GM Ryan Poles completes initial phase of rebuild, so what’s next for Bears?
How should the last nine games be viewed? The Bears will be watching Justin Fields, Matt Eberflus and anyone else who proves they should stick around for 2023 and beyond.
The Bears were headed to this point all along. It just took them awhile to get there.
There was no doubt general manager Ryan Poles needed to tear down much of a roster that finished 6-11 last season. This wouldn’t be a one-year fix, and it was time to set a course to be competitive in 2023 and to contend in 2024. Even that timeline will be tough to meet, but that’s about as long as most organizations are willing to wait.
But Poles needed to do it surgically, so he didn’t hinder quarterback Justin Fields’ development, and there has been concern he did. All of Poles’ acquisitions on the offensive line and at wide receiver were low-cost, and it’s hard to get good personnel on the cheap.
Poles finally finished the initial phase of his plan in the last two weeks. He dealt defensive end Robert Quinn and his enormous contract, eliminated the prospect of paying linebacker Roquan Smith by trading him and, at long last, helped Fields by landing receiver Chase Claypool.
There are no more moves to make. So now what?
The Bears will begin answering that question Sunday against the Dolphins. They have nine games left, and those should be viewed through the lens of what they signal about next season and beyond.
That starts with Fields, as always.
He’s in the midst of the most efficient four-game stretch of his career. The next step is to increase the production. He has averaged 182 yards passing and 69.3 yards rushing in the last four games — good, but not great.
If he regularly is putting up 250 yards passing by the end of the season, that would justify the Bears cementing him as their centerpiece and looking to add major talent around him rather than hitting reset at the position.
Then there’s coach Matt Eberflus. The Bears need to be just as sure about his capability as they are about Fields’. And a big piece of that equation is seeing what he does with a depleted defense.
The Bears just gave up 49 points to the Cowboys, and now — after losing Smith — face a prolific passing attack with Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
It would be reasonable to expect the rest of this season to look somewhat like the loss to the Cowboys: promising play by the offense, but a defense that is simply outmanned.
But it has to get better. Regardless of the roster, it’s unacceptable to continue giving up 40-plus points.
Eberflus was hired, in part, on the strength of his defensive expertise. He’s not a magician, but he must embrace the challenge of making this defense respectable.
‘‘I love the way they learn,’’ he said of coaching a defense stocked with unproven players. ‘‘When a guy learns and progresses in the game, that’s very exciting. To be able to help a guy and put him in position to make plays with technique and fundamentals . . . that’s very enjoyable.
‘‘Then the effort’s got to be there. That’s our No. 1 principle. That’s what we stand on.’’
In some ways, this entire season is also an extensive tryout for long-term starting jobs. The Bears entered the season with three players who seemingly had secured them: Smith, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and receiver Darnell Mooney. The list has fluctuated since.
Johnson and Mooney are still fixtures of the future, as are Claypool and rookie safety Jaquan Brisker. Fields is working toward it, along with running back David Montgomery, tight end Cole Kmet, rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon and others.
The more of them who prove themselves, the better off the Bears will be and the faster their rebuild will go. And that responsibility falls to Eberflus.