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Breaking Down the Bears’ Hire of Shane Waldron

ECD provides his in-depth thoughts regarding the Bears’ recent hire of Shane Waldron as their new offensive coordinator.

Washington Commanders v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

I've certainly enjoyed my fair share of takes involving the ever-so-changing coaching scene around the NFL. As I and others learn every year — this is about as unpredictable as it gets when forecasting all the fires and hires that happen each year. So naturally, some of my takes admittedly missed the mark, while others were dead-on.

One such take I'm particularly pleased to write about features the Chicago Bears' latest hire at offensive coordinator - Shane Waldron. He was at the very top of my list the instant he was made available to interview. In no way did I, or many others connected within the league, ever foresee Shane becoming available. At least not until 2025, when Pete Carroll was seen as someone who'd retire before getting fired.

Nope. The Seattle Seahawks kicked Pete Carroll out the door as GM John Schneider won the power struggle at the top of the bird's nest. Moments later they granted permission to all assistants on the staff to seek employment elsewhere instead of needlessly holding them over for their new head coach to ultimately terminate themselves.

HC Matt Eberflus and GM Ryan Poles wasted no time at all to get an interview scheduled. This happened literally within hours of permission being granted to Shane Waldron and his fellow staff members. The New Orleans Saints weren't far behind in getting their request submitted for Shane to meet with Dennis Allen at the Big Easy.

In fact, the Bears virtually requested that their entire staff meet at Halas Hall. Both Shane Waldron and Greg Olson were on the list for their offensive coordinator position. Additional requests for various positions were made to Sanjay Lal, Chad Morton, and their latest QB coaching hire in Kenny Joseph. Eventually, Chad Morton would indeed be hired as their running backs coach. That wasn't the only familiar face for Shane Waldron as they added to his staff.

Thomas Brown, who also interviewed for the Bears' OC position, was later hired as their passing game coordinator. Thomas worked with Shane during their time together with the Los Angeles Rams. Most recently, Thomas Brown served as the OC for the Carolina Panthers.

The coaching staff on offense, for the most part, is completely rebuilt. Only Chris Morgan (offensive line coach) and Jim Dray (tight ends coach) remain. Otherwise, this stuff is entirely new. Here is the full staff below.

  • OC - Shane Waldron
  • PGC - Thomas Brown
  • QB - Kenny Joseph
  • RB - Chad Morton
  • OL - Chris Morgan
  • Asst. OL - Jason Houghtaling
  • WR - Chris Beatty
  • TE - Jim Dray

Why is Shane's arrival a big deal?

NFL: International Series-Seattle Seahawks Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For starters, let us reflect a little on what Matt Eberflus mentioned during his press conference to address the firing of Luke Getsy. Matt's assessment of Luke was that the offense, and quote, "simply wasn't good enough." Which was fairly vanilla as far as responses go, but eventually Matt would offer some more details on his decision to terminate Luke from his staff. Primarily, he reflected on his desire to find a "good teacher" who would be charged with building and running the offense as a whole.

Enter one Shane Waldron. Based on everything I've observed and have been advised by more connected people I trust, Shane comes in highly regarded and recommended by staffers and players from around the league. It's no secret everyone is obsessed with the style of West Coast offense (WCO) that has been popularized by the likes of Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, and others. That is what the Bears attempted to do with their original hiring of Luke Getsy. Luke simply couldn't teach or manage this offense at all.

What I've grown to appreciate about Shane the most is his reputation for connecting well with his players. That alone was a big reason why we saw so much success with Geno Smith becoming the first QB since Rich Gannon to earn their first Pro Bowl nod after year ten in the league. Shane Waldron doesn't simply flex his playbook and scheme to accommodate the players at his disposal. He actively looks for ways to get everyone involved and balance the workload.

Then, of course, there are the numbers themselves.

During Shane's three years with the Seattle Seahawks, they were among the league's most explosive offenses. This includes 9th in explosive pass plays percentage (14%) and 5th in explosive run plays percentage (14.5%). They also had the 3rd most total big pass plays (110) and 10th in total passing touchdowns (83). 2023, as a whole, was a down year on offense as they could never figure out how to operate their offense efficiently with a revolving door along the oft-injured O-line.

How was Shane able to achieve all of this despite having both older veterans at quarterback and one of the youngest O-lines in the league?

