With a third of the NFL season now in the rearview mirror and the trade deadline only two weeks away, it’s time to take a breath, make an honest evaluation of who these Bears are, and what should and must come next.
At 3-3 and looking down the road at what appear to be maybe four to six games in which the Bears will be favored, they are exactly who they’ve been the past two seasons: roughly a .500 team stuck in the mud.
There are two big differences since last season. First, they hope they have their quarterback of the future, which obviously is an outsized asset if they’re right. But, second, they’re also one of the oldest teams in the NFL. The defense, which is what makes them .500 rather than one of the worst teams in the league, now has five starters, including three of their handful of legitimate stars, in their 30s.
Also remember, part of the price to acquire Justin Fields was next year’s first- and fourth-round draft choices, leaving the Bears with only five picks next season: a second, a third, two fifths and a sixth.
It appears the Bears will enter the coming offseason with about $30 million to $35 million in cap space, if the cap is unchanged at about $190 million. That will be with Allen Robinson, Akiem Hicks, James Daniels, Jimmy Graham, Tashaun Gipson, Germain Ifedi, Patrick O’Donnell and Andy Dalton, among others, all heading to free agency and needing to be re-signed or replaced. There also will be a strong desire to extend Daniels, Roquan Smith and David Montgomery.
Players the Bears realistically can hope to build around include Fields, Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, Cody Whitehair, Daniels, Sam Mustipher, Alex Bars and, they hope, Teven Jenkins on offense. Defensively, we’re looking at Bilal Nichols, Eddie Goldman, Trevis Gipson, Roquan Smith, Jaylon Johnson, Eddie Jackson and Kindle Vildor.
It’s not even half a football team, and how many future All-Pros do you see in that group?
Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn will be here to lead and might even still be able to kick out Pro Bowl performances, but planning on that at this stage of their careers is a complete failure to learn from the history of the game.
It also assumes Fields will be the quarterback we think he can be.
With that trade deadline roaring down the tracks toward 3 p.m. Central time Nov. 3, what are the Bears to do?
Sellers rarely get fair value for their assets in the NFL, but it seems with the Bears’ paucity of draft capital and the legit success they have had in the draft’s later rounds, something has to be better than nothing.
With “the plan” now in the trash and Fields at QB1, short of an injury it would be malpractice not to move either Andy Dalton or Nick Foles for at least a sixth-round pick, if they can’t get a fifth-rounder.
As painful as it might be to get only fourth- or fifth-rounders for All-Pro talent such as Robinson or Hicks, if they’re not going to be back and someone will take on their contracts, how do you not pull the trigger?
Damien Williams, we hardly knew you, but with Herbert’s arrival, if Williams can bring a sixth, he really should go.
There are a few others to consider – I’m sure many would like to move Jackson for a third-rounder or even a fourth, but that’s not happening with his contract and the way he’s playing – but those are the most likely suspects.
There could be more guys who gain value as trade bait for March and April by the end of this season, but it’s highly unlikely waiting on any of the aforementioned will increase their value.
Lastly, there has to be the question of the futures of coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace, and do they have the confidence and mandate from ownership to start making such dramatic moves?
It’s not a pretty picture, but ignoring it and doing nothing at the deadline, just hoping things will get better with this team as it exists now, really shouldn’t be an option.
It’s how they got here in the first place.