2022 figures to be a season of built-in excuses for Bears, Justin Fields

The team’s draft gives almost everyone an out.

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The Bears’ Justin Fields runs against the Steelers last season.

If Justin Fields struggles this season, he’ll have a lack of offensive support as a defense.

Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

If the Bears’ recently concluded draft tells us anything, it’s that everyone involved has a very convenient out.

Fans have criticized new general manager Ryan Poles for not giving quarterback Justin Fields enough help, but if the Bears struggle in 2022, Poles can say, “Did you notice how empty my predecessor left the cupboard? I mean, it’s a freaking echo chamber in there! There are holes on both sides of the ball that need filling.’’

Fields can say, “There’s no one to block for me, no one to catch my passes and no one I really want to get to know because they’ll all be gone next year … right? RIGHT?’’

New offensive coordinator Luke Getsy can say, “These guys were so messed up by Matt Nagy’s bizarre offense that it has been next to impossible to teach them my attack, which is incredible, by the way. Also, Poles didn’t give me any players, and if I know what’s good for me, I’ll blame that on former GM Ryan Pace.’’

New coach Matt Eberflus can say, “Remember the H.I.T.S. principle I unveiled at my introductory press conference, the one I want our players to follow? Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways and (playing) Smart? I’m changing it to reflect my feelings on our first two picks in the draft, a cornerback and a safety: Help In The Secondary? When we need offensive linemen and wide receivers? Are you bleepin’ kidding me?”

Bears chairman George McCaskey can say, “I’m busy on the new stadium right now, but if you leave your name and phone number, I’ll get back to you at the next press conference, tentatively scheduled for February, 2026.”

We know that everybody is going to say the right things during what figures to be another difficult season for the Bears — all those things about not being satisfied with the on-field performance but that it’s a process, that the organizational structure is in place and that, as painful as life is now, it’s going to be that much more joyful when the winning ensues. Behind all those words will be the lovely excuse of, “What did you expect after what the previous regime left us?”

Mostly, it will be one, big shrug: What’s a franchise to do?

No matter what happens to the Bears this season, you can count on it not being good for Nagy, who was fired as head coach after a 6-11 2021. If the Bears somehow win in 2022, he’ll look bad. If Fields improves, Nagy will be the guy who held him back. If Getsy’s offense is creative and takes advantage of Fields’ athleticism, Nagy will be considered even more of a tactical failure than he already is.

And if the Bears lose a lot and Fields struggles a lot, it will be because Nagy did such a number on the kid that it will take years to deprogram him.

So the former coach can’t win. It’s not entirely fair, but given the choice between blaming the newcomer or blaming his fired predecessor, rabid fans are always going to choose the idiot who was sent away. They’re going to choose hope, even trace amounts of hope.

The immediate fear is not that Fields will turn into another Mitch Trubisky but rather that it will take several years to find out if he’s any good. There’s a decent chance that, because the offensive talent is so thin, 2022 will be another lost year for him, the way 2021 was. This won’t be a concern to the true believers, the ones who are sure that Fields is not just going to be great but already is great except to those with poor eyesight and obvious character flaws.

If Fields has the same numbers he had last season (seven touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, 73.2 passer rating), those true believers will fear not. Despite the uncomfortable evidence in front of them, they’ll be able to hold to the idea that good times are indeed ahead, provided Poles finds Fields some help. If he can’t, the McCaskeys will wait another five years to ask why not.

This will be the season of built-in free passes, spoken and unspoken. When will those involved have to take responsibility for the problems on the field. The 2023 season? Are we really not supposed to criticize Fields this season if he flounders again? When does it stop being someone else’s fault? 

Somewhere, Nagy is wondering when it will stop being his fault. If the current temperature in Chicago is any indication, the answer is never.

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