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Bears Mailbag: It’s Packers week, Trubisky’s future, and could changes still be coming with a Sunday letdown?

The Chicago Bears are a win away from their second playoff appearance in three years, but there’s still plenty of unanswered questions heading into Week 17. Will Bears fans be celebrating or gearing up for a shakeup this off-season? All of that and more in this week’s mailbag.

Chicago Bears v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

By the grace of the Football Gods, the Chicago Bears were able to overcome a six-game losing streak and have positioned themselves for a “win and in” playoff scenario as they head into Week 17. It has been quite the remarkable turnaround going from a (5-1) start, to a six-game losing streak, to a three-game winning streak and an outside shot at landing the sixth seed.

Even with Bears playoff aspirations high, there are still plenty of important questions that need to be answered in the off-season and one can’t be blamed for thinking of them, despite being in the playoff mix with one final game left on the regular season schedule.

I think the biggest thing that should give Bears fans faith moving into Sunday’s game is the offensive turnaround. They’ve scored 30-plus points in four consecutive games for the first time since 1965. George Halas was the head coach and Gale Sayers was the team’s running back. That gives you an idea of how impressive of a streak they’ve been on as of late.

Obviously the quality of opponents need to be taken into account here, but as we’ve seen, the offense looks different from a play calling standpoint and how they’ve featured a multitude of different players within this new look offense.

A big key to beating the Green Bay Packers is not allowing them to bludgeon you in the first half. That’s been the script they’ve followed the majority of the year in their wins. Score a lot in the first half and cruise with a big lead over the final 30 minutes. As we’ve seen, the Bears can play from behind, but they are at their most effective when they jump out to an early lead and allow the defense to play more free.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll start with the good and then get to the bad.

The good:

  1. I like the matchup that running back David Montgomery presents this Packers defense. While they have absolutely been better as the year has gone on, there’s still some matchups to exploit there and Montgomery is on a tear. This will also be a big key to the Bears’ offense. Get Montgomery going early and often.
  2. The team’s tight ends against the Packers’ linebackers. As of late, the Bears have done a much better job of featuring both Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet within the offense. Although I think Christian Kirksey is a solid linebacker, there’s some matchups to exploit there and I hope the Bears can take advantage.

The bad:

  1. Aaron Rodgers against the Bears lack of a pass rush. This is the single most matchup that scares me. Rodgers has been playing at an MVP level this season and a big reason for that has been how clean he’s been kept in the pocket. The Bears have a ton of money sunk in within the front four. They need to earn their keep on Sunday.
  2. Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. In Week 16, the Packers featured a dangerous one-two punch that included finesse in Jones and brute power in Dillon. That’s something that worries me against a Bears front that has not been great against the run this year. This Green Bay offense has multiple ways of moving the ball and scoring points.
  3. DaVante Adams versus anyone other than the Bears’ best. Adams is deadly. He’s one of the best receivers in the league and has been on quite the tear this season. The Bears must keep Kyle Fuller and safety help over the top on Adams all day or it’s going to be another long one for them.

I wish I didn’t have to be “this person” but I am... I am still holding out slightly more hope that a banged up Los Angeles Rams team can knock off a young Cardinals team over the Bears taking down a juggernaut in the Packers.

With that being said, I’m not subscribing to the theory that the Bears “must” win Sunday to earn their keep in the playoffs. Their either a playoff team heading into Week 17 or they aren’t. At least in terms of perspective. The Packers are playing great right now and any team they face is going to have trouble taking them out. While the Bears have been playing better, this was always going to be a tough matchup for them.

How the Bears handle the Mitchell Trubisky decision this off-season will be an interesting one. Do they choose the Blake Bortles option and sign him to a multi-year deal that equates in guaranteed money to something closer to a one-year deal? Or do they stay the course of “moving on” like they attempted to do this off-season and aim higher?

I do like that you questioned whether or not Trubisky would actually like to return next season because barring a franchise tag (which I still find unlikely), this will be a two-way decision. That includes both sides actually wanting a return, which could be more complicated than some may think.

Does Trubisky trust Matt Nagy and this offense moving forward? Does he trust the organization as a whole?

How about the Bears? Do they trust his recent stretch of better play or do they put more value into their initial expectations versus the player he has turned out to be?

I still tend to believe that a short-term extension with a year’s worth of guarantees is more likely than anything if he stays but again, I’m not sold that both sides aren’t still looking for a fresh start when 2021 rolls around.