He doesn't do anything fancy - but there will be significant changes

Chicago Bears v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Systemically the Chicago Bears will remain the same as they transition on offense from Luke Getsy to Shane Waldron. That most certainly plays a role for what I believe happens at QB — more on that later. Besides the similarities between terminology and some of their passing concepts, the two couldn't be any more different. Most notably in terms of how they utilized their respective personnel from the 2023 season.

Luke Getsy primarily utilized the following personnel groupings:

  • 11 (one back and one tight end) - 57.2% (24th in the NFL)
  • 12 (one back and two tight ends) - 23.5% (8th in the NFL)
  • 21 (two backs and one tight end) - 11.3% (7th in the NFL)

Now here is Shane Waldron:

  • 11 (one back and one tight end) - 64.2% (15th in the NFL)
  • 12 (one back and two tight ends) - 22.3% (10th in the NFL)
  • 13 (one back and three tight ends) - 8.8% (2nd in the NFL)

It's notable how often Shane Waldron used "13" personnel due to the continuous injury-related issues with their O-line. One stark contrast that's present is their tendency to utilize "11" personnel. Luke Getsy simply didn't like to utilize lighter groupings, especially on first down. Shane Waldron, on the other hand, utilized "11" personnel groupings as his primary staple on all three downs. Then there's the actual success each coach had in their personnel groupings.

Luke Getsy and the Bears ranked 19th in EPA for both "11" and "12" personnel groupings. Shane Waldron and the Seahawks ranked 16th in EPA for "11" personnel and a staggering 4th in EPA for "12" personnel. Despite their relative closeness in using "12" personnel, Shane Waldron was far and away the superior play caller who found balance between the run and pass. He was literally 50/50 percentage-wise between the run and pass when he called for "12" personnel. Luke Getsy favored the run game when calling for the same personnel grouping.

Now for one of the pink elephants standing in the room... their usage of pre-snap motion. Throughout the entire season, the Seattle Seahawks were ranked within the top ten in pre-snap motion on offense. In particular, Shane Waldron had a fondness for using the "jet" or "fly" motion.

The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, started off the season with the fewest pre-snap motions of any team in the league. Over time, and particularly once Justin Fields returned to the lineup from his thumb injury, those pre-snap motions became much more frequent. At season's end the Seahawks ranked 7th in total percentage compared to the Bears at 12th overall.

Wide Receivers — not quarterback — could see the biggest change on the roster

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The discussion starts and ends at "quarterback" regarding the Chicago Bears this off-season. However, based on how Shane Waldron utilized "11" personnel and his passing concepts thereof, I am convinced the biggest amount of change on the roster will happen at wide receiver. And for good reason.

First and plainly neither Luke Getsy nor Tyke Tolbert managed to get much production from the current receiving corps players not named DJ Moore. We've seen hints at their long-term plans when GM Ryan Poles acquired Chase Claypool at the trade deadline in 2022. A large, fast "X" type of receiver to plug in while a more dynamic and all-around threat in DJ Moore would be added later to their perimeter. Otherwise... it turned into a bunch of smaller fast dudes running screens and blocking downfield. Not ideal.

With Shane Waldron, there was a much stronger effort to balance the load and layer routes on top of each other in the receiving game. For starters, he doesn't stack identical routes on top of each other, unlike what we saw with Luke Getsy. It's also not the routine hi-to-low concept people like discussing.

Instead, it was more of a hi-to-medium pattern while focusing on attacking over the middle between the hash marks. Spacing and a wide range of depth were a huge foundational concept to his game plans. Luke Getsy, in comparison, attacked the numbers and kept the spacing very tight between his receivers within their route concepts.

Now, let's talk personnel. He, too, had a large "X" receiver in DK Metcalf paired with a more dynamic threat in Tyler Lockett. Last year they drafted Jaxon Smith-Njigba to become the primary option out of the slot. He also loved using Noah Fant as a featured option from the tight end position, occasionally splitting out wide or into the trey.

Again his success rate while running "12" or "11" personnel speaks volumes. The most important factor in the Seahawks' receiving corps has been their ability to consistently generate separation. Luke Getsy seemed fixated on separation through raw speed instead of actual traits.

