Now that the 2020 season is over, the Chicago Bears go into the offseason trying to fix the team and become a real contender. Here is a list of what should be the team’s priorities for 2021.
The 2020 season didn’t end the way the Chicago Bears hoped, though it ended the way many figured it would. Chicago lost to the New Orleans Saints 21-9, and the offense reverted back to the unit that struggled to move the ball 10 yards at a time.
Yes, making the playoffs in two of the past three seasons is nice, but both appearances resulted in one and done. This is one of the most storied franchises in NFL history yet they have just eight playoff appearances in 30 seasons. In addition, they haven’t won a playoff game since 2010, the sixth-longest drought in the league.
Things need to change. The Bears need to make the moves necessary to become serious and consistent contenders. Changes need to be made from top to bottom. Chicago Bears Nation deserves better than what they’ve seen over the past 30 years.
So what changes need to be made? Here are some moves that should be the team’s priorities this offseason:
Hire a football person to replace Phillips
The time has come for team President and CEO Ted Phillips to step aside. He’s been at his position since 1999 and in that time the Bears have just three playoff wins. He is no more than a glorified accountant for the team. He doesn’t know the day-to-day football operations and what a team needs to succeed. He just rubber stamps whatever his general manager wants as long as it’s financially feasible.
The Bears need someone who holds the general manager accountable for moves, not just looking for financial feasibility. Chicago Bears beat writer for the Chicago Tribune Brad Biggs recently wrote about the Bears showing interest in Kansas City Chiefs Director of Operations Mike Borgonzi. His hire would be great. He had success with the Chiefs and he has experience working with head coach Matt Nagy. If the Bears bring back Ryan Pace to work with someone like Borgonzi it wouldn’t be the worst idea.
Do the Bears trust Pace to give him a second chance to fix things?
By all accounts, the Chicago Bears owners appear to like Pace. He does have some success. He brought All-World pass rusher, Khalil Mack, to Chicago. He hit on some of his middle-to-late round picks like Eddie Jackson and David Montgomery. Remember, when he took over in 2015, he rebuilt a very bad defense to become a very good one.
Despite that, Pace has a lot of negatives on his resume as well. He put it all on the line to draft Mitchell Trubisky. He had the third overall pick and gave away some critical draft capital to move up one spot for Trubisky. Ultimately, that may be his fatal move.
In addition, Pace missed on other first-round picks. Leonard Floyd and Kevin White are examples. He also drafted Adam Shaheen, an unknown prospect from a small school, in the second round, missing out on other players like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Alvin Kamara, and Cooper Kupp.
Do the Chicago Bears trust Pace enough to give him a do-over on the quarterback position? In addition to Trubisky, he brought in Mike Glennon, Nick Foles, and Chase Daniel. None of them performed well in Chicago. He doesn’t invoke much trust after those signings.
Does Nagy get another chance?
Over the course of the Bears’ six-game losing streak, many (me included) wrote Nagy off. There was no way the Bears keep him after that, right? Well, not so fast. Nagy kept the team together enough to have the playoffs back on the table. Regrouping and getting into the playoffs was huge. Doing that likely saved his job.
In the coverage of the Bears’ loss to the Saints in the Wild Card game, the announcers told the story of how Nagy told players, coaches, and front office personnel to save the date of January 3rd. He said that was when they’d clinch a playoff spot. That was a bold move for someone who was on the hot seat. If the team failed to make the playoffs, his words would blow up in his face.
Nagy still has the loyalty of his players. They’ll run through a brick wall for him. That should go a long way in convincing ownership to bring him back. We saw what happened when the Bears fired a popular coach in Lovie Smith. The players didn’t like it and did not make much of an effort for anyone else who stepped in.
Of course, Nagy has to look at his own errors and grow from them so he improves as a coach. Let the offensive coordinator call the plays for an entire season. He needs to just be involved in the game plan but let his coordinator call plays according to that plan. If he does that, he’ll enjoy success.
What do the Bears do with Robinson?
The decision on Trubisky isn’t the only one for the Bears this offseason. There are a number of players who likely played their final game in Chicago. The Bears need to make re-signing Allen Robinson a priority. He’s been the best receiver by far, receiving the biggest chunk of the targets over the past three seasons.
Robinson was the most-targeted receiver in the last three seasons. In each season, the second-most targeted player was different. During his three seasons in Chicago, the quarterback targeted him 23.4 percent of the time. The other three who finished second combined for just 17.3 percent of the targets.
Who can be as consistent as Robinson? Rookie Darnell Mooney had a pretty good season but is he a true number one receiver? At 5-10, 176 pounds, he doesn’t have Robinson’s size (6-2, 220 pounds). He could be a good second option. If the team cuts ties with Robinson, do they roll the dice and pick someone up in the draft? Conversely, do they sign a free agent? Why sign another free agent when you already know what you have with Robinson? Letting him go is a mistake.
The offensive line performed well down the stretch but still needs tinkering
At one point, the offensive line was in tatters. Injuries and COVID ravaged the unit. The coaches found a good combination after the bye week and that line performed well. The linemen opened up holes for the running game and protected Trubisky well. The offensive woes in the final two games of the season weren’t because of the line.
Despite the success, the line still needs tweaks. One of the tackles has to be targeted for cuts. To top it all, the Bears need salary cap relief. They get that by cutting tight end Jimmy Graham (an easy decision with Cole Kmet ready to take over) and saving $7 million, and they save $9 million by cutting Charles Leno Jr and $8 million by cutting Bobby Massie. Massie played better than Leno this season but he also missed a chunk of time because of a leg injury. Don’t expect both to get cut, but one of them is likely to leave Chicago.
Because of that, the Bears need to find a replacement and get some added depth. The linemen experienced a number of injuries over the past couple of seasons so the team needs backups who can fill in properly. If not, we’ll see more of the same. No matter who is in at quarterback, he won’t survive if he’s constantly on his back.
Give Montgomery some help
David Montgomery had an amazing season. It was also an up and down season. He started out getting big chunks of yards, he rushed for 191 yards and averaged 4.4 yards per run. In his next six games, he rushed for just 281 yards and averaged only 3.2 yards per run.
In the final six games, however, he flourished. He amassed 598 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per run. He also added 226 receiving yards. He had a combined eight touchdowns in those games. He finished the season with 1,070 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. He also had 438 receiving yards and 2 touchdown catches. After recording 1,074 total yards from scrimmage in his rookie season in 2019, he had 1,508 total yards in 2020.
Now the priority is to get Montgomery some help. He needs a proper backup, not just Cordarrelle Patterson. They have a good option in Artavis Pierce. The Bears used him sparingly this season. Even so, he showed a good burst through open holes. He deserves a chance to be a full-time backup to help Montgomery. He gives the Bears a better chance to run the ball than Patterson does. Patterson can get in the backfield on certain packages but he shouldn’t be there on a full-time basis. This keeps Montgomery fresh throughout the season and gives him the opportunity to play even better.