After years of torment, Bears fans looked like they were going to be treated to a relatively angst-free offseason.
Had the Bears beaten the Eagles, they likely would have faced higher-seeded opponents the rest of the playoffs, and there would have been no shame in losing. Barring some kind of disastrous collapse, losing to the Rams on the road (hardly a certainty after the Rams struggled to oust the Cowboys) would not have left a permanent stain, leaving fans to post tales of agony on social media.
The offseason would have then been one of anticipation rather than regret. The arrow would be pointing way up, with all of their major pieces under contract, and only defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s status to sweat out. Most of the upgrades would figure to come from within, including the continued development of quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who already has an offense with multiple playmakers. The Bears already have had a good 2019 draft — Khalil Mack with their first-round pick and Anthony Miller with their second-round pick.
But Cody Parkey’s missed field goal altered that heavenly state at least a bit. The Bears’ loss against the Eagles at Soldier Field ranks as one of the biggest disappointments in recent Chicago sports history, an indelible stain that will haunt fans throughout the offseason, if not longer. Now the Bears have a major kicker issue that will dominate the offseason, whether Parkey stays or goes.
And the Bears’ early exit hastened Fangio’s departure. Maybe the laser-focused Fangio doesn’t even talk to the Broncos on a short week while preparing for a playoff game. And even if he does interview, maybe the Broncos don’t have the patience to wait for Fangio to become available.
Be that as it may, the Bears still should be considered as one of the up-and-coming teams. But when general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy hold their season-ending news conference Monday at Halas Hall, they’ll have a lot more to answer for than expected. Here’s a look at key issues heading into Pace’s first session with the media since September:
Will Cody Parkey return?
The general consensus among Bears fans and observers is that Parkey is gone after he missed 11 kicks (eight field goals, three extra points). And his ill-advised appearance on ‘‘Today’’ five days after the playoff loss inflamed the situation more than it helped. But it’s not so easy for Pace because Parkey’s “dead cap” number is $5.1 million (and only $1.1 million in 2020, according to spotrac.com) — a significant sum for a kicker.
So cutting Parkey and replacing him with a proven kicker — such as Robbie Gould — would saddle the Bears with more than $8 million in cap money. The average cap hit for kickers last year was $2 million. The league-high cap hit ($5.25 million) belonged to the Packers for Mason Crosby.
And based on Pace’s first two handpicked kickers — Connor Barth and Parkey — there’s no assurance he’ll get it right this time. In general, it’s tough to solve a kicker problem by throwing money at it. But this might be a hit Pace just has to take.
What impact will Vic Fangio’s departure have, and why Chuck Pagano over Ed Donatell?
Though Pace deserves his share of the credit for the Bears’ dramatic improvement from 31st in points allowed in 2014 to first in 2018, this defense was tethered emotionally and schematically to Fangio.
Donatell, the secondary coach, might have been a smoother transition, but hiring the 58-year-old Pagano, a successful head coach with the Colts, still looks like a best-case scenario. His experience allows Nagy to continue to concentrate on the offense.
Pagano likely knows better than to mess too much with a good thing. And his secondary background could ease the potential loss of Donatell.
But with change comes transition, and it will be up to Pagano to minimize the adjustment period to allow this defense to hit the ground running.
Trey Burton, Kareem Hunt, Bryce Callahan, Bobby Massie . . .
Burton’s groin injury that materialized one day before facing his former teammates remains a mystery. Are the Bears convinced it was not anxiety-induced? Hunt, facing suspension for multiple incidents of alleged assault, led the league in rushing as a rookie in the Andy Reid/Nagy offense with the Chiefs. Is his baggage too much to consider?
Most of the Bears’ own free agents, including safety Adrian Amos, tackle Massie and defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris, look like they can be re-signed at the Bears’ price. Callahan, one of the best nickel backs in the league before a season-ending broken foot against the Rams, might be an exception.