You can rarely see a three-win season as a positive. But in the 2022 Bears’ case, this season might end up filed under “best-case scenario” when all is said and done.
Everything has revolved around second-year quarterback Justin Fields this season. Would he take the Year 2 leap necessary to prove he’s a franchise quarterback? Did new head coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles want to center their rebuild around him? Would the Bears be back in the QB market in the offseason?
Following a rough start behind a shoddy offensive line, Fields took off starting in Week 7. He has been among the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL since that time, showing growth in several key areas.
Improvement is still needed, but Fields is the future. Quarterback. Check.
Eberflus has also acquitted himself well in his first season as a head coach. He got buy-in from all the necessary veterans on the roster and has kept morale high even as the losses have piled up. He has had some first-time coaching mistakes, but overall, he has seemed in control of a roster in the middle of a full teardown.
Head coach. Tentative check.
The last piece of the equation was the all-important “draft position.” The Bears enter week 17 at 3-12 and in position to have the No. 2 picks in the 2023 draft. But the Houston Texans’ win in Week 16 has put the Bears back in the equation for the No. 1 overall pick, which has the Chicago Tank Army frothing at the mouth thinking about potential trade ideas.
We will examine one such (wild) idea below as we dig through the latest batch of overreactions with the season winding down:
When the Bears traded for Claypool, I was in the “like the player, hate the price” camp. I understood why general manager Ryan Poles felt acquiring Claypool was the Bears’ best chance to upgrade the receiving corps, but forking over what was always going to be a top-40 pick was a big overpay.
Theoretically, I like what Claypool can bring to the Bears’ offense. Justin Fields needs a big body receiver he can target on 50-50 balls down the field. He’s an elite athlete who should be a good compliment to Darnell Mooney.
But I don’t know if he’s a legitimate No. 1 receiver. If you’re giving up the No. 33 overall pick, you better get a sure thing in return.
Claypool said he is aware of the price the Bears paid to acquire him and is motivated to make it a good trade for Chicago.
Poles need to hope he makes good on that pledge next season.
I disagree with this line of thinking.
Justin Fields is the most critical part of the Bears’ rebuild. His growth in Year 2 has been tremendous, but he still has many steps to take to become a full-fledged star. The best way for him to do that is by learning on Sundays. Game reps are valuable experiences that cannot be replaced.
As long as Fields is healthy — he has the all-clear from Bears doctors — and isn’t in harm’s way, he should play and continue to build on a successful second season.
As good as he has been, he hasn’t been enough for the Bears to snap their current eight-game losing streak. So there’s a good chance Fields playing doesn’t hurt the Bears’ draft position.
This is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking I want to bring to this exercise.
That being said, this is obviously not an option in any universe.
Should the Bears get the No. 1 pick, there should be at least three teams interested in trading up to select Bryce Young or CJ Stroud. I went through what NFL history says the Bears might expect as a return in a potential trade here.
A wild-card decision like this would also likely cause the Bears to miss out on whatever player they plan to select after the trade down.
Now, if you’re suggesting the Bears work out a pre-draft deal like the Giants and Chargers did for Eli Manning, where the Bears select Young but have already agreed to trade his rights to Team X, who will select the player the Bears covet, then I suppose that’s a possibility.
But this wild idea to draft Young/Stroud and then hold some sort of post-draft (or in-draft) bidding war for them is not in the realm of reality. I don’t see how that would get the Bears more in return than trading the pick before the draft.
I honestly think drafting Young and trying to trade him later would decrease the Bears’ leverage in a potential deal.
I do like the creativity, though.
Poles is undoubtedly the biggest X-factor in the Bears’ offseason.
The returns on his early moves have been iffy at best.
The jury is still out on the Claypool trade, and he has done a good job identifying talent in the undrafted free-agent market. He appears to have hits on Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker.
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But most (all?) of his first-year free-agent moves have been duds. I think giving him a pass on those is fair, given the Bears’ cap situation.
If we wipe that slate clean, we don’t really know what to expect from the first-time general manager during a critical offseason in which he will have over $100 million in cap space and a top pick.
I think it’s fair to see the Bears’ future as bright while also acknowledging that a lot is riding on Poles pulling the right strings.
At the moment, we don’t know what to expect from him this offseason. It’s fair to give him the benefit of the doubt. Poles has been disciplined in his approach so far, but we’ll learn a lot more about who he is as a GM this offseason.
Fields has raised the floor for a roster that is lacking in talent. He has kept them in games against the Cowboys, Dolphins, Lions, Eagles, and Bills, showing that a significant jump is possible in 2023 if the roster is upgraded at several key spots.
I wouldn’t expect the Bears to be near contention in 2023, but a jump from three or four wins to seven or eight is in play, with 2024 as the expected date for playoff contention.
That Fields and the Bears were able to take the Eagles to the wire and pester the Bills for three quarters is a sign that, while the record is poor, things are headed in the right direction for the Bears to go from doormat to contender after a severe roster facelift.
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