In the modern NFL, the plan is to build around a quarterback under his rookie contract, then figure out the rest later. The Chicago Bears rebuild, on the other hand, seems to be one where they’re playing checkers with chess pieces.
While team construction can take many paths, the one Chicago has taken makes no sense. Instead of taking their young quarterback and nurturing him, the Bears are making Justin Fields play out his career on hard mode.
Ah, you say Chicago’s offensive line was the worst in the NFL, and that Fields needs interior protection? Fear not, for the Bears have drafted tackles high up, and taken two developmental guard prospects in the later rounds of this year’s NFL draft
Fields needs a receiver room that can bail him out and make plays downfield, then. Of course, the Bears have had all their receivers leave except for Darnell Mooney, and have drafted a college WR2 as their top receiver pick.
But, what about giving Justin Fields an offensive head coach? Oh, they hired Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus? Darn.
In many ways, this team is worse off than they were last year.
The offensive line (still) does not exist
Bears quarterbacks in 2021 were sacked on 9.7 percent of their dropbacks, which was the worst in the league. Anyone who watched a Bears game last year will tell you that Justin Fields had no room to throw, and was often scrambling for his life.
The best lineman on the entire roster was James Daniels, who has had to play musical chairs with his position. Joining him as the team’s best lineman was Jason Peters. Sure, he’ll be in the Hall of Fame, but even the Bears didn’t see fit to bring back a 40-year-old tackle for 2022.
It goes downhill from there, though. Cody Whitehair’s 66.2 PFF grade is a highlight. Teven Jenkins – who had a PFF grade of 47.5 last season – may be starting for this year in 2022.
Jenkins position has come about due to the departures on the line of scrimmage. Daniels is now a Steeler, while Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkinson left for Atlanta.
The Bears have attempted to bolster their interior, somewhat. Signing Lucas Patrick from Green Bay should help, but Patrick only posted a 57.2 PFF grade in 2021.
But, in the draft, they focused on grabbing tackles and developmental prospects. Their first offensive line pick was not until the fifth round, where they grabbed tackle Braxton Jones from Southern Utah. They didn’t grab an interior line prospect until the sixth round, which boggles the mind.
The 2022 line still has at least one starting position open, if not two. At left tackle and at guard, the starter has yet to be determined. It is wonderous, however, that this line has ended up worse than last year’s, especially at a time critical to Justin Fields’ development.
As bad as the offensive line situation is, the wide receiver room is worse.
Darnell Mooney is still with the Bears, but that’s about all one can say. Allen Robinson has gone off to be with the Rams. Damiere Byrd and Marquise Goodwin have left for Atlanta and Seattle, respectively. Return specialist Jakeem Grant has left for Cleveland.
With what little talent there was now out the door, Chicago needed receivers bad. Unfortunately, despite having the fifth most cap space in the NFL, they were only able to sign Byron Pringle from Kansas City, as well as Equanimeous St. Brown from Green Bay. Pringle should make a solid addition, but St. Brown had less than 100 yards receiving last year for Green Bay.
As bad as free agency was for the Bears, the draft ended up being worse. They only grabbed one receiver; Velus Jones Jr. out of Tennessee. Jones, however, was not even the top receiver for the Vols, and is also coming into the NFL as a 25-year-old rookie.
The only real bright spot is that Cole Kmet is a solid checkdown target at tight end, but that’s about it. Mostly, though, the receiver situation is barren.
2022’s receiving corps looks like it’ll be Brown, followed by Pringle, with St. Brown and Jones Jr. being targets in the slot. That’s a very bad situation to be in, especially for a second-year quarterback who is already far too antsy to run out of the pocket.
Hiring Matt Eberflus is also a huge question mark
It is a truism that all teams will hire the exact opposite guy that they just fired.
For the Bears, it was no different. Matt Nagy came in with experience as an offensive guy. When Nagy was fired, Chicago hired Matt Eberflus, who was the Colts defensive coordinator.
Eberflus is considered to be a good player manager, but his hiring is becoming a big problem for Justin Fields already, given his focus on defense. In an NFL confidential article for The Athletic, one evaluator stated “they want to get back to old-school Chicago football where they play great defense and good-enough offense.” Although that evaluator would say he was okay with their rebuild, it’s hard to argue that Fields development isn’t going to be hampered by it.
Indeed, if the coach is favoring his side of the ball more in hopes of a long-term rebuild, then that coach will be in for a rude awakening. We are living in a post-defense-wins-championships world. Any team that deviates from going offense-first is going to find themselves lagging behind real fast.
Justin Fields already suffers from mechanical issues that hamper his game. How is he supposed to work on those when the entire plan is to rely on his scrambling ability?
All these problems sum up to a Chicago Bears rebuild gone awry, and it’s too bad for Fields that he has to languish on this team.