With one game remaining in a last-place season, the Chicago Bears take a franchise-record nine-game losing streak into Sunday’s meeting with the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field. Brad Biggs’ weekly Bears mailbag begins with this thought: Is this 3-13 season even worse than expected?
I did not expect much but I don’t think Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus thought it was going to be this bad of a Year 1. Agree or disagree? — Pete D., San Diego
Interesting question and I’m not sure either the GM or the coach would address this directly. Look back at the Week 4 game at MetLife Stadium and the Bears and New York Giants both entered 2-1. There was a little chatter at the time that the winner would be an early entrant in the NFC playoff race, which makes sense when a team is 3-1. The Giants went ahead 17-12 late in the third quarter, and the Bears produced only one first down on their final three possessions and lost an opportunity at the end when rookie Velus Jones Jr. muffed a punt. They lost 20-12 and have won only once more — the Oct. 24 victory at New England — as they head into the season finale against the Minnesota Vikings at 3-13.
After a season-opening victory over the San Francisco 49ers and one-score losses to the Giants, Vikings and Washington Commanders before that Monday night triumph over the Patriots, I don’t think there is any way the Bears figured their struggles would reach the current depths, riding a club-record nine-game losing streak into Week 18. They’ve shown an inability to throw the ball, protect the quarterback, stop the run, rush the passer and get off the field on third down. They’ve also been unable to mount scoring drives at critical moments in the fourth quarter.
Poles clearly approached this season with a plan to straighten out the salary-cap situation. That forced the Bears to carry roughly $90 million in dead cap space while resetting the books heading into 2023. If you’re going to tear down a roster, as the Bears have done, you can’t do it halfway. You have to go all-in, and the Bears certainly have done that. Poles traded edge rusher Khalil Mack in March and followed that by dealing Robert Quinn in October. Neither of those moves was surprising, but the decision to unload linebacker Roquan Smith was. We can debate the merits of that move, but thats an entirely different discussion.
I think the Bears probably figured they would have a five- or six-win team when the season started. They certainly could have reached that level and even exceeded it had a few of the narrow losses — three points to the Miami Dolphins, one point to the Detroit Lions and three points to the Atlanta Falcons in a three-week stretch — gone their way.
The goal had to be discovering more foundational pieces than the Bears have uncovered. That’s where this season has been disappointing from my viewpoint. I don’t know how many players they can point to and feel really good about as future building blocks. Yes, injuries struck starting in late November and a large number of very young players have gotten a lot of experience. But the Bears don’t have enough players on either side of the ball making big plays in key, defining moments, and that creates a depth chart with holes all over the place.
They will be able to address many issues in the offseason with a full array of draft picks (possibly more if Poles trades down) and a boatload of cap space for free agency. Of course, building a roster through free agency can be like trying to construct a house on sand.
To circle back to the original question, I think the Bears have discovered deeper issues than they anticipated this season.
We know Ryan Poles has the ability to tear down a football team as the initial stage of a rebuild, but is there anything in his background to suggest he has the football acumen to then build the team? His draft choices so far have been underwhelming. His best selection, Jaquan Brisker, shows only modest abilities so far, and none of his free-agent acquisitions (albeit placeholders for the most part) have panned out. — Jim A., Plymouth, Minn.
That’s the next step for Poles and his staff in conjunction with coach Matt Eberflus and his assistants. They’ve stripped down this roster to the studs, and now the more arduous task of rebuilding begins, something I firmly believe is a multiyear process.
One thing I believe made Poles an attractive candidate for the job a year ago is that while he had worked for only one organization, the Kansas City Chiefs, he worked under three general managers — Scott Pioli, John Dorsey and Brett Veach — who had a lot of success in their backgrounds. So he’s able to draw on a lot of experiences and ideas as he begins plotting moves for a fascinating offseason.
It’s concerning when a GM has worked under only one person. A candidate like that wouldn’t have seen management tackle similar problems with different approaches. Poles has seen a lot working for some guys who know what it takes to win in the NFL.
