The Bears have wanted to be measured against the NFL’s best the last few years, and it’s refreshing that contending for a Super Bowl has become their new standard. But living up to it is extremely difficult.
They need to be honest with themselves: Are they content to be one of those nondescript 10-win teams that squeaks into the playoffs, or are they taking aim at the defending champion Chiefs and others in that tier?
Coming off an 8-8 season in 2019, meaningful renovation was needed. Between free-agent pickups of tight end Jimmy Graham and pass rusher Robert Quinn, the trade for quarterback Nick Foles and a limited class of draft picks, it’s a leap to say everything is on track to chase a title.
“That was the goal: to strengthen our team and come out of this whole offseason process better,” general manager Ryan Pace said Saturday. “Now we’ve gotta go out there and we’ve gotta compete and we’ve gotta stay healthy. But we definitely feel like we’re in a much better position.”
Other than Quinn being an obvious upgrade over Leonard Floyd in the pass rush and guys like Danny Trevathan and Akiem Hicks healing, it’s hard to pin down exactly how the Bears’ personnel has been upgraded as much as Pace thinks.
And while some of these moves — especially in the draft — are made from a long-term perspective, it’s important to ask whether enough has been done for 2020. The Bears’ defense is in its championship window, and they can’t make any assumptions about how long it’ll stay open.
Is the combination of Graham and second-round pick Cole Kmet from Notre Dame enough at tight end?
Will they be better at cornerback with second-round pick Jaylon Johnson possibly as the starter over recently cut veteran Prince Amukamara?
Are they going to start the same offensive line they insisted wasn’t good enough last season?
And the quarterback question towers over any of those — for this season and beyond. Two years ago, the Bears could’ve been the best team in the NFL if they’d gotten better quarterback play. Last season, it sunk them despite having a championship-caliber defense.
The best answer Pace came up with for 2020 is to let Mitch Trubisky and Foles duke it out. The answer for 2021? There isn’t one.
The Bears’ inability to get that position right has undermined them for much of their history, and this eerily looks like more of the same.
The Bears had other issues, mainly at tight end and on the offensive line. Fixing those would help fix Trubisky or make life easier for Foles, but the moves Pace made at those spots are highly questionable.
He tried hard at tight end by shelling out for Graham and using his first pick on Kmet, but Graham seems to be in serious decline and it’s rare for rookie tight ends to make big contributions. In the last 30 seasons, 17 rookie tight ends have topped 500 yards because blocking is so difficult and the overall responsibility is so high.
“The amount of time we spent with [Kmet], his football IQ is off the charts, his work ethic is off the charts, his preparation is off the charts,” Pace said. “There’s no question in our mind he’ll be able to pick up this offense fast because of those traits.”
On the offensive line, he picked up two players who were draft disappointments (Germain Ifedi from Seattle and Jason Spriggs from Green Bay) and a pair of seventh-round picks (Colorado’s Arlington Hambright and Tennessee State’s Lachavious Simmons) who will consider it a success merely to make the roster.
None of those moves around the quarterback solidifies the Bears as a contender. So unless Trubisky or Foles takes flight with the best season of his career, the Bears are still hoping they have enough rather than being sure of it.