It wasn’t supposed to be like this. After last season’s playoff berth and Coach of the Year honours for their rookie head coach hire, Bears Nation went into this season hoping to take the next step forward. With a second full offseason to fully immerse his unit in his offensive scheme, in particular third year quarterback Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy’s team were expected to make a significant leap forward.
Instead, seven games in, Chicago sits at 3-4 following two deflating losses to a New Orleans Saints team lacking their two biggest offensive playmakers, and a Los Angeles Chargers offence whose offence matched the low levels of productivity shown in the Windy City this year. The Bears now sit fourth in the uber-competitive NFC North and are well out of the playoff race. Where do they go from here?
Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace are in a tricky situation. This roster has enough talent to take the team to a Super Bowl, particularly on defence and at wide receiver, but this year significant holes have shown up on the roster. The most glaring is at quarterback where the team are needing to win games in spite of Trubisky. But the lack of pass rush when Khalil Mack is double teamed (and Akiem Hicks is out injured), illustrates another weakness the franchise didn’t fully address in the summer.
Compounding this is the lack of draft picks and cap space the Bears have next offseason. The team’s first round pick was sent to Oakland as part of the deal to land Mack, with Pace hoping he would be the missing ingredient to push the team over the edge.
The front office bet on Trubisky developing to the point that he would be a part of that championship push, but that hasn’t worked out.
If Pace wants to upgrade his talent at quarterback and edge rusher (opposite Mack) he will need to utilise the team’s two second round picks in next year’s draft. Given the value attached to difference makers at those positions, that will be easier said than done.
Following that, Chicago has a fifth, two sixth rounders and a seventh-round pick. Quite frankly that isn’t enough draft capital to improve the roster the way the team needs to. On top of that, they will only have $12.5 million in salary cap space for 2020. That will seriously limit their ability to replace Trubisky through free agency.
Cap space and picks
Pace needs to identify assets that the Bears have on their roster which can be utilised to bring in additional draft picks and to create cap space. That will be a balancing act because, as mentioned before, there is a significant core of championship-calibre players in Chicago. The front office doesn’t want to disrupt team chemistry and dynamics but take steps so that the Bears aren’t hamstrung in the immediate future.
Trevathan is a leader of this defence and it would pain me to see him leave, yet taking a dispassionate approach, he will be a free agent after this year and many expect him to be out of the Bears’ price range.
If Pace can get a fourth-round pick for Trevathan for a team looking to upgrade their talent and experience level on defence for a playoff push, or for a team looking to get first dibs on Trevathan before next offseason’s free agency free for all, then he should pull the trigger.
Floyd is a former first round pick who hasn’t lived up to expectations, especially since Mack has come to town. Despite the focus his teammate attracts from offensive lines, Floyd has only put together 2 sacks this year. On top of that, because the Bears picked up his fifth-year option, he’s set to make $13.2 million next year. Trading the former Georgia Bulldog could help pick up another mid-round pick as well as creating cap space to give Pace more options in free agency in 2020.
Other potential roster moves could be the cutting of under-utilised running back Mike Davis, only signed this summer. That would recoup a fourth-round compensatory pick for the franchise. In addition, given the offense’s inability to convert long pass plays, Pace could also shop speedy wideout Taylor Gabriel, who will also count $5.5 million against the cap next year.
These moves would also enable some of the younger talent on the team the opportunity to maximise their game time experience as well. That could be invaluable for players like receivers Javon Wims and Riley Ridley, who may be called on much more next season. It would also allow Pace and his colleagues to assess whether to extend players like inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski to sit alongside Roquan Smith in Trevathan’s stead.
What about Mitch?
It’s pretty clear that Trubisky is not the quarterback Pace hoped he would be, and he doesn’t show signs of becoming the consistent and trustworthy passer the franchise needs him to be. Against the Chargers at the weekend, there were flashes of ability and tantalising glimpses of promise with Trubisky actually completing some nice intermediate passes and showing good touch and accuracy on those throws.
However, they were also accompanied by a fumble in the Bears own half; an ill-judged interception; indecisiveness in the red zone; and a continuing inability to complete deep shots to players such as Gabriel. The same knocks on Trubisky’s game that were mentioned in his rookie year, remain significant limitations.
Nonetheless, Nagy needs to keep the ex-North Carolina Tarheel in the line-up. Backup quarterback Chase Daniel isn’t the future of the position in Chicago and the Bears need to be certain they have fully exhausted the possibility of Trubisky becoming an effective player at the position. That makes it easier for the team to move on from him in the future knowing they’ve given him plenty of opportunity.
Whilst it may pain Pace and Nagy to make some of these moves, and basically admit the season is lost, it is absolutely necessary to avoid next season turning out the way 2019 has so far.
Pace needs those draft picks in order to be able to move around the draft board the way he has in prior years. Nagy could use the remaining weeks of the schedule to fine tune his play calling and further identify the strengths and weaknesses of lesser known quantities on his roster. Given the vocal opinions expressed by fans at Soldier Field this year, the two men leading this franchise need to get a head start on next season.