No league lives up to it's moniker of "Not For Long" quite like the NFL. Since the career of an average player only amounts to three years, the 53-men rosters of teams experience so much churning from year to year. Contract clauses such as guaranteed money are designed specifically for organizations to be able to cut players, if warranted, when they so choose without minimal dead cap space. It's the nature of a brutal game that demands everything from those on the field. A game that has players take punishment, for not much reward towards the twilight of their careers.
It's why projecting some young guys as starters down the line can be theoretically nonsensical. Pressure to win in the NFL and whomever is in charge of personnel, demands immediate impact if not in a rookie year, but at least within the first two seasons.
To purely demonstrate how fast matters change in football, here are some statistical leaders from two seasons ago in 2015.
Before his Emmitt Smith-like turn with the Cardinals, Adrian Peterson led the NFL in rushing with 1,485 yards. Before two consecutive early season-ending injuries, J.J. Watt was in the midst of tearing the NFL apart with a league-leading 17.5 sacks. Now a shell of his former self, Brandon Marshall was re-invigorated with the Jets and lead the league in touchdowns with 14. And Carson Palmer, who has since retired, was a leading MVP candidate and took the Cardinals to the 2016 NFC Championship Game.
That's from a purely individual dynamic perspective, too.
As far as teams in 2015, Bruce Arians was being hailed as a genius for what he had built in Arizona as a championship contender. The Panthers and Cam Newton were in the midst of a 15-1 season, unprecedented in the modern era without a bit of good fortune. Teddy Bridgewater was a healthy quarterback for an ascending Vikings team that had captured the NFC North for the first time since 2009. And the Broncos won the Super Bowl on the strength of a skeleton's version of Peyton Manning and historic defense.
As for the Bears? Well, they had a newfound sense of optimism with an accomplished veteran coach "who had done it before" in John Fox. A 6-10 2015 season was a jumping off point for a bright future. They would instead win only eight games over the next years, leading to Fox's eventual ouster.
Flash forward to 2018 and another optimistic picture for the Bears is forming.
That's because Chicago has a quarterback that very well could be their long-term future in Mitchell Trubisky. They have another new head coach who legitimately wants to work with him, and for the time being, seems like an aggressive innovator in Matt Nagy. And they have a general manager in Ryan Pace who knows his time on the clock has now officially started after being married to Nagy. So he has to be as all in this off-season than ever before.
If Trubisky does turn out to be the first true Bears' face of the franchise since Brian Urlacher, then they'll be set up well to contend for years. The argument here is that their best shot comes within the next four seasons if Trubisky pans out: where he's at his cheapest on his rookie contract. Follow a normal trajectory where the Bears are relevant in December or contending for a Wild Card spot in 2018, and are a firm playoff team in 2019, then 2020 - two seasons from now - should be the on-paper goal to not only return to, but win the Super Bowl for the first time in what will then end a 35 year championship drought.
A lot will change until that supposed championship run. These young Bears led by Trubisky have no big game experience. They have an abundance of questions on the roster. There have been no signature games as building blocks for playoff intensity. And they haven't faced any adversity after everything's gone swimmingly, because they haven't experienced any success yet.
That second point is crucial: on the current roster, who will be a starter for the Bears in Super Bowl LV?
Some obvious starting and contributing pieces if the Bears' current plan shakes out, are already in place. In other areas, they need a facelift, or will require one soon given the lengthy fickle nature of the NFL. Let's unpack their situation and determine who sticks around in terms of full time positional players for a hypothetical Lombardi trophy run in two seasons.
Quarterback: Mitchell Trubisky
Age in 2020: 26-years-old
Super Bowl LV starter and or on roster: Yes
Trubisky is the key to this equation. If the Bears are breaking their championship drought with Pace and Nagy, it's going to come on the strength of his arm and ascendance. It also means he's going to have make the playoffs soon, likely next year according to history, if he'll ever be that title-driving catalyst the Bears are seeking. For the context of this exercise, Trubisky will be Chicago's Super Bowl starter as he hits his physical prime.
Running back: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen
Age in 2020: 26, 25
Super Bowl LV starters and or on roster: Howard, Cohen
Provided he continues his bulldozing workhorse nature, Howard's status with the Bears will at least extend past one contract extension that should come within the next two years. He's not one of the league's most versatile tailbacks, but Chicago can rely on 1,200-plus rushing yards from him to set the comfortable table for their offense. That's the kind of player he is and that's why he'll be the main man in the backfield on the neutral Tampa Bay Super Bowl field in 2021.
