Let’s face it: 2017 is not going to be the year the Chicago Bears turn things around.
The team has been treading water for the past few years. They haven’t topped a .500 winning percentage in five seasons, and they haven’t made the playoffs in seven. The Phil Emery era destroyed any and all promise the Bears had, leaving Ryan Pace picking up the scraps in his wake.
Pace still hasn’t been able to fully accomplish that.
While the roster is better than it was when he first arrived in Chicago, the Bears have yet to win more than seven games in a season during his tenure. And, barring a major turnaround, that’s unlikely to change.
Basically, the Bears are a down-on-their-luck franchise who needs a change.
Why not take a page out of the book of a team who has been in a similar position in recent years?
The Los Angeles Rams haven’t reached the .500 mark since 2006, and they haven’t made the playoffs since 2004. Since that season, they have gone through five head coaches - eight, if you include interims. However, they seem to finally reached a point where they can feel confident about their future.
As of this writing, the Rams are 3-2, which places them in a tie atop the NFC West. Their offense has been one of the league’s best so far, and their defense has its fair share of cornerstones. Keep in mind that this is just one season after they finished 4-12.
If you take a deeper looker into it, then you’ll notice that this year’s Bears and last year’s Rams have a lot of similarities. They both had great running backs, a rookie quarterback at the helm, a few building blocks on defense, and very little talent at the wide receiver position. That’s why it would be smart of Chicago to take a few pages out of Los Angeles’ rebuild. Here are a few things that the Bears should do next offseason that their counterpart did this past offseason.
Fire the coach, but keep the GM
This time last year, the Rams were led by Jeff Fisher: a veteran head coach who had been good in the past, but his old-school philosophies simply weren’t translating to wins for his team. Sound familiar?
Odds are that John Fox won’t be the Bears’ head coach next season. Has the front office made a few bad decisions? Sure, but one could argue that coaching has been the main reason that the Bears haven’t been able to improve lately.
But what about injuries? Chicago has definitely been destroyed by the injury bug in recent years, but part of that may have to do with Fox. He applies an old-school approach to practice that contradicts what most of the league has come to adapt to. Along with their strength and conditioning team, he hasn’t put enough emphasis on toning down the physicality in practice and truly caring about his team’s health.
Besides that, Fox just doesn’t fit into their long-term plans. He’s 62 years old, so it’s hard to see him coaching in general for much longer. He has failed to adapt to today’s NFL game, and his play calling is far too conservative. Oh yeah, and there’s the whole thing about him completely botching the quarterback situation.
Ryan Pace deserves some of the blame for what’s happening - especially the whole Mike Glennon fiasco - but he deserves to stay on as the team’s general manager, much like what the Rams did with Les Snead. Pace has does a good job of turning what once was one of the league’s worst defenses into a solid group. The Rams hired decorated defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to help their defense get better. The Bears already have their own grizzled veteran in Vic Fangio, so they’re already own step ahead of the 2016 Rams in that regard.
Pace has also been able to find the Bears’ quarterback of the future, and has made a handful of great draft picks and free agent signings. Let Pace choose a new head coach that best fits his vision for the team in the long run. Which brings us to our next point...
Hire a young, offensive-minded head coach
Okay, okay. The Bears’ next head coach doesn’t necessarily have to be young, and he certainly doesn’t have to be as young as Sean McVay. However, my personal top choice for the position just so happens to be under 35 years old.
That coach is Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. While Chicago could end up choosing a different offensive-minded coach and could likely still do well, Cooter appears to be the best choice. He has done a great job of leading Detroit’s offense and turning Matthew Stafford into one of the league’s better quarterbacks. He also deserves credit for managing to keep the Lions’ passing attack strong without Calvin Johnson. Cooter’s play calling is creative, and it plays to the strengths of his personnel. He is also willing to work with his quarterbacks and make sure that they are comfortable in their own offense.
Despite only being 33 years old, Cooter has been coaching for 10 years, and has been impressive thus far since becoming Detroit’s offensive coordinator in the middle of the 2015 season. Before the promotion, he was the team’s quarterbacks coach. Getting a head coach who knows how to work with signal-callers could benefit the development of Mitch Trubisky. Speaking of which...
Surround their second-year QB with weapons
Jared Goff is a high first-round pick who is in his second year in the NFL. Next year, Mitch Trubisky will be a high first-round pick in his second year in the NFL. Goff didn’t have a good rookie campaign, and while Trubisky’s performance this season remains to be seen, it’s likely that he won’t set the world on fire right away. In Goff’s second year, however, he has almost become an entirely new player. He’s making better decisions, his confidence is sky high and his production is much better as a whole.
This can be attributed to a myriad of factors. He has a new head coach, and he has had another season to adjust to the NFL style of play. Another big factor, though, has been the weapons around him. The Rams entered the 2016 season with Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt as their top two receivers. Now, they have Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, in addition to Austin. They even added tight end Gerald Everett in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The Bears, who are in a similar situation as the 2016 Rams, should follow suit.
Currently, Chicago’s top wide receiver is Kendall Wright. Injuries have taken the seasons of Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, but the latter of the two is no longer a player that they can assume will break out in the next season. He simply can’t stay healthy, and he should no longer be a piece that the team should build around. While Meredith is still a promising player, he’s not a No. 1 wide out by any means. The Bears should address the wide receiver position aggressively, but wisely.
This coming offseason will have plenty of talented weapons to choose from. Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Terrelle Pryor, Davante Adams and the aforementioned Watkins are among some of the top names on track to hit the open market in March of 2018. Even Alshon Jeffery will be available, although the odds of him coming back to Chicago are practically nonexistent. According to Spotrac, the Bears will have the 10th most cap space in the NFL. And that’s not even factoring in cap casualties; cutting Mike Glennon and Bobby Massie alone would save $17.1 million. They would have more than enough to sign one of the best receivers on the open market.
Assuming the Bears pick in or near the top 10 of the 2018 NFL Draft, there won’t be any wide receivers worth picking when they’re on the clock. However, there would likely be a lot of talented players available in Round 2. In my early preparation for the draft, I’ve noticed a handful of wide outs that would be great additions that could realistically be available early on Day 2. Indiana’s Simmie Cobbs Jr. and Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown are among my favorite options in this class. If they were to select a wide receiver in the second round, then they could direct their attention towards another position in the first round, preferably on defense.
The Rams were aggressive in finding weapons to surround Jared Goff with. It would be smart of Chicago to do the same.
Would this approach be a guarantee to work for the Bears as well as it did for Los Angeles right away? Probably not. After all, the Rams are in a division with a talented-yet-question Seattle Seahawks team, an Arizona Cardinals squad that’s near the end of the road, and the San Francisco 49ers, who still have a few more years before they can be considered a threat. Regardless, it would still be a smart way to speed up a rebuilding process which has been going on for far too long. Besides, at this point, what better options do they have?