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10 Bears Takes: With the first overall pick in the NFL draft, the Chicago Bears...

The 2022 NFL regular season has mercifully come to an end for the (3-14) Chicago Bears. Yet, many fans exited Sunday’s season finale with the feeling of optimism due to one simple reason. Why this season couldn’t have gone much better for a new regime in the beginning of an extensive rebuild.

2022 NFL Draft - Rounds 4-7 Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

The 2022 NFL regular season has come to an end, and despite the Chicago Bears finishing the year on a 10-game losing streak and a (3-14) overall record, most fans would call Sunday’s finale a success.

It was a season of a few ups and many downs. After starting the year (2-1), things went downhill in a hurry, but there were still plenty of quality developments on a young and inexperienced roster. This new regime will be heading into its second year with a bounty of resources at its disposal. While we will avoid diving too much into the off-season right now, there will be plenty to dive into over the upcoming months. Before we get to that point, let’s dive into Sunday’s game and what the 2022 regular season brought us overall.

1. With the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears...

If you thought the last off-season was repetitive or long, I’ve got some bad news for you... The same circular conversations are coming, and they are coming fast. Ready yourself for many mock drafts, mock draft day trade scenarios, etc. That’s all part of the fun after enduring a three-win season, right?

Because of the Houston Texans’ thrilling 32-31 last-second win in Indianapolis, the Bears will hold the No. 1 overall pick for just the third time in franchise history. In terms of “best case scenarios” heading into Sunday, this was it. A Bears’ loss and a Texans’ win. Both happened, and because of that, Chicago officially holds the keys to the 2023 NFL Draft in late April. What a feeling, huh?

I’d still put good money on Poles trading that pick for a bounty, but it gives the team infinitely more options than it would have with a win or even a loss with a Texans loss. The Bears will have plenty of time to field trade-back calls, but at this point, I think the bigger question becomes how Poles will handle the situation. Does Poles prefer a smaller trade back to stay in range for an elite defender? Or will he be OK dropping down five-or-more slots to set themselves up for multiple first-round picks in the future? We’ll have plenty of time to debate that, but for now, the possibilities are endless, and that should hold most fans over until the off-season starts in mid-March.

Washington Commanders v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

2. Don’t be surprised to see the Indianapolis Colts become a factor in the Bears’ draft plans once again in the coming months.

Yes, the Colts played a large role in the Bears landing the No. 1 overall pick on Sunday but don’t be surprised to see them factor into the team’s draft plans again. There’s no way around it; Indianapolis needs a quarterback. Despite multiple swings at veteran quarterbacks, it has not worked out. Assuming current general manager Chris Ballard holds his job for another season, he might feel more pressure than ever to trade up and land their top pick at quarterback.

The Texans may feel strongly enough about a quarterback (presumably Alabama’s Bryce Young) to make the jump one spot, but we’ll have to see how Poles feels about the skewed value between dropping down one spot versus multiple spots.

There should be a bounty of teams looking for a new quarterback this off-season, but with multiple veterans expected to be available in free agency and the trade market, it might be a while before we see things play out concerning the Bears.

Teams to keep an eye on in the coming months:

My guess is that the Bears will want to stay relatively close to the Top 5, which makes the Texans, Colts, or possibly the Seahawks as the most “attractive” trade partners at the moment. Don’t be surprised to see a desperate team unload multiple future first-round picks (among other 2023 picks) to make the leap, though. We’ve got an exciting few months ahead, so buckle up.

3. General manager Ryan Poles will be entering a rare situation in just his second year. How his decisions this off-season will be more important than jumpstarting the tear down last off-season.

The Bears will be entering the 2023 off-season with a record amount of cap space and the No. 1 overall pick (along with eight total draft picks). It doesn’t really get much better than that, does it? On paper, this team appears to be set up in the “best case scenario” type of situation, but now the onus is on Poles to make the right moves.

Yes, more resources are usually a good thing, but the (now) second-year general manager has his work cut out for him and plenty to prove. While Poles should be commended for stepping in and immediately tearing it all down, some of his decision-making from his first off-season should at least draw some questions that need to be answered. Many of us saw the offensive depth chart and questioned how he was putting quarterback Justin Fields in a position to succeed. Between the offensive line and group of pass catchers, things played out how most should have expected. Trading a high-second-round pick for a player like Chase Claypool didn’t look great at the moment and looks even more questionable now that the Pittsburgh Steelers will hold the 32nd overall pick. Movement is one thing but making the right moves is much more important.

Obviously, it’s much more difficult to find long-term answers with a limited amount of resources, and that’s why Poles should receive some benefit of the doubt heading into this off-season. With that in mind, this is a “dream scenario” for most general managers and not one that Poles can afford to waste. Considering how much this team has to spend to simply meet the cash and cap floor, it’s going to be a busy off-season. The biggest key for any fan evaluating this off-season is simple. Do not mistake action for improvement. Free agency is almost always an overpay, and that’s where Poles must be smart. Expect plenty of big contracts to be handed out but keeping the guaranteed portion of these contracts in a controllable manner will be a key to getting out of any bad contracts he may sign in the coming months.

