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A (Bears) Year to Be Thankful For

In the last year, the Bears have gone from a stumbling team at the bottom of their division to true playoff contenders. Here are seven moves from the last 365 days that Chicago fans should celebrate.

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bears have 7 wins for the first time since 2013, and on that note, I have come up with a list of 7 decisions I am grateful the Bears have made since last Thanksgiving. I invite fans to join me in celebrating:

#7: Moving on from John Fox

Not to belabor the point, but Fox was a mistake.

I don’t buy the idea that he was needed to reset the locker room (roster turnover should have accomplished that), and I don’t really care who was responsible for the decision (Accorsi, Pace, Philips, or even the Honey Bears). What I care about is that a man with a .292 record as the head coach of the Chicago Bears has been shown the door.

#6: Accepting that Kevin White is not a “Thing”

I have nothing against Kevin White. He seems to be a decent kid. However, in 12 games he has been fed 46 opportunities (45 targets and a rush) and has managed to account for 272 yards from scrimmage. Since he was drafted, Cre’von Leblanc, Leonard Floyd, Adrian Amos, Eddie Jackson, Prince Amukamara, and Khalil Mack all have more touchdowns than he does, and that’s just on defense.

White was over-drafted. He was always going to be a project based on his physical attributes, and he would have needed luck and coaching to work out, anyway. He was a Cutler-era big-bodied receiver stuck on a team headed in a different direction. He has been responsible for multiple illegal formation penalties. He is not an NFL receiver, and the Bears have listed him as a healthy scratch for three games now. That is to their credit. Pace is not insisting on salvaging “his” guy, a player who is his second-biggest investment of draft capital since arriving in Chicago. Instead, he is doing the responsible thing and letting the coaches make football decisions--in this case, letting someone else who can contribute more meaningfully take a spot on the bench.

The irresponsible thing would be to assume that because the team has so much invested in him, they should try to salvage him and have him take reps away from vets who know their responsibilities and deliver results (like Bellamy) or up-and-coming talents who can become cornerstone players (like Miller). Nor should the Bears assume “hey, throw him on special teams” when he has no experience there and is as likely to make a critical mistake as he is to even be a replacement-level player.

This is one of the best signs of the last 12 months that this team is headed in the right direction, because it represents a GM who is willing to move on instead of one trying to be the smartest, most stubborn guy in the room.

#5: Buying an Offense

On March 13, the Bears signed Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel to a set of contracts worth $50million in guaranteed money, with a total value north of $100million. This year alone, those three players are going to count almost $23million against the cap (just over 12% of the total cap). They have also given the Bears 1410 yards (38% of the offensive total) and 11 touchdowns (37% of the total).

The reality is that buying weapons on offense is an effective use of free agency dollars. Elite wide receivers generally cost more money than they are worth, but going after elite wide receivers is not what the Bears did. Instead, they went after a number of possible difference-makers, and they gave them manageable contracts. This is a process familiar to Bears fans, as Pace has had a tendency to cycle through positions in the past, throwing both money and draft picks at a single part of the roster, hoping for improvement. This time, however, the market came to Pace, and he was able to make a number of quality moves.

The result is that the offense might have had a couple of disappointments in it (like Sims), but as a whole the investments made in the last year are paying off nicely for Nagy, for Trubisky, and for Chicago.

#4 Retaining Kyle Fuller

The Bears had a decision to make with Emery-holdover Kyle Fuller. He had shown ups and downs as a corner, but he was clearly a solid player. Instead of making him a low offer or paying him top dollar, Pace took a middling approach that was criticized by many. Ultimately, he let the team’s rivals set the price and then he paid it. Many thought he overpaid, and some thought he simply mismanaged the entire situation. Ultimately, though, he locked Fuller up with a 4-year contract.

Spotrac says that Fuller is the 27th corner in the NFL in terms of cap hit, while being the 5th-highest corner in terms of average contract value (he is the second-most expensive in terms of absolute cash value, however). Meanwhile, Fuller currently leads the NFL in passes defended (13), and he’s second in the NFL in terms of interceptions (4). He had a hand in three different interceptions in one game, and he has been aggressive in getting to the ball.

Some fans might focus on the fact that he did not make one particular interception, but the reality is that the fact that he was in a position to make that play at all should be a mark in his favor, and that he has been an absolute asset to the defense this year.

#3: Making the Trade to Draft Miller

According to Next Gen Stats, Anthony Miller has more than one full yard after catch per reception than would be expected. That makes him the 14th-highest wide receiver in that regard. He’s also the Bears’ leader in yards per reception (at 13.7 Y/R), and he has been a reliable weapon on this offense. Perhaps more importantly, he is a highly competent receiver who is perfectly poised to grow with this new offense.

Pace accelerated a second-rounder by paying a fourth-rounder. That is not a bad deal, especially when the player in question has been such an asset.

#2: Hiring Matt Nagy

When the Bears hired Matt Nagy, it seemed like they were following the right script, but from the outside looking in, it was hard to predict which of the various offensive-minded candidates would be best for the Bears. There was no such hesitation on the part of Ryan Pace and the Bears’ front office. Instead, they settled on Nagy early and they made sure to get their first choice.

It’s still early (less than a full season into the first year), but Nagy is certainly saying the right things. More obviously, the team is finally maintaining a constant level of success.

#1: Getting Khalil Mack

Here’s a fun thought, unless you’re a Raiders fan. If the season were over right now, Khalil Mack cost the Bears the #26 and #187 pick in the 2019 draft, as well as a future first and future third. In exchange, the Bears received Mack and a future second (plus a conditional pick, but let’s assume the Bears lose out on that one for now).

That means that in terms of pure trade value, Mack cost the Bears 1018 points in the draft. That’s between the 15th and 16th pick in the draft. Interestingly, all five #15 draft selections since 2014 (when Mack was drafted) combine for three Pro Bowls, the same number as Mack, though that’s a little unfair as Kolton Miller has not had a chance to be selected, yet. Ultimately, however, the Mack trade has transformed the Chicago defense, and the Bears as a whole.

If you need an internet blogger to explain to you how Khalil Mack is worth more than the #15 pick in the draft, then you are either the head coach of the Oakland Raiders or probably not enough of a fan of football to have read this far, anyway.