The Chicago Bears embarrassing 21-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the Super Wild Card just expedited the start of an off-season that was always going to be full of questions. Now, had they won, some of those questions would have presumably been answered. Or at least kicked down the road another week. Now they face a final reckoning in a season defined by them.
Questions for the Chicago Bears this Off-Season
Who’s Running Things?
This is a question that has many layers. In the building, we have to wonder about the immediate future of Bears general manager Ryan Pace. He has one year left on his contract but, in the NFL, that might as well be null. Typically at this point, buzz about contract extensions is making the internet rounds; if not actual details of a deal. Chatter around Pace is much different.
The popular fan theory is that despite technically qualifying for the postseason, blowing the quarterback position coupled with the tumultuous nature of the past two seasons meant Pace needed a win to keep his job.
Others point to the job he did of filling out the roster on a tight budget (of his own creation) and built a team that was competitive.
But this also applies to Matt Nagy, the head coach who was brought in to overhaul the offense. An offense that ranks, on average, 25th in points and 27th in yards over the last two seasons. They showed promise in his first year but that has proven to have been the product of a stellar defense creating short fields.
His defenders point to the team “never quitting” on him, but perhaps that is just a matter of interpretation. Personified by the penalties on Sunday by Eddie Jackson and Anthony Miller, who got ejected for throwing a punch.
The mental mistakes by players are reflective of the head coach. He never wanted Mitchell Trubisky (who is probably on his way out) and showed it by never fully adapting the offense to the quarterback’s skill-set. That was never more evident than in how much better the offense looked with Bill Lazor calling plays. You can also see a drop off from when reports surfaced Nagy had gotten more involved again.
But Ian Rapoport reported that Nagy’s expected back next season. It’s hard to imagine Nagy is so certainly back and Pace is not.
This might be more disheartening for fans than the notion that those in charge will return. The Bears are projected to be over the cap in 2021 but some have laid out some paths to create some room before then, such as extensions for some vets. But there are issues even with the moves they suggest, ones that could end up biting the Bears down the road for putting off tough decisions.
Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn are the safest of the veteran options by virtue of their salaries and positions. But Akiem Hicks and Kyle Fuller might need to be looked at as possible candidates to be cut or traded.
Both are valuable but with warts that shouldn’t make them off-limits. Hicks will carry a $12 million cap hit next season, the last on his deal. Chicago won’t be re-signing him after that and the defense hasn’t been elite for two years with him.
Fuller is in a similar situation as he was one of the best corners for much of the season. Maybe it was playing style or that he might be better suited to play safety at this point in his career, but he got ate up in coverage too often as the season wore on. He allowed an 87.7 percent completion percentage over the last six weeks of the regular season and will carry a $13 million cap charge.
Both of these players can contribute but, in reality, their timelines don’t line up with this team’s timeline. It’s an opportunity to take the Bill Belichick (the general manager) route of moving on a year too soon as opposed to too late.
Unmentioned or Forgotten?
You want to move on from Chuck Pagano, fine. But we already know defense has more variance to it from year to year than offense. Take that money and reinvest on offense where you need a quarterback, at least two new offensive linemen, and probably another wide receiver since Allen Robinson is more than likely out the door once free agency begins.
That’s not to say Pagano should remain. Far too often did he allow offenses to pick his defense apart, sitting back perhaps out of fear of making a mistake the offense couldn’t overcome.
Unfortunately for him, and the rest of the coaches for that matter, once you start coaching or playing scared it’s over. Already faced with the law of diminishing returns, Pagano proved to not be the man for the job following the departure of Vic Fangio.
There might not be a person who embodies what these Bears are than their cancer-survivor defensive coordinator. No matter how you want to lay the blame, the man in charge of the defense doesn’t escape blame. Much in the way that there’s no way to absolve Nagy for all the dysfunction on this team. And so on with Pace.
This brings us to Ted Phillips. The man who’s been around this franchise for decades is a trusted confidant of the family so we won’t waste our time with calling for his ouster.
Instead, he should follow the lead of one John Paxson, a man who turned himself from babyface to heel in this town for what he did while running the Chicago Bulls for nearly two decades. This off-season, though, Paxson reportedly went to ownership requesting the changes we’ve seen.
Phillips would do well to do the same, picking up a cushy promotion as Pax did in the process too.
Final Off-Season Reckoning Coming for Chicago Bears
It was a long 18 weeks of the season for the Bears and their fans. It will be even longer off-season for those in charge as they’re faced with the consequences of their own actions. Will that lead to sweeping changes, heads rollings, etc? No one knows that but George McCaskey. He’d better have a damn good reason for bringing this regime back.
That reason also cannot be financial. Moving on from both Pace and Nagy would reportedly cost around $20 million. If that is why they return, then the franchise will have earned the mediocrity that will follow.
Nagy is 28-20 in three years at the helm but is 16-16 in his last two. Pace is 42-54 in six years as the architect. The Bears are 0-2 in the playoffs under this group and have scored a whopping 24 points in both games combined. This is not the type of performance that warrants another shot at anything, especially when that would just set your organization back further. One thing this Chicago Bears off-season won’t be is boring.
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