The Bears are going to have to make some serious changes this offseason.
After starting the season at 5-1, their five-game losing streak has made it even more apparent that not only is their roster construction unsustainable, but their current organizational structure is, as well.
While there is still a chance that Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace and the rest of the crew will hold onto their jobs after the 2020 season concludes, those odds are looking more and more slim by the day. It’s not a concrete conclusion yet, but there is a realistic chance the Bears could start taking some steps towards a retooling of their organization this offseason.
There is a possibility that the Bears could make some minor moves and still intend on competing for a playoff spot, and that scenario would be a lot more likely if they decide to keep one of, if not both of Pace and Nagy.
For the sake of conversation, though, let’s assume they take more aggressive measures this offseason. What would those look like? Here’s an example of how a retooling offseason would look.
Fire Ted Phillips, Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy, Bill Lazor and Chuck Pagano
The Bears may very well consider making a clean sweep across the board in their organization, and that starts at the top. Phillips has been the Bears’ president since 1999, but the Bears have only made the playoffs five times in the 21 completed seasons he has served in the role. He may be a familiar face for the McCaskeys, but he will likely have to go if this team is to completely turn things around.
Pace has made plenty of great moves during his time with the Bears, and he still likely has a long future in the NFL ahead of him. It’s his big-money misfirings in free agency and unsuccessful early-round draft picks, though, that have him on the hot seat. The same goes with Nagy, who looked promising early in his tenure and had the locker room behind him. That ship has sailed, however, and his play-calling issues have plagued their offense in 2020.
As a result of such drastic changes near the top of the food chain, Lazor and Pagano would likely get the axe, as well. Neither has been unquestionably good enough at their job this year to survive such sweeping firings.
President of Football Operations: Rick Smith
GM: Mike Borgonzi
HC: Pete Carmichael
OC: Pep Hamilton
DC: James Bettcher
Admittedly, I’m far from the most knowledgeable person when it comes to deciding candidates for a presidential role in the NFL. However, given Phillips’ lack of prior football experience, having someone with that experience in the game could help the Bears make smarter decisions when it comes to personnel hirings.
Smith was the general manager of the Texans for 12 years, his time there spanning from 2006 to 2017. He was also the team’s executive vide president of football operations for the last six years of that span. The Texans made several impressive draft picks with Smith at the helm, including J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Jadeveon Clowney, Duane Brown, Brandon Brooks and Brian Cushing. He has been out of football since stepping down from his post in Houston to be with his now-late wife, who was battling breast cancer.
Hiring Smith would help give Chicago another strong offensive mind to help with the general manager hire. And, if the Bears still want to stay loyal to Phillips, they could keep him on in an advisory role—similar to that of John Paxson with the Bulls—to assist with business manners. Special mention to Dan Meehan of WCG’s Rule of 3 podcast for first bringing up Smith as a candidate to the role.
Borgonzi and Carmichael may not be my personal top candidates for the general manager or head coaching roles, respectively, but they are very good at what they do and have a strong track record behind them.
Joe Brady and Eric Bieniemy will be two of the two head coaching candidates this offseason, but the Bears don’t have much of an offense to lure either of them in. Carmichael could be a more realistic hire, and his 15 years in the Saints organization under Sean Payton make him an enticing candidate for a team in need of an offensive spark.
Ed Dodds, the assistant general manager of the Colts, is my preferred hire at general manager, but with said lack of offense and an unenviable cap situation, he may go for greener pastures. Bears fans may be hesitant to bring in another Chiefs guy into the organization, but Borgonzi has quite an impressive resumé. With experience as both a pro and college scout, as well as the Director of Football Operations for the Chiefs.
As for the coordinators, Hamilton has done a great job accelerating Justin Herbert’s development as the quarterbacks coach for the Chargers this year. Formerly the Bears’ quarterbacks coach from 2007 to 2009, Hamilton has found success in recent years. Bettcher is currently out of football but has been the defensive coordinator for both the Cardinals and Giants. His blitz-heavy, Cover-1 man coverage scheme is a huge step up for those who complain about Pagano’s more conservative defensive philosophy.
Salary cap moves
Cap space available before cap space: -$6.9 million
Tag and trade Allen Robinson to Miami for 2021 second-round pick and 2022 fifth-round pick
It wouldn’t make sense for Robinson to re-sign with the Bears if they intend on rebuilding, er, retooling, and being one of their more valuable assets, the team could probably get a good return for him without having to pay him a hefty price. The Dolphins have enough money to be able to extend Robinson, and giving Tua Tagovailoa a top-tier target while he’s on a rookie deal makes all the sense in the world for them.
