Monday marked exactly four weeks since the Chicago Bears once again shook up their leadership. Black Monday is always a trying time around the league, but despite four years of stability, things were blown up at Halas Hall in a much-needed way. Since that point, the organization has been hard at work finding a new general manager and head coach. With new general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus in place, they have turned their attention to filling out the coaching staff and re-working the front office.
Many fans find themselves asking — How quickly will they find themselves back in the same spot? Did they make the right hires? While all of these questions are fair, it should be in everybody’s best interest to let the new process play itself out.
With all of that in mind, we’ll dive a little deeper into the last month and also skip forward to March and April, where things promise to be busy.
1. While examining the team’s hiring process, there was a clear difference in mechanics this time around.
For the better part of the last three decades, the Bears have not been a very successful franchise. Any time a team struggles over a long period of time, it’s always fair to question ownership. Especially when that has been the one constant during their struggles. Since taking over as the team’s Chairman back in 2011, the Bears have experienced just two winning seasons. They’ve also seen four new general managers and four new head coaches. Considering Eberflus became just the 17th head coach and this franchise’s long history, this franchise has clearly been trending in the wrong direction during George’s time.
For as much as they deserved to be criticized for the past, their process this time around was clearly different for many reasons. Not only did they bring in a more experienced and accomplished consultant in Bill Polian, but they also formed a search committee, which involved more than just the same two faces (Ted Phillips and George McCaskey). Does that guarantee them success this time around? Absolutely not, but it does show that they are at least trying to learn from past mistakes.
Another big difference that stood out was the overall pool of candidates. In the past, the Bears had zeroed in on a smaller list (usually around five) of candidates. This time around, they interviewed a total of 13 general managers and 10 head coaches. The presence of Zoom/virtual meetings obviously played a big part, but this was the largest search this franchise has ever performed.
Again, only time will tell if they can break the cycle, but even if they don’t it will not be for a lack of trying.
2. Everybody will always wonder whether or not Poles was handcuffed during his quest to find a head coach, but he convinced me that he did indeed have full autonomy.
Despite their exhausted search that lasted a total of 17 days, the process was called into question when it took them just two days (after hiring Poles) to land their new head coach. On the surface, it does not appear to be a good look. No one can really argue that.
With that being said, it also needs to be noted that they conducted a grand total of 10 interviews with head coaches before they brought in their three “finalists” after Poles was hired. Yes, Eberflus was named a finalist before Poles’ hire and yes, it’s likely Poles may have had a few more names on his list of potential candidates, but I do believe the end result was Poles’ decision.
Poles was asked multiple times last Monday whether or not he was forced into just those three candidates. Each time he dispelled that myth. With conviction, he explained that he and Eberflus had a prior relationship and that once they met in person, he knew he had found his new “brother”. Again, the mechanics of the operation leave much to be desired from the outside, but considering the number of interested teams Poles had, I find it hard to believe he would have taken the job if he was being pigeonholed into just three candidates.
3. The Bears appear to be one of just two teams (maybe three), to hire a defensive-minded head coach. The NFL is clearly trending in an offensive direction, but this was one of the deeper defensive-minded pools in recent history and it appears to have been looked over. A deeper look at a startling trend that has left out minority candidates along the way as well.
Going into this hiring cycle, it appeared like it would be one of the smaller ones we had seen in quite a while. Yet, Black Monday came and went. The following few days allowed a few more openings and all of the sudden, the Bears found themselves in a sea of nine total teams looking for a new head coach. Shockingly enough, they still made the second hire.
What is even crazier to me is that this was widely regarded as a weaker pool (which I agree with) but especially on the offensive side of the ball. Brian Daboll and Byron Leftwich were the two hot names. Yet, only one of them landed a job. Despite that, six of the seven hires made were all offensive-minded coaches. Nathaniel Hackett (Denver Broncos), Daboll (New York Giants), Josh McDaniels (Las Vegas Raiders), Mike McDaniel (Miami Dolphins), Kevin O’Connell (Minnesota Vikings), and Doug Pederson (Jacksonville Jaguars).