Then we look at all the people the Bears interviewed for their receivers coach position. Every single one of them, including Chris Beatty, featured their work with larger "X" types of receivers. In Chris' (brief) time with the Los Angeles Chargers they had players like Mike Williams, Quinten Johnston, and Simi Fehoko, who were all 6'4" or taller. Even Keenan Allen is over 6'2" in height. Only one receiver in their entire corps — Derius Davis — was listed under 6'0". They were one of, if not the biggest receiving corps in terms of size.

In direct comparison the Bears' receiving corps is much smaller in size. In fact, out of their entire group, only three players total were listed at being above 6'0". Those players were the aforementioned Chase Claypool (who didn't last long); Equanimeous St. Brown; and Collin Johnson. Otherwise, their primary "jumbo receiver" has been Cole Kmet, who's earned his place as one of the better tight ends in the league. Something tells me the Bears will want to add a lot more size into their group this coming offseason.

All things considered, the Bears are well-equipped to overhaul their receiving corps around DJ Moore. They possess two picks within the top ten — 1st and 9th — and are well positioned in terms of cap space with quite a loaded free agency class projected to be available. The Bears absolutely must retool their receiving corps completely if Shane Waldron is to have a shot at creating a successful game plan.

So... what about their Quarterback position?

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Here we go. As many people on here are, or should be aware, I'm firmly in the camp that believes Justin Fields has a chance of sticking around in 2024. That comes in complete contrast with what the national folks believe, and much like what Jay Cutler would say, I don't care. The truth is there's just as much evidence for the Bears to keep Justin Fields as there is for them to move in a completely new direction.

The biggest piece of evidence is their hiring of Shane Waldron. Contrary to popular belief his arrival suggests that, at a minimum, keeping Fields is an option. Primarily because he is keeping the terminology the same between his own offense and Luke Getsy's. That will make the transition much easier for everyone on offense, particularly for Justin Fields. He won't have to learn his 3rd different offense in 4 years while playing at the NFL level if this is how things play out.

Then you look at the career of Shane Waldron. He's never worked with a rookie quarterback as the starter in any of his time between Washington, Los Angeles, and Seattle. The starters were all veterans with at least one full season under their belt: Kirk Cousins (WAS), Jared Goff (LAR), Russell Wilson (SEA for 2021), and Geno Smith (SEA for 2022-23). It's worth pointing out his work with quarterbacks didn't really begin until 2018, when he was named the Rams' passing game coordinator under Sean McVay. Up until now, he's never been tasked with developing a rookie quarterback.

Out of all the hires made to the Bears' staff on offense, there's only one who has experience with handling a rookie under center. That is Thomas Brown, whose time with such a scenario was very brief. And I, personally, am unsure if he would want the pressure of handling that situation following the disaster that happened in Carolina. It would be very understandable if that experience left a sour taste in Thomas' mouth.

Then there is the very real possibility the Bears are in a "win or else" situation with Matt Eberflus. It's year three under the embattled head coach, and history has never been kind to Bears coaches entering year three or later while featuring a first round pick being made at quarterback. You might want to look away if you're avoiding bad memories...

We've seen Rex Grossman drafted in 2003 while Dick Jauron came off a 4-12 season and the Cade McNown disaster. Later on, saw John Fox get blindsided by Ryan Pace trading up to acquire the right to draft Mitchell Trubisky at 2nd overall in 2017. And then there was Matt Nagy getting his wish for Justin Fields in the 2021 draft. All three of those coaches got fired following each of those seasons. The Bears' ownership has proven that drafting a quarterback early does not guarantee any safety in your job security as head coach.

"Oh, but those were different situations." Were they? I'd think not.

Two of those coaches — Jauron and Fox — both got fired despite improvement being shown from year two to year three in the wins/loss column. Jauron went 7-9 in 2003 after going 4-12 in 2002. Fox went 5-11 in 2017 after going 3-13 in 2016. Bears ownership has never paired a new head coach with a new rookie quarterback since, interestingly enough, Dick Jauron was paired with Cade McNown in 1999. History offers a lot of evidence that contradicts the current opinion of the national media.

Meanwhile, we have seen veteran quarterbacks witness a complete 180 in their career when Shane Waldron is at the helm. As previously mentioned, Geno Smith had quite the revival after being written out as a complete bust with the New York Jets. I'd certainly think Justin Fields has a lot more tools and a higher ceiling than Geno Smith ever had.

