It’s been one hell of an offseason for the Chicago Bears.
The 2017 team finished 5-11 but had reasons to be optimistic. They went 4-0 against the AFC North, and drafted nice building blocks such as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, running back Tarik Cohen, tight end Adam Shaheen, and safety Eddie Jackson.
Fans complained about one obvious need: wide receivers. In 2017, the Bears had Kendall Wright, Dontrelle Inman, Markus Wheaton and Josh Bellamy filling out the top four receiver spots. Combined with a highly conservative, inefficient passing scheme from offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, and this was an offense that limited Trubisky’s production instead of enhancing it.
Enter 2018, and general manager Ryan Pace responded to the previous season by totally revamping the receiving corps. The big prize was, of course, Allen Robinson from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team is betting on his ACL injury from the previous season, but at full health, Robinson is one of the absolute best receivers in the game, with great vertical speed and stunning ball skills.
The Bears also signed former Atlanta Falcon (and Cleveland Brown) Taylor Gabriel to help the slot, and if used correctly he’s a dangerous yards-after-the-catch asset. Tight end Trey Burton from the Philadelphia Eagles will be bunched up with Shaheen on the field. Burton is an extremely talented tight end who has been very impressive in the limited reps he had behind Zach Ertz and Brent Celek.
The team took heat for letting Cameron Meredith walk to the New Orleans Saints after deciding matching New Orleans’ offer on him after a torn ACL and MCL was not worth it. Then the team drafted Anthony Miller out of Memphis in the 2nd round, and those concerns were laid to rest. Miller is essentially Doug Baldwin, combining excellent, patient route running with outrageous ball skills at the catch point.
Fourth-year receiver Kevin White is extremely talented but has rarely been able to stay healthy. If he is, the Bears get another boost on a loaded receiving corps, but if he isn’t, Miller is in a good position to take his place. Combine that with the insane backfield of Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and Benny Cunningham, and a solid offensive line, and this is an offense that is set to help Trubisky at every angle.
The defense is not as loaded, but has enough quality to be excited about. Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos are set to become a dominant safety duo in 2018, and the team surprisingly brought cornerback Kyle Fuller, who had a nice 2017 campaign. The front seven also has some nice talent, with linebacker Leonard Floyd being the key piece. Danny Trevathan, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, and rookie Roquan Smith further highlight a solid defensive line.
While the NFC is loaded with great teams, the team Ryan Pace has built is not only one that will be a playoff contender in 2018, but for the next several years to come. In his quest to provide a top rate supporting cast for his sophomore quarterback, Pace has created a Super Bowl window, so for the next 3-4 years the Bears will have their best shot at winning a Super Bowl since 2006 or 2010.
The 2018 team only has three players of at least 30 years of age: backup quarterback Chase Daniel, backup right corner Sherrick McManis, and long snapper Patrick Scales. The key nucleus of the team comes from the players drafted and signed in the Ryan Pace era (est. 2015).
Pace hasn’t been safe with his time as general manager either (except for hiring John Fox, but he made up for that mistake). This past offseason has been aggressive for the Bears, and with a team full of young talent, it’s clear that the Bears are in the beginning stages of “win now” mode, and this will be a process that will take place the next few years or so.
It won’t be clear if the Bears will make the playoffs this year, but there’s many reasons to suggest they will in the next few years based on player contracts.
-The Bears have an improbable 14 player’s contracts that expire after the 2021 season. Among these include Mitchell Trubisky, Kyle Fuller, Akiem Hicks, Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel, James Daniels and Anthony Miller. As of this writing, the average age for the players name dropped is 25. Hicks, Fuller, Gabriel, Burton, Leno, and Long are all at least 26 years of age, while Trubisky, Daniels, and Miller are all 23 or under. So, in four years, these players’ contracts are up.
-After the 2020 season, the contracts of players such as Tarik Cohen, Allen Robinson, Prince Amukamara, Leonard Floyd, Adam Shaheen, and Eddie Jackson will expire. The average age for all six players is also 25. Cohen’s contract ($3M, with a little over $630,000 in guaranteed money) is absurd for the level of quality he brings. These guys will be with the team for at least three more years.