4. Third-round rookie Velus Jones Jr. capped off a disappointing rookie season with an impressive final showing on Sunday.

The off-season for the third-round rookie should be all about building confidence. Yes, he had some rough moments this season that included being a healthy scratch multiple times and even having his return role taken away from him. With all of that in mind, the past few games have been a glimpse into the type of player Jones Jr. could be in the future for the Bears.

No, he’ll likely never be a full-time starter as a receiver. He may not even pan out as a punt returner, but his overall speed and explosion lead to game-changing plays. With more talent around him and another year of experience under his belt, the rookie could be a nice gadget piece for what should be a drastically improved offense in 2023.

If I were this coaching staff, I’d give Jones Jr. another chance to win the punt returner job. I’d also design more run plays for him. Get the ball in his hands and see what he can do. That’s much easier to do with more talent at skill position players around him. That’s something that should improve this off-season. He may never be worth a third-round pick, but if this coaching staff is as good as some hope, they’ll be, finding the right role for Jones Jr. should be a priority this off-season.

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

5. I still maintain that the Bears deciding to sit key players on Sunday will end up being the smartest thing they’ve done all season.

Let’s just take the “tank talk” out of the equation for a second. Sunday’s game saw no serious injuries sustained by the Bears. That means any current players they have heading into 2023 will be healthy (barring an off-season injury) heading into off-season programs. For a team that lacks talent, that’s a big plus. They won’t be hoping and waiting for any key players will be back before the season. To me, there’s plenty of value in that.

Regarding the “tank,” I think it’s fairly obvious what type of impact resting key starters had. It’s not like the Vikings looked great on Sunday, and that 16-point game would have likely been a lot closer having the Bears played more starters. The difference between a win and loss in Week 18 ended up being two picks (No. 1 overall or No. 3 overall). While that wouldn’t have been disastrous, it would have severely dampened any hopes the Bears had of trading back.

All in all, the Bears made the right decision in Week 18. No serious long-term injuries, locking up the No. 1 overall pick, and, believe it or not, momentum from a roster that will have close to a (50%) turnover rate will not exist.

6. Examining the Bears’ roster heading into the off-season. How many long-term starters do they have? An early ranking of team needs heading into March.

That’s something that many fans should be asking themselves right now because, in short, the answer is “not many.” Yes, the Bears have a ton of resources at their disposal this off-season, but even with that, this roster will have plenty of holes heading into the next off-season. So, we must ask ourselves, who are the Bears’ current long-term starters?

Offensively, the list is a bit longer (surprisingly). Fields and Teven Jenkins are the two obvious names right out of the gate. I’d also argue that Braxton Jones will very likely be one of the team’s starting offensive tackles. Outside of that, you’ve got Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, and Cole Kmet that should be projected starters heading into next season. Khalil Herbert could slot in as the team’s starting running back, but his issues as a pass blocker and iffy hands bring some questions.

Defensively, the list is a lot less clear. Starting in the secondary, Eddie Jackson, Jaquan Brisker, Jaylon Johnson, and Kyler Gordon all appear to be locked in as starters for 2023. Depth is a question at cornerback, and they need to upgrade that third corner spot. At linebacker, Jack Sanborn is currently the only linebacker under a contract that started a game in 2023. While it may be too early to project him as a sure-fire starter at middle linebacker, I’d feel comfortable handing him that job. On the defensive line, I’m not sure they have a single starting-caliber player in that group. Maybe Justin Jones would be better with a star interior defensive lineman next to him. The bigger concern should be edge rusher. Right now, they have multiple bottom-end depth pieces but nothing that remotely resembles a quality starter. Special teams should be good, but it wouldn’t shock me if they bring in competition at kicker for Cairo Santos.

When building out a “needs list,” here’s where I currently stand:

  1. Offensive line (Right tackle, left guard, and center at minimum)
  2. Defensive line (All four starting spots)
  3. Wide Receiver (The need for a true No. 1 & better depth is clear)
  4. Linebacker (Even if you like Sanborn, they need a much better Will and more depth)
  5. Cornerback (This team cannot afford to go into a third straight season with Kindle Vildor starting on the boundary)
  6. Running back (The Bears could bring back David Montgomery, but something tells me they’ll go in a different direction)
  7. Better Tight End Depth (Cole Kmet has proven to be a quality player, but there’s little behind him that inspires much confidence)

As you can see, there’s going to be a long list of needs that this team will have heading into free agency and late April’s draft. How Poles attacks these holes will be interesting, but I’d caution against anyone believing this off-season can transform them into a Super Bowl contender for 2023. Properly building a successful roster requires multiple successful off-seasons, headlined by strong draft classes. Things will get better, and with any luck, in a hurry. But managing Super Bowl expectations should be key before this off-season starts.

