Bears’ head-coaching opening isn’t NFL’s most appealing, but it has potential

With the promise of QB Justin Fields and some quality holdovers from the once-great defense, whoever takes over the Bears has a shot. It’s not the best opportunity, but it’s also not the worst.

SHARE Bears’ head-coaching opening isn’t NFL’s most appealing, but it has potential
The combination of Khalil Mack (pictured) and Robert Quinn is a good starting point for the incoming coach to turn the Bears around.

The combination of Khalil Mack (pictured) and Robert Quinn is a good starting point for the incoming coach to turn the Bears around.

Kamil Krzaczynski/AP

Jacksonville isn’t exactly one of Florida’s dreamiest destinations, but it could be football paradise for whoever lands the job as the Jaguars’ next head coach.

Although the team is coming off a nightmare season in which it fired coach Urban Meyer and piled up losses, it has a lot to offer going forward. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is widely seen as a future star, even after a rough rookie season, and the Jaguars have both the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and the second-most salary-cap space heading into next season.

No matter how laughable they have been, that’s an enticing opportunity.

The Bears’ situation as they search for a new general manager and head coach is not quite as glamorous.

There’s no verdict on quarterback Justin Fields after one season, largely because of the failures of the previous administration. The Bears would be eyeing a game-changer with the No. 7 overall pick — except former GM Ryan Pace traded it away last year. And significant money has been kicked down the road over the last few seasons, although OverTheCap calculated the Bears to rank 12th in cap space for 2022.

It could be worse, of course. At least the Bears aren’t the Texans.

That’s a low bar, though. Of the eight NFL teams with head-coaching vacancies, the Vikings, Giants and Texans are the least appealing destinations. The Raiders, Broncos, Dolphins and Jaguars are more attractive than the Bears.

Any coach with leverage will weigh the odds of succeeding quickly with his new team, knowing there’s always a small window to show progress. Thus, the Bears’ pitch to a candidate who’s in such demand that he can choose from multiple destinations — Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and former Dolphins coach Brian Flores probably fit the description — has to start with Fields and the defense.

Although it’s difficult to assess Fields after one haphazard season playing in coach Matt Nagy’s offense, scrambling for safety behind an offensive line that Pace assembled, he went into the 2021 draft as the most accomplished, polished quarterback other than Lawrence. That aura was no doubt tarnished in some minds after Fields finished the season with a 73.2 passer rating with seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 58.9 completion percentage. He also rushed for 420 yards and two touchdowns but fumbled 12 times.

Still, there were moments when he showcased exactly the skills that teams covet in the modern NFL. He’s accurate on deep shots. He has the speed of a wide receiver. And he demonstrated steady improvement in mastering the offense and reading coverage. He hasn’t arrived yet, but he’s headed the right direction.

It’s the opposite with the Bears’ defense, which had one of the best seasons in recent history in 2018, then gradually slid from elite to good to just OK. But there are enough quality players, especially up front, to appeal to prospective coaches. And if the Bears move quickly enough, they might be able to keep Sean Desai as defensive coordinator.

Desai did a good job in 2021 despite being severely hampered by Pace’s personnel mistakes. The Bears went into their opener with one proven cornerback on the roster and spent all season shuffling players who likely would have been on practice squads elsewhere. But Desai made good use of his assets. Khalil Mack had six sacks in seven games before going on injured reserve, and fellow outside linebacker Robert Quinn broke the team record with 18½. The Bears were fourth in the NFL in sacks, up from 17th under Chuck Pagano the previous season.

Even with defensive end Akiem Hicks nearly certain to depart in free agency, the defensive line has potential if Eddie Goldman rebounds, Khyiris Tonga continues developing and Bilal Nichols re-signs.

At inside linebacker, the Bears have one of the best in the NFL in Roquan Smith, and they figure to make him a cornerstone of the rebuild with a massive contract extension.

Fields’ potential and what’s left of a once-great defense would give the new coach a chance. And considering most head-coaching jobs open up because things have gone horribly wrong, having a chance is pretty appealing.

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