Many have been quick to criticize the Chicago Bears new front office regime for not doing enough this offseason to improve the team, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. Some minor moves were made; a number of wide receivers were brought on to fill out the depth chart and possibly find some hidden gems; some new tight ends to backup Cole Kmet were added; a couple o-linemen came in to add a little depth to the trenches plus (in one of the more liked moves in the team’s offseason hull) a new starting center in Lucas Patrick. But none of these moves really made the offense look better on paper. Even in a draft where the Bears had two second rounders, the team didn’t pick up an offensive player until pick 71 with Velus Jones Jr.
What was missing from all these mostly unremarkable moves? A top tier weapon for Justin Fields (especially needed after the departure of Allen Robinson this offseason) and some starting caliber linemen to protect Fields.
However, in the last two weeks or so leading up to training camp, GM Ryan Poles probably did some of his best work this summer filling some of these holes.
First was the N’Keal Harry trade on July 12th. The Bears sent a 2024 7th-round pick to New England for Harry, the 32nd overall pick from 2019. Next was the Michael Schofield signing, coming on the 25th. It represented a homecoming for the offensive lineman, who is a native of Orland Park. A final move came just a day after Schofield’s commitment, when the Bears added another o-lineman with Riley Reiff, who is looking to bounce back from an injury-ridden 2021 with the Bengals.
All three are projected to have decent sized roles on the team. Schofield and Reiff are both being penciled in as starters already, which shouldn’t come as a shock. Reiff, a 33-year-old, has been around the league for a decade and is automatically the most experienced player on the o-line. Meanwhile, Schofield posted an admirable 66.8 PFF grade last season with the Chargers. For comparison, the only Bears linemen to post a higher grade than Schofield last season were Jason Peters and James Daniels, neither of whom are on the Bears this season.
Harry is the wild card of the three. The former Arizona State standout put up back-to-back 1K yard seasons his sophomore and junior year of college. This were good enough to grab the eye of the Patriots, who made Harry their 2019 first round pick. Since then, it’s been rough sailing for 24 year-old. His receiving yard totals from his first three seasons are as followed:
- 2019: 105yds. (seven games)
- 2020: 309yds. (14 games)
- 2021: 184yds. (12 games)
The raw talent is there; he’s made some truly special highlight reel catches in the NFL, he had a good college career, and the physical gifts are there as well (6’4, 225lbs.). If Harry puts it all together, the Bears could find themselves with a solid WR2, all for the low low price of a 7th rounder. If Harry continues to struggle, hey, the team’s down a 7th round pick. He’s a great low-risk, high-reward type pickup.
So now to the main point of this article. It’s interesting how within a few weeks so close to the end of the offseason, Poles and co. have changed the perception of two major position groups. With Schofield and Reiff, the week one o-line (and their PFF grades from last season) now looks something like this:
LT: Reiff (67.3)
LG: Cody Whitehair (66.2)
C: Patrick* (57.2)
RG: Michael Schofield (66.8)
RT: Larry Borom** (61.4)
*Patrick just came down with the injury bug, but it sounds like there’s a chance he’s ready to go week one.
**Hopefully this spot goes to Teven Jenkins if he’s able to live up to his potential, but that’s sounding like a more and more complicated situation.
Meanwhile, Harry should fight for that WR2/WR3 spot against Bryon Pringle and Velus Jones Jr. Neither the new o-line or WR group look top tier yet, but they look a lot better than they did at the beginning of the month, as a couple of fringe starters are now being pushed further down the depth chart where they probably belong for now.
I think this was a really nice two weeks from the front office that kinda puts their offseason plan into perspective. Rather than spend a lot of money at the start of the offseason on premier free agents, Poles sat back, saw what he had on the roster plus what he got in the draft, and then went after some cost effective guys who were still looking for a gig by late July (or in Harry’s case, took a flyer on a possible change-of-scenery guy). It’s doubtful the Bears are super competitive this year, so Poles waiting and filling the roster out with decent supporting pieces to help the young guys grow and get better (*cough, cough* Fields *cough, cough*) is a good enough plan that doesn’t hamstring the team into players that disrupt any future plans, especially in regards to not signing big, long-term contracts that fill-up cap space by the time the team is ready to go after those big fish. The plan for this season appears to be see how the young guys develop before Poles really breaks out the checkbook.
In a summer where Poles and the rest of the front office have received plenty of criticism regarding not filling out the team the right way, the last couple of weeks have been a good sign that Poles has a plan going forward and is committed to building a roster that encourages improvement this season from the young, important pieces. Meanwhile, the bigger gets will come later in his tenure once he sees how the current roster develops.
Or maybe I’m just giving him too much credit and these were some last minute panic fixes. But let’s try to be optimistic here.