Meanwhile, regardless of whatever upgrades make in game-breaking talent soon, Cohen is that gadget and explosive piece at the forefront. He's the change-of-pace running back that no linebacker or safety in the league can cover in space. He's a missing element as the type of player that takes an offense over the top with individual effort.
Wide receivers: Kendall Wright, Dontrelle Inman, Joshua Bellamy, Markus Wheaton
Ages in 2020: 30, 31, 31, 29
Super Bowl LV starters and or on roster: None
This is the easiest projection of any Chicago position group and will extremely likely change dramatically over the next few months. This is an underwhelming receiving group and isn't nearly good enough to be a part of a contending offense: no if's, and's, or but's about it. The only man that has any real prayer of being a contributor for a Bears' Super Bowl championship soon is Wright. But even in his case, investing in other highly touted receivers means cutting costs by not bringing him back.
Tight end: Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims
Ages in 2020: 26, 28
Super Bowl LV starters and or roster: Shaheen
You don't invest a second round pick in a 6-foot-6 tight end, that was originally considered a project, if you don't envision him as your long-term "Y". Shaheen, someone who already has an established chemistry with Trubisky, projects to be at minimum a solid dump off option in the the middle of the field and gigantic red zone target. Who knows how effective he'll be with greater use in Nagy's offense, but he is assuredly the Bears' starter at tight end two seasons from now.
As for Sims, a massive $6 million-plus cap hit for minimal production as a blocking No. 2 tight end has his future in Chicago completely off the rails. A stronger 2017 would've meant more security. In that respect, most of the 2017 Bears' free agent class shouldn't expect to be in Chicago much longer.
Offensive line: Charles Leno Jr., Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie
Ages in 2020: 29, 35, 28, 32, 31
Super Bowl LV starters and or on roster: Leno, Whitehair, Long
The sheer amount of turnover and injury at offensive line is starkly different than every other NFL position. For a Bears' team with questions at four of five starting positions outside of Leno, it's fair to wonder who'll still be around by the time they're playing for a championship. Let's go on down the line and be optimistic.
Leno, who signed a four-year contract extension last August, will be working on the last few years of his deal. Provided he continues his slow growth each year, there's no reason to believe he isn't Chicago's starting left tackle in 2020. The elder statesman in Sitton, whether he's cut now or later, won't be with the Bears by 2020. If so, there are serious roster management issues. Whitehair, Chicago's best offensive lineman right now, will be a starter - somewhere - by 2020 barring an unforeseen serious injury.
While working through recovery from three surgeries, Long's long-term status with the Bears needs to be called into question. By 2020, the team can cut him and have only $1.5 million in dead cap space. From that point of view, he should be a goner. From the stance that the Bears won't have every failsafe in place, he'll be a starter for Chicago in 2020.
As for Massie, the Bears could cut him after this year with minimal dead cap if they wanted to. If they did move forward with him and offer an extension after this year in a retention, that'd be awfully shortsighted. That means that Massie will be long forgotten from Chicago by 2020.
Defensive Line: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Mitch Unrein, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris
Ages in 2020: 31, 27, 33, 27, 27
Super Bowl LV starters and or on roster: Hicks, Goldman, Robertson-Harris
Fresh off a four-year contract extension signed right before the eve of the 2017 season, Hicks is unquestionably the Bears' greatest player right now. It's going to have to be Trubisky moving forward, but at the moment, it's Hicks.
And his deal is optimally structured to take advantage of his prime years before an eventual downturn that everyone experiences. If Hicks isn't a starter for the Bears by 2020, it's a monumental disappointment.
As for the rest of the bunch, a long-term extension is likely coming soon for the very good but not elite Goldman. Goldman is the Bears' run defense anchor so it'd be a mistake not to keep or see him as Chicago's nose tackle years down the line. Unrein has an expiring contract this year, so unless Chicago and Pace settle once more, he's not returning.
In regards to Bullard and Robertson-Harris, whoever shines out more in the next season or two will be the one that sticks around for several years. There can be room for only so many projects. The bet here is that Robertson-Harris, the athletic freak that he is, stands out more than Bullard as time progresses.