Trade Kyle Fuller to Indianapolis for 2021 second-round pick
Fuller has been very good for the past few years, but as he approaches his final year of his contract in 2021, he’s in line for another big extension. Moving Fuller to the Colts, who are built to win now and could use another cornerback, would give them another Day 2 pick to work with. It’s a tough move to have to make, but it’s a very real possibility.
Trade Akiem Hicks and 2021 seventh-round pick to Arizona for 2021 fourth-round pick
This trade would be bittersweet to make, especially since Hicks has been such a crucial part of the Bears’ defense for quite some time. Though as he gets older and battles with injury issues, the former Pro Bowler—whose contract expires after 2021—may have to be a casualty if such a drastic offseason were to take place. A fourth-round pick seems about common place for an interior defender given his contract status and 31 years of age. With Kyler Murray tearing it up in Arizona, the Cardinals could afford to stock up their defense with a dangerous lineman.
Cut: Buster Skrine (post-June 1), Bobby Massie, Jimmy Graham
While the aforementioned trades would free up quite a bit of cap space—roughly $39.4 million, in fact—they still have a few moves they could make in order to get rid of some unfavorable contracts. With his struggles out of the nickel and both Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor on the roster, Skrine seems like a safe bet to be cut after this season. Putting the post-June 1 designation on him saves the Bears an additional $2.2 million.
The Bears have the chance to dump both Massie and Charles Leno Jr. this offseason with the structuring of their respective contracts, but it would be challenging to find starter-caliber replacements for both of them in one offseason. For the sake of this exercise, let’s say Chicago cuts Massie, who is two years older than Leno and, as of this writing, has missed a combined nine games in the past two seasons.
Cutting Graham is a toss-up move, as the Bears don’t have a true developmental ‘U’ tight end in the wings waiting to take over that role from the veteran. Given the chance to free up $7 million in exchange for losing an aging and declining tight end, though, it might be one the team could make.
Cap space after moves: $49.9 million
Re-sign DL Mario Edwards Jr. to two-year, $6 million extension
There is a possibility the Bears re-sign Roy Robertson-Harris, but he is likely going to command a significant contract in free agency this year. They could instead re-sign a cheaper defender in Edwards, who has been a solid rotational lineman along their interior this year.
Re-sign K Cairo Santos to three-year, $9 million extension
Santos has proven this season that he’s a more reliable option at kicker than Eddy Piñeiro. Re-signing him might be a smart move.
Re-sign DL Brent Urban to two-year, $4 million extension
By trading Hicks, Chicago could certainly afford to invest in a bit of depth along their defensive line. Urban has been another efficient interior defender who is worth keeping around.
Re-sign P Pat O’Donnell to one-year, $1.7 million extension
O’Donnell isn’t an elite punter, but he’ll get the job done as a serviceable option on special teams. Chicago might end up giving him another short-term deal.
Re-sign EDGE Barkevious Mingo to one-year, $1.075 million extension
Re-sign DL Daniel McCullers to one-year, $1.075 million extension
Re-sign DB Sherrick McManis to one-year $1.075 million extension
Re-sign S Deon Bush to one-year, $1.075 million extension
Re-sign S DeAndre Houston-Carson to one-year, $990,000 extension
Re-sign LS Patrick Scales to one-year deal, $990,000 extension
Re-sign EDGE James Vaughters to ERFA tender for $780,000
Re-sign LB Josh Woods to ERFA tender for $850,000
Cap space after moves: $32.3 million
Sign WR Willie Snead to two-year, $12.2 million deal ($4.6 million cap hit in 2021)
The Bears likely won’t find a suitable No. 1 replacement for Robinson right away, as they have bigger needs to address this offseason. However, they could stand to add another weapon in free agency. Snead is a solid weapon still under 30, wouldn’t be too expensive and had his best years under Carmichael with the Saints in 2015 and 2016.
Sign CB William Jackson III to two-year, $16 million deal
If the Bears trade Fuller, they will have to find a replacement for him later in the offseason. While there’s a solid chance the Bengals could re-sign Jackson, they’re already spending a decent amount of money at the cornerback position. If he becomes available, a productive corner like himself would be a nice addition to Chicago’s defense. Shoutout to Erik Lambert of Sports Mockery, who added Jackson in his recent mock offseason, which admittedly inspired me to add Jackson for my own mock.
Sign S Malik Hooker to one-year, $3 million deal
Hooker has missed 29 games in his four-year NFL career and is missing the entire 2020 season, but he has shown some promise in flashes. Despite limited playing time, he has had seven interceptions and started in all but one game he played. He has the range to play as a single-high safety, allowing Eddie Jackson to strike underneath. The two of them could make some really nice plays in coverage.