Here are a few names that could be out there this off-season:

On the surface, Prescott makes the most sense (assuming the Cowboys can’t keep him in Dallas), but he’ll also be the most expensive. He could end up being another Kirk Cousins type situation where the money spent doesn’t equate to proven playoff success. Ryan and Carr could also makes sense as stop-gap veterans, almost like what the Colts did with Phillip Rivers this past off-season. Stafford, Darnold, Jones and Garappolo are all players who could also be available. Darnold and Jones have failed by their drafted teams and carry the most risk of simply not working out.

Add that in with the reality that four-to-five quarterbacks are expected to go in the first round this year and the Bears should find themselves with a few options if they decide to look elsewhere.

Admittedly, I haven’t done a ton of research into teams needing new quarterbacks next year and how they’ll fit. I do think one thing is pretty certain, though. Cam Newton will likely not be returning to the New England Patriots as their unquestioned started. For the most part, he has not been good this year and it appears that the years of physical play have indeed caught up to him.

As far as Trubisky goes, I think his fit would be better in an offense that allows him to think less and play more. Think Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan in that regard. Nothing against Trubisky but he’s more of a “system quarterback” and would be much better off in an offense that isn’t complicated and is designed around his strengths. For as highly as I think of the Patriots offensive coaching staff, I’m not sure he’s a great fit in New England.

This upcoming off-season is going to be a very interesting one for the Bears. Part of that will be reliant on what the cap is set at. Originally, the league had agreed to a floor of $175 million, but with the recent news of a 17th game being added started in 2021, my guess is the cap will be closer to $190 million or more.

Even so, that would leave the Bears under the cap by around $18-$20 million. That includes a $6 million or so rollover from this year.

The good news? They can clear an easy $7 million by cutting Graham and some more by re-working deals like Kyle Fuller who is due $20 million next season. They’ll have some flexibility to once again kick the can down the road to get themselves over the $30 million mark.

With that in mind, there are three big players they need to decide on heading into the off-season.

  1. Trubisky- The projected franchise tag for a quarterback is right around $24 million according to Over The Cap. They could transition tag him at around $21 million, but that could set up a similar situation to Kyle Fuller a few off-seasons ago.
  2. Allen Robinson- The projected franchise tag number for receivers is expected to sit around $16 million or so. That’s right about what he’s making right now, but my hunch is that he’ll do everything he can to avoid that tag. I’m still shocked the Bears couldn’t get something done with him in-season.
  3. Cairo Santos- Tagging a kicker is not a normal occurrence, but it does happen. If the Bears went that route, it would cost them around $5 million. At this point, I could see them trying to extend Santos for two-to-three years at around $3.5-$4 million per year. That would make more sense than a one-year stop gap.

Once they get those situations figured out, we’ll have a much better idea of where they sit. Let’s assume they keep Santos and one of the two in Robinson and Trubisky, they are probably looking at a cap number under $20 million and maybe closer to the $10 million mark.

Needless to say, there’s not going to be a ton of flexibility and they are not only going to have to get creative, but they are also going to have to draft well in 2021. There’s some flexibility there, but Pace cannot continue to kick the can down the road for much longer without being faced with serious issues in the near future.

NFL: Chicago Bears-Press Conference Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Even for as pessimistic as I am about the Bears’ chances on Sunday again the Packers, I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion they are going to be left out of the playoffs. The Cardinals have not been playing great football and the Rams are a very well-coached team with plenty of good on the offensive side of the ball.

In the hypothetical situation that has the Bears losing and missing the playoffs, I’m still not convinced any major changes will be made. Think about it, outside of the Lions, how many teams fire their head coach or make serious changes when that regime is (28-20) in three seasons? Especially a franchise like the Bears that just went through a pair of coaches in Marc Trestman and John Fox that didn’t have a winning season between them in five seasons?

That’s not to say that I don’t think there should be changes made but at this point, I think the more likely scenario is that someone is scapegoated like defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and they run it back one more time under general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy.

That’s why them finishing how they have has made things so complicated. It’s hard to cut bait with a group that hasn’t produced a losing season in three straight years. Middling or not, that’s better than we’ve seen since Lovie Smith was let go after the 2012 season.

Like I noted above, I think one of the people most in danger of losing their jobs if things go badly on Sunday is Pagano. Has there been a single coordinator in the league that has done less with more?

Maybe this defense isn’t the 2018 product. It’s older and doesn’t have as much depth, but let’s be honest here, there’s still plenty of talent here and they’ve produced a questionable product since coming out of their bye week. More than anyone, Pagano’s job might be most in question and at this point, I fully believe it should be.

If they get lit up by Rodgers and the Packers again, there could be some movement early next week at Halas Hall.