And for the "he doesn't fit this offense" crowd, with all due respect, how can you say that when witnessing Luke Getsy being a complete failure in even attempting to teach this same offense? Let alone his inability to orchestrate an effective passing game. Before you say, "what about Tyson Bagent," what about him? The offense became even more limited with him under center, and his two wins came against the two most dysfunctional teams from last year. Never mind the fact the Bears went 4-3 when Justin Fields returned to the lineup.

Coaching has always been a big determining factor in any quarterback's success. One game in particular served as the ultimate "what if" moment for my own evaluation on Justin Fields.

The Atlanta Falcons game this past season featured a lot of the same concepts Shane Waldron utilized frequently in Seattle. Crossing routes over the middle, moving pockets, heavily attacking the intermediate zone, featuring slant routes more than once in the whole game. Guess what, Justin Fields performed exceptionally well when Luke Getsy finally attempted to call the offense many of us expected him to develop in the first place.

Despite all of that, will the Bears draft a quarterback at some point? As in, after the first round? My personal answer, is "yes." This is while I also believe they're at the least considering skipping quarterback at first overall for the 2nd consecutive year. My summarized take is that while Justin Fields could still be their guy for 2024, they can just as easily pick a quarterback on day two or later and stash them on the bench. That's in the event a guy they absolutely love falls to them later on.

Similar strategies have worked out well for teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles. In 2012 the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn to be their guy, then drafted Russell Wilson in the 3rd round. Fast forward to 2020 when the Eagles drafted Jalen Hurts in the 2nd round while having Carson Wentz signed to his (then) historic deal. In both instances, neither Wilson nor Hurts were expected to be starters during their rookie seasons. In both cases, they simply earned the opportunity and forced a competition naturally.

"What's the point of that, ECD? Why give up your pick of the litter at first overall?" This headlines one of the many questions I anticipate in receiving within the comments.

Simple - they might not be in love with a quarterback enough to take at first overall. The last thing Ryan Poles wants to do is reach for a player at any position. If he is convinced and believes in any particular quarterback enough to take at first overall, great, he's making that pick. On the other hand, if he's not convinced without a shadow of a doubt his guy is there at quarterback, he will look elsewhere. You never pick a player at first overall if there's even the slightest hint of grey in their eval.

As Ron Wolf, the hall of fame general manager for the Green Bay Packers would say, "always draft a quarterback." Doesn't have to be within the first round. Or even within the first two days of the draft — CC one Brock Purdy into the conversation. Build the quarterback depth chart yearly and so completely without the pressure of forcing the rookie to be "the guy" before they're even remotely ready. If you take a quarterback at first overall, they better be 100% ready to play on day one. Otherwise, it's a wasted pick.

So if the Bears are even thinking about passing on a quarterback at first overall, and Matt Eberflus is on the hot seat, why would Shane Waldron want this job?

Again, I think the answer is quite simple, while being ignored by most in order to copy and paste the opinions of others. The answer is Shane Waldron has his choice at whatever he wants to do at quarterback. Keep Fields and take his game to a new level, or take a quarterback at first overall, or perhaps keep Fields while stashing a youngster on the depth chart. All options are at play here.

While writing this article I came across this post on X (formerly known as Twitter).

That brings a lot of intrigue into this whole conversation. While the national media keeps producing their headlines, Shane Waldron isn't offering them any insight. The Bears are going to take their time with this decision. As they should - keep all options open until the time comes to finalize your decision(s). Perform your due diligence.

In Summary...

SPORTS-FBN-HKN-BBO-BKN-SULLIVAN-COLUMN-TB Eileen T. Meslar/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Shane Waldron's arrival was badly needed at a critical time for the Chicago Bears franchise. A coach who connects well with his players, has proven experience and credibility as a play caller, and offers the Bears a chance to choose from a full array of options at quarterback. For the first time since at least 2015, the Bears made the best possible decision in hiring their new offensive coordinator.

I do not expect everyone to agree with my entire philosophy here. After all, this contradicts the line of thought a majority of my counterparts and nationally based sources are suggesting. On Super Bowl Sunday for 2024, after spending a lot of time pondering this article, these are my complete thoughts. My personal opinions and evaluations regarding Caleb Williams and other quarterback prospects are being kept separately on Twitterverse.

The actual decisions at quarterback remain to be seen. One thing we can all agree on, is for the first time in the history of the Bears' franchise, they actually have their choice between multiple good options. For the sake of us all, let us hope they make the correct decision at quarterback. Then watch Shane Waldron do his magic.