Sign TE Dan Arnold to one-year, $2.6 million deal
Releasing Graham would help propel Cole Kmet into a bigger role, but they would be wise to get an insurance option if he doesn’t pan out. Arnold is a tall and athletic ‘U’ tight end to Kmet’s ‘Y’, and given his relative lack of production, he could be available for cheap.
Cap space after moves: $14.1 million
I ran a simulation through Playoff Predictors, choosing the winners of every remaining NFL game. I had the Bears finishing at 7-9, beating the Lions and Jaguars but losing their other three remaining games. This is the draft order I finished the season with:
Round 1: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Trade: Bears trade 2021 first-round pick (No. 12), 2021 third-round pick (own), 2022 third-round pick (own) to Giants for 2021 first-round pick (No. 7)
With a 2-3 finish to their final five games, the Bears were able to move up a bit in the draft order. However, with the Panthers, Falcons, Lions and Broncos all reasonable threats to take a quarterback early, new general manager Mike Borgonzi has to make a bold trade to secure a starting quarterback. Assuming neither of the first two teams trade out of the opportunity to take Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, respectively, the Giants would make a good trade partner.
Wilson has been playing at an incredible level in 2020. He has the arm strength, the mobility, the downfield accuracy and the intelligence needed to be a franchise quarterback. In any other class that didn’t have two incredible quarterbacks atop the class, he would be a strong contender for QB1.
Round 2: Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
Radunz has a Round 1 skill set, but there’s a chance he could slip into the second round due to his playing just one game in 2020. An athletic, lengthy and nasty blocker at the offensive tackle position, he would be a welcomed starter to a weak Bears offensive line.
Round 2 (from Miami): Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
Injuries dealt with in 2019 and 2020 will likely send Moore into Round 2 territory, but when he’s healthy, he’s a threat to make a play any time he touches the ball. His elite speed, his vision after the catch, his route-running ability and his toughness in space would make him a really nice addition to the Bears’ offense.
Round 2 (from Indianapolis): Trey Smith, G, Tennessee
With how the Bears’ offensive line has played this year, they’d be smart to double-dip on linemen this year, especially if they have this abundance of Day 2 capital. Smith is a massive, powerful and nasty blocker who would bring a much-needed mean streak to Chicago’s interior.
Round 4 (from Arizona): Tyree Gillespie, S, Missouri
Though signing Hooker would bring a lot of potential, he’d also be on just a one-year deal in this scenario. In that case, they’d be smart to target a player like Gillespie, an intelligent and physical safety with nice athletic tools and plenty of value in run support.
Round 5: Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa
A downgrade along the defensive line in 2021 would be a sacrifice the Bears could be willing to make, waiting to add some more depth there in order to boost their offensive firepower. Nonetheless, they still get the explosive Nixon, who brings ample athleticism and a polished use of his hands.
Round 6: Kylen Granson, TE, SMU
With Kmet locked in as the Bears’ ‘Y’, they need to find a potential long-term fit at the ‘U’ spot. Granson, a former wide receiver who transferred from Rice, isn’t the biggest tight end out there, but he makes up for it with his speed, ball skills, and route-running savvy.
Round 6 (projected comp. pick): Austin Watkins, WR, UAB
Though adding Snead and Moore would be great progress at receiver, they could still use a big-bodied ‘X’ weapon. Watkins is somewhat under the radar, but he’s 6-foot-3, physical and is a better route runner than one would expect for someone his size.
Round 6 (projected comp. pick): Brian Robinson Jr., RB, Alabama
With Cordarrelle Patterson gone in this scenario, the Bears could use some running back depth behind David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen. Robinson has been in the shadow of Najee Harris at Alabama, but he is a talented back in his own right whose physicality and hard-nosed, yet calculated running style should see him get drafted.
Round 6 (projected comp. pick): Bryan Mills, CB, North Carolina Central
Though Mills is far from a household name at this point, he has a 6-foot-2 frame, impressive ball skills and nice straight-line speed and leaping ability. Despite playing just one season at the FCS level, he has the physical tools that an NFL team would love to work with.
Round 7 (from Miami via Atlanta): Tommy Doyle, OT, Miami (OH)
As the Bears have found out firsthand, you can never have too much offensive line depth. Doyle is a behemoth of a blocker whose 6-foot-8, 326-pound frame, power at the point of attack and solid footwork in pass protection make him a Group of 5 talent worth watching.