In the blink of an eye, the Chicago Bears have flipped their chances in 2021, and not just because they landed QB Justin Fields.
A few short months ago I was writing articles about general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy’s impending firings, so I understand as well as anyone that a Chicago Bears Super Bowl run sounds a bit farfetched right now, but NFL franchises often flip the script overnight in this league and it can all start with one move.
Now I know I just finished saying that Chicago’s chances aren’t reliant on Fields’ immediate stardom, and they’re not, but his potential as a generational quarterback talent is certainly the conductor of the hype train.
Truth is, I have been against this regime for quite some time. The trade up for the unproven Mitchell Trubisky, the horrid playcalling by Nagy that seemed to stunt the growth of not only Trubisky but running back David Montgomery, the indecision at QB and the miserable ideas to bring in Nick Foles and Andy Dalton as “saviors” when every NFL fan under the sun knows that these veterans are no more than underwhelming game managers. Yes, I know Foles won a Super Bowl, but that Philadelphia Eagles roster was built like a tank and this Bears one is not.
It’s been a tough road for Bears fans ever since Vic Fangio’s defense (led by Khalil Mack) shattered expectations in 2018. Not tough like 1-15 record tough, but more “what could have been” tough. The knowledge that your putrid offense is holding back and possibly wasting a championship caliber defense is difficult to stomach (especially when you traded a ton of your future draft capital for the catalyst of that unit in Mack).
This defense has a window, and that window is closing fast. Mack is under contract till 2025, but his cap hit is exorbitant after 2021 (unless Chicago takes the potential out next offseason at a $24 million dollar hit). That 2018 group has already seen losses like Fangio (DC), Kyle Fuller (CB1), Adrian Amos (S), Prince Amukamara (CB2, age caught up fast here), Bryce Callahan (slot), Leonard Floyd (edge) and more. Mack’s departure could be the final nail in the coffin, sealing that window for good.
The emergence of a unique prospect like Fields at QB gives Chicago a shot in 2021, but there are a few other factors that have a Jets fan like me all aboard the Bears bandwagon.
1. NFC in Decline
With Drew Brees retiring, the NFC East in total dissarray, Aaron Rodgers wanting out of Green Bay, and the NFC West all beating up on eachother, there aren’t many Super Bowl favorites in the NFC outside of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In what has become a conference shift in strength, we now see a lot of the bright young quarterbacks in the AFC (Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson should he return to Houston) while the NFC is left wanting.
An Aaron Rodgers trade to a franchise like the Denver Broncos could totally blow the doors off this conversation. Not only that, it would leave a gaping hole in the NFC North with the Detroit Lions rebuilding and the Minnesota Vikings as a playoff bubble team at best. The Green Bay Packers are one of the NFC’s (and Bears’) strongest competitors left, and if there’s any truth to the rumors, that Cheesehead locomotive may have already flown off the tracks.
2. Phenomenal ’21 Draft
We all know about the Justin Fields selection, but the Bears 2021 draft went much further than that. Pace was drafting like his job was on the line and he answered the bell with some really solid picks.
Just after trading up to get the franchise QB, Pace was able to nab the left tackle to pair with him for years to come, in Teven Jenkins. Many thought the Oklahoma State Cowboys 6’6″ tackle would go in the first, but he slipped to day two and the Bears did not hesitate. Later on he bulked the offensive line again, drafting upside guard prospect Larry Borom out of Missouri.
One trouble area may be cornerback with Fuller gone, but sixth rounder Thomas Graham Jr. had sleeper grades from many analysts out of Oregon. The former Duck could help fill the void, but Chicago will also need something from 2020 second rounder Jaylon Johnson (just turned 22 in April), and free agent flier Desmond Trufant.
3. Key Vets Returning After 2020 Season
I wasn’t particularly high on the 2020 Bears defense, in part because I knew the offense would struggle, but also because some instrumental pieces were missing.
One major cog to account for was nose tackle Eddie Goldman, a 2020 COVID opt-out. Goldman had 40-plus tackles in 2017 and ’18 as one of the premier run-stuffers in the game. 2021 is only his age-27 season, so Chicago will count on the DT to return with avengeance after a year on the pine.
Alongside Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, this unit is still very formidable up front. The linebacker core also flaunts Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan in the middle, with free safety Eddie Jackson over the top. LB Christian Jones joins this crew, and they’ll also look to re-sign or replace strong safety Tash Gipson before preseason begins. Gipson started all 16 games with the Bears a season ago, and is currently an unrestricted free agent.
Let’s not forget the offensive side of the ball, as Pace held onto wide receiver Allen Robinson for dear life. New faces like Damien Williams, Damiere Byrd, Dazz Newsome, Khalil Herbert and Marquise Goodwin add some versatility to a group that needs to get more creative behind Fields and Nagy.
This defense may be slightly diminished from 2018, but it’s still pretty darn good, and this offense could theoretically become much more dynamic with a quarterback like Fields at the helm. Am I slightly worried that Nagy may just be a terrible coach? Absolutely. This is a make or break season for the HC though, so I expect him to pull out all the stops.
At the very least, I see the Bears as a playoff team again in 2021, but at +4800 odds right now on FanDuel Sportsbook, Chicago may just be the biggest sleeper pick to win Super Bowl LVI.