Outside Linebackers: Leonard Floyd, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Pernell McPhee, Sam Acho
Ages in 2020: 28, 33, 35, 32, 32
Super Bowl LV starters and or on roster: Floyd
This is the most barren defensive position group the Bears possess. Even in the case of Floyd as a long-term starter, he's missed 10 games in his first two seasons. Aside from Floyd, every other edge rusher under contract for Chicago is aging, on their last legs, and a wholehearted mistake to be relied upon.
The Bears desperately need a complimentary partner acquired for Floyd this off-season, along with a boost of youthful depth. Moving forward with any of the other four names for next year, let alone a few seasons from now, will prevent this budding defense from ever becoming elite.
A pass rush that comes in waves is how you win championships in the NFL. Relentless pressure that can be substituted with ease. Right now, the Bears have one tiny wave in Floyd that can be rode with a wake board. If they make it to Tampa Bay in 2021, he can't do it all by himself.
Inside Linebackers: Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Christian Jones, Jerrell Freeman
Ages in 2020: 30, 27, 29, 34
Super Bowl LV starters and or on roster: Trevathan
At the moment, none of these four men would be under contract by 2020. More so, only the high level Trevathan would have a case to come back, as it's highly unlikely he experiences such a precipitous drop in play over the next two years: barring another freak patella tendon knee injury.
You may be surprised as to see no one else included as part of a near future Bears' Super Bowl roster here, but ask yourself this question: has any of Kwiatkoski, Jones, or Freeman given enough inclination as proven difference makers, or that their future is in football for much longer?
Everyone pencils in Kwiatkoski as the man next to Trevathan in the middle, but until this point, hasn't been able to stay on the field for 16 games and fully showcase his ability. The safe bet is that he receives that opportunity in 2018, but the Bears may yet upgrade his position this off-season anyway.
With Jones, is he anything more than a solid depth linebacker? Is he someone you want starting for 16 games? Not really, at least in logical roster construction. He's not a genuine difference maker and that's part of why he's a question mark to make his return to Chicago next season.
Then you have the obvious elephant in the room in Freeman. Freeman hinted at retirement after an injury ended his season in Week 1 of this year. And cutting him will save the Bears approximately $4 million in cap space. He's as sure fire of a cut as any. That leaves Trevathan as another Chicago linebacker sitting in wait.
Cornerbacks: Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Bryce Callahan, Cre'Von LeBlanc, Sherrick McManis
Ages in 2020: 28, 31, 29, 26, 33
Super Bowl LV starters and or on roster: Fuller, Callahan, McManis
Quite clearly, we can't operate on the fact that Fuller is a Super Bowl starter until any kind of long-term agreement is reached between he and the Bears. From this assumption, let's say he does come to an understanding with the higher-ups at Halas Hall. So, while he's not a true No. 1 corner, he's just on the outside and is pencilled in.
The same goes for a solid slot cornerback in Callahan (that also needs a deal) and the Bears' best special teamer in Sherrick McManis. Two integral and cheap pieces over time.
As for Amukamara and LeBlanc, it's not in the cards. If the Bears back up a mack truck of money for Fuller, they'll likely look to move in a different direction for their No. 2 cornerback: a cheaper, and younger one with more upside. And LeBlanc isn't a good enough coverage guy to warrant out much more of a future in comparison to his slot competition in Callahan.
Fuller leads the pack, and will definitely be one of the Bears' most important players in 2020.
Safeties: Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos
Ages in 2020: 27, 27
Super Bowl LV starters and on roster: Jackson
One of the 2017 Draft's better value picks, Jackson looks like the Bears' best freewheeling safety since Mike Brown. A smart and instinctive player with the penchant for the ball, he shined while roaming Chicago's back end in 2017. As long as continues a path of expected growth, there's no reason not to see his irreplaceable abilities being a subject of terror for quarterbacks two years from now.
His partner Amos, meanwhile, will be entering the last year of his rookie contract in 2018. A very good 2017 season where he didn't miss many assignments and was allowed to operate as a linebacker hybrid in the box - showcasing his top skills - means the Bears will soon have a fascinating decision on their hands.
What makes that decision easy is that Amos doesn't tilt the field. While he doesn't miss many assignments, he doesn't make many game breaking plays as opposed to his partner in Jackson: who may miss a few assignments but will much more likely and in a valuable sense, force a turnover.
Players of Amos' build, who can't cover and don't force turnovers, are a dime a dozen in comparison to Jackson's skill-set. In that light, the Bears' cap situation will likely allow Amos to hit the open market in next year's free agency as they save space for other more worthwhile areas.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and is a contributor to The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.