Let’s start with this: The Chicago Bears weren’t bad in 2018. They finished that season first in the NFC North—their first divisional title since 2010—with a 12-4 record—their first 10-plus-win season since 2021. Things were looking up after four consecutive losing seasons, but then 2019 came and the new-found success quickly deteriorated.
The Bears trod water and finished last season 8-8 but missed the playoffs for the eighth time in the last decade. Chicago saw a slew of things go wrong from an offseason kicker search that was more of a headache than anything else to offensive line regression to injuries that hampered the effectiveness of the offense.
The result was another offseason full of moves; this time it was more structured than the previous circus of finding a new kicker, but almost as confusing in some cases. If the Bears plan to return to the previous success they found they need better, more reliable quarterback play and a playoff win.
The two go hand-in-hand and the addition of Nick Foles will make for an interesting quarterback battle; it’s one I see Foles winning if Mitchell Trubisky doesn’t take the step forward he was supposed to in Year 2. The offensive never matched the play of the Bears’ defense—even with its string of injuries last season, including the extended absences of defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who played just five games last season, and linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith, who played in nine and 12 games, respectively—and star linebacker Khalil Mack; but for the highest-paid defensive player in history to not make it past the wild-card round due to such a poor offensive attack is unacceptable. That’s why Chicago needs stability under center if it wants to capitalize on the Mack era.
There were lofty expectations for Trubisky’s continued development under Matt Nagy, who was named the Bears’ head coach in 2018, but their offense declined rapidly. It went from about the middle of the pack in Nagy’s first year to the fourth-worst last season. Trubisky isn’t the only one to blame, even if he receives a fair amount of flak.
Chicago’s offensive line was porous, its receiving corps didn’t produce a great target outside of Allen Robinson II—many were expecting second-year wide receiver Anthony Miller to have a breakout season but he finished with 656 yards and two touchdowns—and the tight end position was also struck with injury; Trey Burton, who is now in Indianapolis, only played eight games.
In an effort to bolster its defense and address these problems, the Bears quickly signed defensive end Robert Quinn and tight end Jimmy Graham; they then traded for Foles. Quinn’s addition makes sense. Chicago wanted to improve its elite defense and saw Quinn star in the Dallas Cowboys’ attack. He finished 11.5 sacks, which was the second-highest mark of his career. The Graham addition, however, was questionable. His play hasn’t been the same since his 2013 season in New Orleans, and the Bears’ fascination at the tight end position didn’t end there. They selected Cole Kmet in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. While improved tight end play will certainly be helpful for the team’s chances of achieving the aforementioned success, it could have put more resources into its wide receiver room; the Bears opted for fifth-round selection Darnell Mooney, who is a speedy pass-catcher. Chicago wants to use more tight end sets and improve its run game, which is fine when teams have reliable talent at 1) the tight end position and 2) on the offensive line. Last season didn’t provide hope for either and these additions aren’t convincing that the 2020 product will be any better. Chicago is trusting new offensive line coach Juan Castillo to rejuvenate a front with four returning starters.
What’s most fascinating about these moves is Chicago didn’t necessarily address its weakest unit, the offense, with the same gusto as its defense. The Bears obviously want to improve on what has worked, and good for them, but when their offensive unity is disproportionately worse, I would have hoped the same energy would have been brought to properly building around Trubisky or Foles, whoever winds up under center.
If the Bears’ success is contingent on one thing, it’s playoff win or bust; simply making it into the postseason isn’t good enough for a team with this good of a defense. It’s only a matter of if the offense can bring similar, heck, even half of the value.