With former Bears head coach Lovie Smith landing his third NFL head coaching gig in Houston, the only open job remains with the New Orleans Saints following the abrupt retirement of Sean Payton. Outside of the obvious lack of minority hires at head coach, the other surprising development was the lack of defensive-minded head coaches.
Some of the defensive names left out of this hiring cycle so far? Todd Bowles, Raheem Morris, Brian Flores, Dennis Allen (who may get the Saints job), and Leslie Frazier. That doesn’t even count Leftwich being left out of the mix as well on the offensive side of things. If anyone has noticed by now, the two trends share many common factors.
The NFL has a clear hiring issue in regards to the lack of minority hires. That part is clear and has been brought more into the light by Flores’ recent lawsuit. On top of that, it appears that the new fad of offensive-minded coaches has made it even harder for anyone not falling into that category to get a real shot. The NFL is all about trends and all it takes is a few guys breaking the current mold. With that being said, there have been multiple candidates that should have NFL jobs that will once again get left out of the mix for a variety of different reasons, but many share the same common traits.
4. Despite not delving into much detail on any particular player at their opening press conference, the organization made it clear that quarterback Justin Fields was their “guy” moving forward.
I’m sure that I was one of many that came away from the initial introductory press conference wondering how the new regime truly felt about Fields. Despite his struggles during his rookie season, it feels like Fields is one of the only things this team has going for them. Especially if they are hoping for a quick turnaround.
Following the introductions of Poles and Eberflus, it was announced that Fields would speak, which he did. After that, it became clear that this regime was not comfortable singling out any particular players. Part of that may be wanting them to “earn” their places. The other part may have been a lack of true time to evaluate what they truly have on their roster.
Even so, it was good to see Fields not only speak, but be in the building to meet both Poles and Eberflus. It also sent a clear message that this team will be built around Fields, which it should be.
5. While many believe the Bears made a mistake by hiring a defensive coach due to Fields, I’ll maintain that finding the best head coach should always be the goal.
Does that mean that Eberflus will end up being the best head coaching candidate to come out of this cycle? Absolutely not, but him being hired should not be discounted simply due to which side of the ball he coaches.
The focus is on Fields. It’s also very clear that if new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy is the guy the Bears believe they are getting, he’ll be a head coach within a year or two. Both things can be true, while also being a successful process. Just look at the Buffalo Bills and their hire of Sean McDermott.
Some were put off by Eberflus’ coach speak and use of acronyms. Yet, many Indianapolis Colts players have said that they loved playing for their former defensive coordinator and that his H.I.T.S. philosophy has made them the successful players they are today. That’s not to say that his philosophy will fit everybody on the team, but the best coaches adjust and find ways to reach players.
There are many things to be skeptical about with any hire, but questioning his process is not likely to be one of them. If the Bears get this one right, everyone on the roster will benefit, including Fields.
6. Poles mentioned wanting to build through the draft and while that is well and fine, only time will tell how much he sticks to those principles.
Back in 2015, we heard a similar “plan” for Pace. After all, every single general manager and front office executive goes into their process with building through the draft as their No. 1 goal. Well... Just about everyone because Les Snead of the Los Angeles Rams may be the exception to that rule.
Either way, talk is cheap and results will ultimately prove whether or not Poles’ openings thoughts are true. That’s not to say that I doubt his words or his overall process, but the Bears are at a crossroads. Both men also believe the Bears can compete for a playoff spot next season. For that to happen, they’ll need to spend in free agency. Even if the overall goal is short-term fixes in their overall long-term approach. When looking at the upcoming offseason, the team only has five total draft picks. That includes missing both their first and fourth-round picks. While Poles did acknowledge that they want to add more picks, it’s unrealistic to believe this draft class will have the same impact as one where he has a full arsenal of picks. Thus, free agency will have to be used in some form and that’s completely fine. In my mind, finding the right balance is much more important.
7. So far, this appears to be a very “green” coaching staff. While that isn’t necessarily an indication of bad things to come, it’ll be a very interesting case study to follow.
