The Chicago Bears finished their 2022 season 3-14, a franchise high in losses. While the tank was successful, there remains a lot of work to make this team a contender in the future, even if Justin Fields has shown he is (hopefully) the franchise QB the Bears have been waiting for. One reason for the 14 losses? A weak offseason leading up to it. Let’s take a look at it one year later.
Front Office Overhaul
The Bears fired GM Ryan Pace, while President Ted Phillips announced he would retire following 2022. In to replace Pace was former Kansas City Chiefs Executive Director of Player Personnel Ryan Poles (another Ryan P!). Poles, just like Pace before him, became the youngest GM in the NFL. The Bears recently also hired former Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren as their new president. With his experience in the Vikings new stadium, he will likely preside over the Bears handling of a potential new stadium in Arlington Heights.
This offseason regrade is mostly about assessing Ryan Poles after year 1.
New Coaching Staff
Matt Nagy and his staff, including OC Bill Lazor, DC Sean Desai, and STC Chris Tabor, were also let go after the 2021 season. In to replace him was Matt Eberflus (another Matt!) and the staff he brought along: OC Luke Getsy, DC Alan Williams, and STC Richard Hightower. Credit to the staff for taking a pretty barren roster and keeping them resilient against teams like Philadelphia and Buffalo and Miami, as well as making adjustments in the second halves of games and finally deploying Justin Fields in the way he should be. Still, it wasn’t perfect; occasionally, the staff was far too conservative; Justin Fields would make a big play then they’d just run 3 straight times. Sometimes they didn’t go fast enough for a 2 minute drill. And the defense was very inconsistent outside late stretch of the season. Still, the staff showed enough to get at least two more seasons, especially in player development. But please stop playing for field goals and rotating players weirdly.
The Bears let a lot of players leave in free agency. Some were veterans that clearly had to go, like Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, Jimmy Graham, Damien Williams, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Germain Ifedi, Mario Edwards, Alec Ogletree, Tashaun Gipson, Jason Peters, and in the unfortunate cases of age and injuries, Danny Trevathan and Tarik Cohen. Others were good to great players, some older and some younger, who Poles seemingly didn’t see as a long-term building piece for the Bears; the veterans included Akiem Hicks, Allen Robinson, and Jakeem Grant, while the young players included James Daniels and Bilal Nichols. Letting Daniels go looks like a huge mistake; the rest look fine; guys like Hicks and Robinson were not going to stick around for a rebuild.
The Bears were cap-strapped but still made some signings. Trevor Siemian took over the backup QB job and was fine. Darrynton Evans was brought in as a backup RB. Poles signed Dante Pettis, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Byron Pringle at WR; EQS earned a small extension, but he hasn’t been great; Pettis has been abysmal and Pringle, who had upside and signed a deal worth $6 million, has been mostly injured. Ryan Griffin and Trevon Wesco were brought in as backup TEs. Lucas Patrick signed a two-year deal to be the Bears starting center, but he was atrocious at both center and guard before getting injured. Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield both signed deals that made it look like they’d be starting on the right side of the line for the Bears, but neither started till late in the season and both showed their age. Poles also picked up Alex Leatherwood as a project on the waiver wire. Al-Quadin Muhammad struggled mightily at DE, and could be cut this year just like Lucas Patrick. Justin Jones was probably Poles’s best signing, inking a 2 year, $12 million deal after the mega Larry Ogunjobi deal fell through. He should be back as the Bears DT2 in 2023. Armon Watts was a decent backup. Nicholas Morrow, Joe Thomas, and Matthew Adams did ok at LB, but only expect Adams back in 2023. Morrow specifically was good for his 1 year deal but was not a fit next to Roquan Smith. Tavon Young was a touted signing, but along with some other guys like Tajae Sharpe, never played due to injury. They signed Dane Cruikshank who was a good backup safety.
All in all, free agency didn’t land the Bears many long-term contributors except for one. Even the short-term guys struggled mightily.
The move that really kickstarted the rebuild was the Bears trading star EDGE rusher Khalil Mack to the Chargers for a 2022 2nd rounder and a 2023 6th rounder. I still maintain that Poles could have and should have gotten more; at least a third rounder instead of a sixth. Mack had a strong season for the Chargers, getting 10 sacks while Joey Bosa missed most of the season and Mack was like the only guy who could stop the run for LA. The Bears traded a conditional 2024 7th for N’Keal Harry, who had struggled with New England but clearly was talented; I liked the move and still do, but I’m upset Harry did not play more. With the Bears WR corps, he should have been given more opportunities.
The Bears made 3 big in-season trades; first they traded Robert Quinn to the Eagles for a 4th round pick. It was a good move, getting his contract off the books as his play was clearly not as good as last season, though one may argue he should have been traded in the offseason when his value was higher. Then the biggest was trading Roquan Smith to the Ravens for a 2nd and a 5th round pick; Smith made the All-Pro team as he fit the Ravens scheme much better than the Bears new scheme; it was a tough pill to swallow, as Smith could have been a building block for the Bears and maybe the 53rd pick and change isn’t enough for him, but Smith was an ILB who is now going to make $20 million a year. Still, I would have kept him. Lastly, and worst of all, the Bears traded their own second round pick, the 32nd pick in the draft, for Chase Claypool; Claypool should not have been worth more than an early third and the Steelers basically got him for a late first. Now yes he’ll need time to gel and the free agent market in 2023 was weak, but the move was not good, especially if Poles offered the Bears second over the Ravens second to make sure Green Bay didn’t get him; let the Packers make that mistake. This screamed desperation as Poles failed to get any good WRs in the offseason, including missing out in getting Amari Cooper for a 5th round pick.
The Bears selected Kyle Gordon 39th overall. After struggling early, he has started to put it together in the second half of the season and the Bears hopefully have the CB position locked down for the foreseeable future. Jaquan Brisker was picked 47th overall and was a stud immediately, the perfect fit next to Eddie Jackson, who rekindled his All-Pro form; Brisker even led the team in sacks (oof). The Bears secondary is now young and strong. But what about getting Justin Fields a WR? Poles passed on George Pickens, and in the third round picked Velus Jones Jr…who had maybe 4 or 5 explosive plays in the season but just as many if not more drops, muffed punts, and fumbles. A very bad pick. If only Poles picked Pickens instead of Gordon and Tariq Woolen instead of Jones, but hindsight is 2020. On day 3 Poles traded down multiple times, a good move. He selected Braxton Jones, who was good for a 5th round rookie at LT. Then he got Dominique Robinson, a project at DE who had some good moments this season. Then a number of other OLineman were picked (Ja’Tyre Carter, Zachary Thomas, Doug Kramer) though none of them played. Trestan Ebner struggled a lot in limited action. Elijah Hicks was the backup backup safety, and Trenton Gill was fine at punter. Jaylon Jones, Josh Blackwell, and especially Jack Sanborn were great UDFA pickups.
Final Grade: C-
I have to be fair to Poles that this roster was torn down and he didn’t have many resources. He gets a C-. There were some good moves, specifically Jaquan Brisker, Braxton Jones, and Justin Jones. But he failed to get Justin Fields any legitimate help, overpaid for Chae Claypool, only had two good free gent signings, and missed on Velus Jones Jr. I hope he has learned from his mistakes, as he now has all the resources he needs to succeed this offseason, and at the very least take the Bears from bottom-feeder to Wild Card team.