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

7. With Saturday night’s win, the Jacksonville Jaguars became the latest team to go from worst to first in one season. Even more eerily similar? They finished (3-14) and held the No. 1 overall pick last off-season with the league’s most cap space.

Want some hope moving into the off-season? Here you go.

There’s no guarantee that the Bears will go from worst to first, even if Poles knocks it out of the park this off-season. Power shifts happen more often in the NFL than in most major professional sports, but the Bears have a long way to go. With that being said, many people said the same about the Jaguars heading into the last off-season. I was one of those who criticized some of Jacksonville’s free-agent expenditures and wasn’t overly enthralled with the hiring of Doug Pederson. Despite what any critic had to say, they went from (3-14) to (9-8) and an AFC South division title.

While I’m still not sure Poles should follow an exact blueprint for free agency and overall team building, the teams share many similarities, including their quarterback situation. Other teams in recent memory have had sizeable turnarounds after one off-season, including the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles. Things change quickly in the NFL, but if these teams have taught us anything, it’s that stacking quality drafts matters, and the trenches should be valued at a premium. Now we’ll get to see how much closer this front office can get to the Bears in 2023.

8. One somewhat un-talked-about aspect of the start of the Bears’ off-season? Who will replace team president Ted Phillips?

The long-time team president is set to retire next month. A few weeks back, a report leaked that current Big 10 president Kevin Warren is viewed as a “Top Candidate” heading into the final stretch of the Bears’ search. Warren was instrumental in the Vikings’ stadium project that produced U.S. Bank Stadium. Considering the Bears are looking to do something similar, that appears to be a match made in heaven. The 59-year-old has a combined seven years of NFL experience between the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions under his belt.

Another plus for a name like Warren is that he has no real previous ties to the Bears organization. Now, there has long been a common misconception that Phillips has been the team’s “boogeyman” and that every bad event that has happened with the franchise has somehow been his fault. Frankly, that’s not true and simply put, it’s not fair to place that type of blame on Phillips. With that being said, the Bears need to continue their journey into becoming a modern-day sports franchise, which makes this hire an important one for multiple reasons. Not many other names have leaked out to this point, but I would expect some momentum on this front to start ramping up now that the regular season is over. It may not be overly publicized but make no mistake, this is a big move for the Bears and one that could drastically help them moving forward. Don’t buy into the negative from college football fans and his handling of the Big 10 during COVID. Warren is a highly qualified candidate that would be an excellent hire for this organization. Also, don’t sleep on Jim Phillips, the current ACC commissioner.

9. The NFL had a beautiful tribute across the league to Damar Hamlin this weekend after an extremely scary situation last Monday night.

Last Monday was a nightmare that many football fans and every NFL organization around the league could not have imagined. On what appeared to be a pretty routine play, the situation quickly turned into panic as we saw a 24-year-old football player lying lifeless on the field. What made the situation scarier (in the moment) was how quickly medical help rushed out on the field. The medical team had to perform CPR and save his life before he was loaded into an ambulance. The game was postponed and ultimately canceled, but the emotional impact that game had on anyone who experienced it was something that will not soon be forgotten.

Over the next few days, we received positive updates on Hamlin’s health status. The news kept getting better, as did the random acts of kindness going on around the league. Hamlin’s GoFundMe surpassed $8 million, and the way fans and players rallied around the young safety was a refreshing sight. Over the weekend, as games resumed, each team wore patches to honor Hamlin. Each stadium also had some sort of moment of silence or moment for him. It went to show that despite our upbringings, we can all join together as human beings when things matter the most.

Speaking for myself, these are moments where my “faith in humanity” ticks up a notch. Whether you’re a football player, a fan, or somebody who doesn’t watch football, the impact reached many. It has been amazing to see Hamlin’s progress in his recovery, and it has also been beyond heart-warming to see the response in regard to supporting Hamlin. If anything, I hope this shows more fans that athletes are human beings, too. They have feelings, they have family, and they have friends. Most importantly, they are human beings. This should give fans a more “human side” of the game. As he continues to recover, I hope that everyone will continue to pray for him.

10. Thank you to everyone who has followed along this season, despite a less-than-ideal 2022 season.

As always, I’m extremely thankful for all of those who take time out of their day to read not only my work but all of our work here at Windy City Gridiron. It has been a long season and one that has tested our collective patience. Even though we all knew that this would be a rebuilding season, it’s never easy to sit through 17 games and only see three wins. I hope the Bears’ final draft position gives most a warm and fuzzy feeling as we conclude the season. Most importantly, I do believe that this team is headed in the right direction, and I’m looking forward to a busy off-season. While this may be a “goodbye” as we turn the final page on the 2022 Chicago Bears season, there will be plenty more to come over the upcoming months.