-After the 2019 season, the contracts of guys such as Kevin White, Cody Whitehair, Danny Trevathan, and Jordan Howard expire, so these guys are here for the next two years.
-Eddie Goldman and Adrian Amos are two notable players whose contracts expire after 2018, and it’s likely that Pace will at least extend one of these guys.
With Trubisky’s rookie deal, Pace has decided earlier than later to go to win now mode, and in doing so has not only racked up an impressive cast of players, but has also given Chicago a nice, sizable window to compete for a Super Bowl title. Allen Robinson is only taking up 6.9% of Chicago’s cap hit for this year, the third “lowest” highest cap hit amongst all 32 teams.
Most of the teams that rank at the bottom in cap hit percentage have quarterbacks on rookie deals. Before said quarterbacks can demand gigantic cap eating contracts, they play on team affordable rookie deals, making it easier for front offices to build a team if they feel they’ve found the right quarterback.
Which leads me to Mitchell Trubisky. The sophomore passer has been frequently compared to fellow draft classmate Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans. Unfavorably, might I add. However, Watson had the better situation, as the play calling and receivers gave him a higher rate of open windows to throw to than Trubisky. Because the play action, read option heavy offense allowed receivers to get open with ease, the Texans ran a statistically dominant vertical offense with Watson at the helm.
Watson’s receivers also had far better ball skills and route running ability than Trubisky’s receivers. That will likely change in 2018 thanks to the new weapons at the quarterback’s disposal.
Trubisky is a big reason why I think the Bears can be a Super Bowl contender down the road. His rookie season was extremely promising, and despite a lack of playing experience in college, got better and better as the NFL season progressed. He has impressive accuracy and pocket movement, and can deliver under pressure and into tight windows. That was made more impressive considering how limited the scheme the Bears installed for him was.
New head coach Matt Nagy, formerly the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, should likely change Trubisky’s surroundings as well. Nagy had play calling duties for the Chiefs in the last quarter of the 2017 season, and the team went 4-1 in this stretch. Coming from the Andy Reid coaching tree, Nagy, based on the moves he helped make this year, will likely install an RPO, play action heavy offense with bunched sets. This type of offense, especially one executed well, will make the Bears offense one of the league’s more dangerous.
But what about the other NFC North teams? Surely, they will continue to provide headaches to the Bears like in previous seasons, right?
Well, with the large increase in talent the Bears have acquired this season, it’s going to be a lot more difficult, especially in the next few years to follow. The Detroit Lions have some extremely impressive pieces on offense, but the defense is weak and the run game is unknown with a new center, new offensive line coach, and new running backs.
The Green Bay Packers have owned Chicago for all eternity, but how long will that last? Aaron Rodgers is a one man orchestra, but the defense is in a rebuilding stage and Mike McCarthy is essentially Rodgers’ puppet.
The Minnesota Vikings have arguably the best defense in football, and the offense as the best wide receiver duo in the league. I’m not a fan of Kirk Cousins, though. He has a weak arm, is one of the worst tight window passers in the league, and is extremely limited as a downfield passer. With Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, it won’t matter unless he faces the stronger NFC teams.
All three teams are certainly threats to the Bears in their own ways, but the Bears now more than before are rising threats to each team in the NFC North. The 2018 schedule is tough, but with the roster upgrade, I feel that Chicago is ready for adversity.
Besides, it won’t matter if Chicago misses the playoffs in 2018, because they have a wide open window with Trubisky’s rookie contract to make it in future years to come. And yet, I find it hard not having them as a playoff team in 2018. The defensive talent is solid, and the talent on offense is diverse and ridiculous. As aforementioned, the heart of the team has been here since 2015 at the very least, so it’s a long time before anyone from the Pace era is gone.
Bottom-line, Ryan Pace (and Matt Nagy this season) has made a statement with his aggressive offseason, a statement that has announced the Chicago Bears are a playoff contender in 2018 and down the line. Pace’s work since he took over as GM has been remarkable. He’s built a team that is now ready for even the toughest of the NFC’s titans, and it is now time for fans to expect a playoff hungry franchise.
And maybe, just maybe, a team that can compete for a Super Bowl once again.
(Featured image via bearsbeat.com)