While some may believe the Bears “rushed” their head coaching hire, the benefits of hiring early enough in the cycle cannot be overlooked. Shortly after hiring Eberflus, the new head coach pivoted to filling out his coaching staff. First came bringing a few defensive assistants with him, but his most important hire was their new offensive coordinator. Getsy has minimal NFL experience but was widely regarded as an offensive mind at the college level. He was also well-respected in Green Bay where both quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams singled him out on multiple occasions with praise.
Many had hoped they would hire an experienced leader like Rich Bisaccia, but ultimately money and demand were too much for the Bears to overcome. Even so, they have many assistant coaches that are really green, even at the coordinator spots.
Only time will tell how it all plays out, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to be cautiously optimistic and/or skeptical of how it’ll all work out.
8. Expect plenty of roster turnover in the coming months, for obvious reasons.
Heading into the offseason, the Bears have a total of 35 pending free agents. Without breaking it down into too much detail, the team has 27 unrestricted free agents, five restricted free agents, and three exclusive rights free agents. In the coming weeks, I would expect those exclusive rights names to be tendered deals (because they are still under team control). I wouldn’t expect any of the team’s five restricted free agents to receive contracts, either. Which would ultimately leave them with 32 free agents heading into the offseason.
Some of the bigger names include Allen Robinson, Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, James Daniels, Jakeem Grant, Tashaun Gipson, Pat O’Donnell, Andy Dalton, and Jimmy Graham. I’d guess that the majority of these names hit the open market, but I wouldn’t close the door on some of the 32 pending free agents coming back at some point.
It appears when all is said and done (before cuts), the Bears will be sitting right around $28 million in cap space. They could easily clear an extra $10-plus million with a few cuts. Some of those realistic cut/trade candidates include Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Tarik Cohen, and even someone like Jeremiah Attaochu.
With only five current draft picks and a ton of holes to fill due to schematic changes (both offensively) and defensively, expect a very different looking roster once May rolls around.
Raise your hand if you had the Bengals in the playoffs this year. Now, keep your hand up if you had the Bengals winning the AFC and playing in the Super Bowl this Sunday. If you still have your hand up, you either own a crystal ball or you might be full of it. Either way, the transformation for a team like the Bengals will give many bottom-dwelling teams hope next season. Before the 2021 season, Cincinnati had won a total of six games over two years. Their luck turned around once they draft Joe Burrow, but everything finally came together this year. With that in mind, it’s not a very realistic expectation for any other team to follow the same path.
For the Bears, a better team to mold a “comeback” season after could be the Eagles. The same team who fired their Super Bowl-winning head coach transitioned away from quarterback Carson Wentz and allowed their second-year quarterback to develop. First-year head coach Nick Sirianni wasn’t someone who made headlines when being hired. Most believed the Eagles were a few years away from challenging for a playoff spot. Yet, they finished the season at (9-7), took the No. 7 seed, and made it into the playoff where they were eventually blown out on the road.
While squeaking into the playoffs just to be smoked may sound familiar to Bears fans, the direction in which each franchise was heading when they did so, should be noted. Chicago has some work to do and is heading in a new direction. The nice thing? We can watch a new regime build toward something. Again though, Fields remains the biggest X-Factor and it would not be shocking to see him having a better sophomore season than Jalen Hurts did in Philadelphia.
10. I know many fans won’t care, but where Nagy and Pace end up will be a fascinating one to me.
With Pederson landing the head coaching job in Jacksonville and Mike Kafka taking a promotion to offensive coordinator with the Giants, Nagy will have a few options in the coming weeks. It does appear that Pederson’s first choice is Press Taylor as offensive coordinator, but Nagy could be in the running for both quarterback coach openings with Jacksonville or Kansas City. Nagy’s ascension back to becoming a head coaching candidate will take some work, but my guess is he lands on his feet in a familiar area where he can build himself back up.
As far as Pace goes, it’s possible he could end up back in New Orleans again. With that being said, he did lose some of his support-system with Payton retiring. As we’ve seen in previous years, there’s no guarantee that Pace will ever get the chance to be an NFL general manager again. Even so, he’s a quality college scouting mind that should bring value to whichever franchise puts him in the right role.