Brisker has played pretty well this season, although he hasn’t been at his best lately. Remember, he’s probably missing having veteran Eddie Jackson next to him in the secondary. Cornerback Kyler Gordon has been better in the second half of the season. We don’t have a first-round pick to evaluate. I think Poles would agree his free-agent signings have been underwhelming, but when you do all of your shopping at the discount store, it’s hard to have great expectations.
Let’s see what he does when he can be more aggressive in free agency. I don’t know if we’ll be able to definitively say in January 2024 if the Bears are on the right track. I realize we’re in a hot-take society and folks love to race to plant the flag when they witness breakthrough moments. The Bears chose the long play with Poles and his vision to completely reboot the roster. It will be a while before we can have strong opinions one way or the other and support them with facts.
Maybe a naive question, as I know no one wants to formally tank, but why doesn’t the organization at least play some younger guys and get them some tape for next year? What have they got to lose in playing Ja’Tyre Carter at guard, Elijah Hicks at safety, etc., this week? — @mosconml
The coaching staff deserves credit for not hesitating to use young players this season. Nine rookies and five second-year players have played more than 100 snaps. On special teams, seven of the top 12 players in terms of snaps are rookies. There has been zero hesitation to play young players.
Carter popped up on the injury report with a back issue last week. If he’d been playing well enough in practice, he probably would have gotten a shot by now. Hicks has been playing some in the secondary. All of these players are being evaluated in practice. If they show well there, they will get opportunities. If a guy is struggling in practice, it makes no sense to put him into a game situation if there are better options. One thing the Bears will have this offseason is plenty of game film to review for young players.
What percentage of this current roster is gone after this season? I’m guessing 70% or more. — @lastcallesko
I don’t believe it will be remotely close to 70% on opening weekend 2023. You’re talking about replacing roughly 37 players on a 53-man roster. How would that work? They would have to trade down for extra draft picks, keep nearly all of their draft picks on the 53-man, keep a slew of undrafted rookies and add about 20 free agents who all make the roster. I think you’re looking at roughly half the current roster, maybe as many as 30 or 32 holdovers, among the opening 53 next season.
Do you think the lack of production from the Chase Claypool trade increases the Bears’ sense of urgency to get a potential No. 1 receiver for 2023? Do you think the Bears have the assets to trade for a guy like Terry McLaurin? — @billionairetone
I don’t think Claypool’s situation affects the Bears’ need for a legitimate No. 1 receiver. They would have been mistaken if they viewed him as a potential top target when they acquired him. The price they paid tells you he’s not a No. 1.
Claypool can be a lot better next season, perhaps a legitimate No. 2 receiver, but that does nothing to alter the team’s need for a No. 1. I think Claypool will be more productive and consistent next season, and hopefully Darnell Mooney comes back better than ever. That still would leave the offense without a big-time threat at the position.
As far as McLaurin, why would the Commanders want to trade a guy they drafted, developed and just extended? That wouldn’t help them get better. It also wouldn’t help whatever quarterback they wind up with in 2023.
Is there any reason to believe coaches treat the upcoming game against the Vikings any differently than the Lions game in terms of how they prepare? Especially since they lost more offensive players to injury? — @ajlight315
I don’t know what decisions the Bears will make in terms of who’s in and who’s out for Sunday’s season finale at Soldier Field. I firmly believe the coaches will put whichever players are available in what they believe is the best position to compete and win the game. If a coordinator or position coach does anything less than that — and the players sense it — he would lose credibility with the players.
You can’t ask a player to take the field in a violent game — and we saw how dangerous it can be Monday night — and not give him your full support in terms of planning and in-game execution. These players would like nothing better than to end the season with a victory so they don’t have to hear about a 10-game losing streak. The coaches realize that and know what they owe their players. What the coaches can’t control is whom the organization makes available.
The Bears announced Tuesday they will hold a walk-through Wednesday instead of a normal practice. This is likely attributable to the number of banged-up players. It gives one fewer day of practice to a potential new starting quarterback if the team opts to sit Justin Fields on Sunday.