem to be the steals of this round. Many had Graham Jr. as pick #76. The Bears picked him on #228.
Defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga (BYU) was also added in the final round, a defensive prospect who can cheat on Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman.
Matt Nagy was quick to say after the draft that Andy Dalton is the starter and Justin Fields will have a chance to learn. He envisions a Mahomes-esque scenario. For Fields, it’s not just about learning how to read defensive coverages, but also being able to call a play with confidence. In college football, the players receive their instructions mainly from the sidelines. In the National Football League (NFL), Fields will have to make the playcall in the huddle and also give the instructions per position group.
Anyone who has seen the preseason games of the Chicago Bears knows that Bears faithfully are not waiting for Andy Dalton. Plus, this is a make-or-break season for Matt Nagy. A dangerous combination for a franchise with a young QB prospect up its sleeve. It will depend a lot on how the Bears get off the starting blocks. Small prediction: Should they lose the first three games, then week 4 against the Lions will be when Fields is brought in. If the record is fifty-fifty or better, watch week 12 against the Lions. Nagy is unlikely to be able to keep Fields on the bench for a year.
With Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney and Marquise Goodwin, Dalton and Fields have plenty of deep threats to throw at. TE Cole Kmet is the number one tight end, ahead of veteran Jimmy Graham. Let’s hope Kmet learned a lot during Tight End University. David Montgomery is the captain of the improved running back room and will also get the majority of the workload. “Human Joystick” Tarik Cohen is also back from injury. This gives new OC Bill Lazor some more options offensively.
Eddie Goldman decided to opt-out last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year he will be present again and this saves a sip on a drink. He will have to demolish the opponent’s O-line together with Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols. In the inside-linebacker position, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan dominate, with Alec Ogletree and Christian Jones serving as excellent backups.
On the outside linebacker position we find the phenomenon Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. Quinn had to miss several games last season due to injuries and he also suffered an ankle injury in the preseason game against the Dolphins. Let’s hope this doesn’t keep him sidelined for a long time. The Bears need someone to do the mop-up duty for Mack. Mack gets a lot of double-team coverages.
In Jaylon Johnson, the Chicago Bears drew a great cornerback in 2020. Kindle Vildor and Desmond Trufant must decide who will take Kyle Fuller’s place. This is the unit in the defense that the Bears have the most questions about and would have liked more depth.
A true training camp battle takes place at the safety positions. Eddie Jackson and Teshaun Gipson are sure of their place. Behind them, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Marqui Christian and Teez Tabor battle for the last two spots. Or maybe three places. Christian and Tabor have both shown good things in camp and preseason games and there is a good chance that Bears will bring five safeties to their final roster this year.
What the Bears are perhaps most excited about when it comes to defense: new DC Sean Desai. He has been with the Bears since 2013, succeeding retired Chuck Pagano. Bear’s defenders run away with him. If only because of the introduction of the takeaway bucket. Under Desai’s leadership, the defense must return to its 2018 level, where they were the NFL’s most dominant defense.
One area of concern for the Chicago Bears has been the offensive line for several years now. Many injuries, inexperience and little continuity are factors that prevent an effective running game from really getting off the ground. The O-line is something the Bears really need to work on if they want to avoid an Andrew Luck scenario with Fields.
In addition, there is another small headache: wide receiver Allen Robinson II and the Bears seem unable to agree on a new contract. The Bears were therefore forced to hang the franchise tag on Robinson. Everyone in Chicago agrees that Robinson deserves a new and improved contract. Meanwhile, negotiations are still at an impasse and it doesn’t look like this will change during the season.
It will be mostly about when, not if, Justin Fields is brought in throughout the season. He is clearly the new face of the Bears. The Bears have a lot of older players in the defense who want to win now, so the inevitable will happen at some point. However, with or without Fields, it will be a tough season. In addition to the NFC North, the Bears also play against the AFC North and the NFC West: not the easiest schedule.
In the end it doesn’t matter, because for a long time there has been a real successor for Sid Luckman and Jim McMahon; and what kind.