There should really be no debate that general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox inherited at least a three-year rebuilding plan when they took over the Chicago Bears in January of 2015.
There was a 50-50 chance that the hardest part of any rebuild was already done for them with Jay Cutler at quarterback and committed to a long-term contract.
Cutler's physical attributes have never been questioned, but whether or not he can command the cerebral aspects of the position and the game well enough to win in the playoffs remains to be seen.
Year one was promising, but with talent upgrades necessary at every other position it was still at least a three-year job.
After just their first season, Pace and Fox will have new starters in at least 17 of the 22 spots on offense and defense versus the group that started the last game of the Phil Emery and Marc Trestman regime. The others are gone and it seems most likely that only four – Cutler, Kyle Long, Alshon Jeffery and Kyle Fuller — will actually still be starters in this year’s opener.
Clearly, there is still work to do to upgrade the offensive line, tight end and secondary positions, but Pace and Fox hope that through their first two free agent and draft classes they have already acquired some key pieces of the future.
There are five key players Pace and Fox have identified who will be critical to the eventual success of their construction project.
Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, Kevin White and Leonard Floyd must become really productive starters, perhaps even Pro Bowlers, if three years is going to be enough.
The Bears have signed 22 unrestricted free agents under Pace and Fox but only McPhee, Trevathan, Freeman, Eddie Royal, Antrel Rolle, Alan Ball, Bobby Massie and Akiem Hicks have received multi-year commitments.
They swung and missed on Rolle and Royal; Ball, Massie and Hicks were brought in to be upgrades and complimentary parts.
McPhee, Trevathan and Freeman need to be difference-makers.
Trevathan appears to be more than ready but also preached patience before the first day of practice in Bourbonnais.
“You want to get some good work, work your feet and let them go, ease up. But you want to get a good feeling," said Trevathan. “It's football. Got to get a little hit, get them pads rocking, get them shaking, but at the same time, you got to take care of one another and be a pro.”
Over four years in San Francisco, Vic Fangio coached the scariest defense in the NFL and it all spun around his linebackers, particularly Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman and Aldon Smith.
McPhee, Trevathan and Freeman have to make that kind of impact for Fangio to guide his group where it wants to go.
White and Floyd are a little different story.
We all know the importance of drafting well, but nobody hits on every pick they make.
A team that is trying to rebuild and hopes to contend, however, cannot afford to miss on top-10 picks. They get them because they’re bad and are guaranteed to stay bad if they don’t get those picks right.
Fans should not be concerned about Floyd missing the first day of practice, as he apparently has the flu. But he did talk after practice about how it’s going so far.
“I’m very excited about all the things they’re asking me to do and I want them to be able to trust me to do the things the right way, so I just want to learn the playbook, the ins and outs of the playbook,” said the ninth overall pick.
If you’re looking for a real guide as to how things are going under Pace and Fox, keep an eye on those five over the course of this season.
Three or four out of five is great if you’re playing baseball but it won’t be good enough here.
If all five are who we expect them to be, then this rebuilding plan is in pretty good shape.