More than any off-season in recent memory, the Bears’ 2018 thus far has been a whirlwind of aggressiveness that’s established a firm identity. It began with the hire of Matt Nagy in January, was punctuated by free agent additions like Allen Robinson, and an exclamation point was tacked on with an immediate impact 2018 NFL Draft haul headlined by Roquan Smith.
In the span of four months, the Bears used free agency and the draft to reshape their franchise vision. That’s not a task done without the wherewithal to act quickly with a plan. The actual results on the field still have to speak for themselves, but the Bears know how they want to achieve their goals and that’s a big first step. The first step of finishing a rebuild is admitting your flaws.
What is the Bears’ identity moving forward? It’s the Mitchell Trubisky show, and about him becoming the leader to carry the team in a consistent manner. A necessary evil not every NFL team is prepared to take.
Not every person associated with the Bears has come out shining this off-season, though. Here are the winners and losers following Chicago pushing it’s chips in on 2018 and the future.
Winner: Belief in Mitchell Trubisky
Who holds the keys to the promised land for the Bears? Trubisky
Whose success or failure defines the Bears’ future moving forward? Trubisky
Who has a red carpet laid out for him to make sure he is successful? Trubisky
The support system the Bears have established for their second-year quarterback is beyond commendable. It illustrates a thought process that helps Trubisky take the next steps towards being able to carry a team on his back. Jay Cutler in 2009 is green with envy.
Former head coach John Fox was often content to have Trubiksy not lose games, instead of putting them in his hands. Fox treated the young quarterback as if he had to wear three separate pairs of oven mitts to handle him. Nagy and an offensive scheme built around Trubisky’s greatest strengths will in turn look to turn the Bears’ passer loose.
After 21 drops as a team in 2017, 9th most in the NFL, Chicago needed a severe upgrade in weapons. Trubisky needed a stable of targets to trust. Enter Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, and Anthony Miller: a radical transformation of a position group.
Chicago’s front line in front of Trubisky could have used a youthful infusion and steady coaching hand. Harry Hiestand is that guiding light along with second round pick James Daniels that will assist in keeping Trubisky upright.
Allen Robinson on a three-year deal (although that can always be extended later). Trey Burton on a four-year deal. Taylor Gabriel on a four-year deal. Hmm, oddly matches up with the last four years of Mitch Trubisky's rookie contract.— Robert Zeglinski (@RobertZeglinski) March 13, 2018
Let me introduce you to the WINDOW. pic.twitter.com/tH5FSdSqnu
The Bears’ best window to win a title is now, or rather, in the next four years when Trubisky is at his cheapest on his rookie contract. They have exercised every option imaginable to make sure that time isn’t wasted. The structures of their free agent deals and alternative 2018 draft philosophy illustrate that diligence.
The catalyst in Trubisky merely has to steer the ship away from the iceberg and hold course.
Winner: Ryan Pace’s vision
When the Bears were struggling to maintain any semblance of momentum in the standings, Pace’s famed quote “we’re fired up” drew more and more eye rolls by use.
Once Pace decided to apply the plan he had for his Bears to contend, there was something tangible to be fired up about. Too bad he retired the phrase (it’ll be back, they always come back).
After tentatively dipping his toes in the shallow end for three listless years, Pace’s fingerprints were littered across this off-season. Nagy is his hand-picked coach. Trubisky is his quarterback to buoy. The 2018 draft and free agent classes are based on his profiles and staff meticulously studying what these modern Bears are aiming for. If there’s any one person that deserves the credit for, on paper, creating one of the most balanced Bears teams: it’s Pace.
Pace deserves credit for his calculation, for setting the seeds into place years before this off-season, and for almost hitting each pitch he swung at. Aside from one of his top free agent targets in Albert Wilson bowing out (it can be argued that Gabriel is a better fit), and a debatable misplay on the Cameron Meredith offer sheet situation, Pace has played this Bears’ off-season to a tee. Nothing caught him off guard as he was prepared for every contingency.
Wherever the Bears go from here, it’s on Pace. Whether they go down in tank, or start playing meaningful games in January (and maybe even February), it’s on Pace.
Just the way a prepared general manager likes it.
Loser: Leonard Floyd and pass rush investments
Drafting Smith was a welcome mat for Floyd in being reunited with a college teammate from Georgia. A true win for friendship. Collectively, over the course of the entire off-season, the Bears couldn’t have hung Floyd out to dry any more than they already have.
For being the franchise pass rusher the Bears believe Floyd is, it’s an awful lot to ask of him being the lone outside linebacker they can rely on. Especially when considering that he’s missed 10 games in his first two seasons. Now, perhaps that’s an indictment on Floyd’s own prowess, but he’s objectively a good outside linebacker when on the field, even if he hasn’t shown to be dominant yet.
Look at any NFL team with one good edge rusher and see how their defense is playing. From Khalil Mack with the Raiders - who is a future Hall of Famer - to Demarcus Lawrence with the Cowboys, and Floyd isn’t alone in this problem. These are mediocre defenses with great players that can be minimized in an offensive game plan because there isn’t anything else to be concerned about.
There aren’t enough Bears’ defensive options to draw attention away from the one player in Floyd that can beat offensive tackles in a pinch. That’s a lot of pressure.
I know what you’re thinking: “What about Aaron Lynch and Kylie Fitts?”
Lynch and Fitts are good ideas. They’re the Bears putting faith into Vic Fangio’s coaching for his outside linebackers. Which is also fine. Overall, they’re what you do when putting together a school project that’s due the next morning at the last minute.
Lynch hasn’t played a full season since 2015, and has a long way to go before he can be a decent starter. While Fitts, for all of his ability when healthy, can’t contribute if his health fortunes don’t change. Not ideal for what the Bears think their defense is.
Hot take: pinching pennies on the most important defensive position is the iceberg that can sink this Bears ship. It’s the Achilles heel of the continuity the Bears have established. They better hope the tarot cards spell a different, more optimistic outlook for the pass rush.
Loser: John Fox, credit, and pride
If you think you’re past Fox nightmares, have plenty of fear: he’ll be a studio analyst for ESPN starting this season. This is an opportunity the jilted ex-Bears coach gets that Jeff Fisher, someone he is compared to in holding back the Rams, never received.
I, for one, am not entirely sure that Fox says anything of value when on television. He might believe that saying anything gives away a competitive advantage that Bristol, Connecticut has on the sports market, I don’t know. He never said anything original over the course of his three-year career in Chicago, so expectations of him becoming a new man in front of a more sizable audience is a stretch without evidence.
If Fox was planning on discussing the Bears while manufacturing fake laughs during “C’mon Man!” segments, he’s likely relishing the chance to dance around a failing team. A team that clearly needs his run-run pass model and archaic conservative coaching. Always calm and collected in his assessments:
But if the Bears are good or fun, you know that he’s going to manufacture a narrative of how he was the one to get them there. If Fisher and his camp were able to craft a story about he left the Rams “in good shape” last year, despite an overwhelming amount of proof to the contrary, then rest assured Fox uses his national platform to sell himself back into the coaching ranks if the situation presents itself. This is a win-win scenario for someone on the outside looking in.
Be prepared for every “Trubisky is playing this well because of me” and “Nagy learned from the best” headlines from Fox. They’ll come. When they arrive, don’t buy a second of the hollow words.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.