It’s been one week since the NFL opened its doors on the new league year. But when it comes to the Chicago Bears roster, not much has changed. And that’s problematic. If the Bears/new GM Ryan Poles had one goal this offseason, something they unequivocally needed to address, it would be additional support for Justin Fields. Without it, our ability to credibly and effectively evaluate Fields will be hindered by a series of all too familiar excuses. He didn’t have a strong line. There weren’t enough pass catchers. The offense is new, after all. Etc.
Heck, that was already the chorus for his rookie season, and the Bears really shouldn’t let that happen again.
But what nags me most is that we just lived through this with Ryan Pace and Mitchell Trubisky. Not just in terms of deciding whether or not a quarterback has it, but also waiting too long to make that very determination.
Yes, bringing in a new coaching staff and scheme should be helpful. But we must acknowledge that it is as important to also support Fields with better personnel, because adapting to a new system isn’t easy in the first place! We know that. And we don’t want that variable to be a more confounding factor than it has to be. Which is why it is/was of the utmost importance to bring in some new talent.
Now then, it’s not as if Poles hasn’t been trying. There was a courtship of left tackle Terron Armstead. The Bears were in the mix for receivers Amari Cooper and JuJu Smith-Schuster. There was even chatter about Marquez Valdes-Scantling as a fit on that secondary tier of offseason targets. However, the Bears have been unable to land anyone of that magnitude just yet.
And to make myself even more clear, Poles and his new regime did not need to go on a wild, franchise-altering spending spree to accomplish this baseline goal. They were never going to turn the market on its ear like the Jaguars. And that could turn out to be a good thing over the long haul. Really. I mean that. But there’s plenty of room to operate between (1) going all in on the 2022 season and (2) accomplishing enough to set yourself up for more immediate success thereafter. Which, again, all comes down to supporting Justin Fields. And to that end, so far, that leaves the offseason as a disappointment.
But here’s what they have done.
• Lucas Patrick is a nice swing lineman who can play multiple spots in a pinch. Those types of players prove to be invaluable, but aren’t difference makers in the trenches.
• Byron Pringle is a solid back-end-of-the-depth-chart receiver, who moonlights as a core special teams contributor. It can be a challenge to find players who excel in both areas, so this is a nice signing, too.
• Equanimeous St. Brown is a receiver whose addition amounts to a nice flier with some upside. He’ll need to stay healthy in order to showcase those skills, but there is nothing wrong with rolling the dice in this situation.
• And Dakota Dozier is an offensive lineman with starting experience that helps build out the depth in the room.
All in all, these are nice signings. But not one of these additions properly addresses the issues that kept Fields from tapping into his potential last year. Which means, as of now 2022 might be a(nother) year in which we STILL don’t quite know if Fields is the guy or not because of the built-in excuses due to the roster surrounding him.
I want no part of that. And the folks who run the Bears should feel similarly. Wasting one year of Fields with a shoddy line and makeshift group of pass-catchers was hard enough. Doing it again would be disappointing.
My genuine hope is that we just don’t have the full vision yet. After all, we’re just two months into Poles’ reign. So perhaps unsettling is a word that properly threads the needle. But whichever adjective you choose to use, it remains true that the Bears have simply not done enough to remove the barriers to properly evaluate Just Fields as a quarterback.
Of course, things can still change (in fact, they’re trying to lure Ryan Bates away fro the Bulls as we speak (more on that in a second)).
Chicago could still sign a free agent with some upside who can contribute immediately. They could concoct a trade to create some newfound draft capital that can help in the team-building process. Or make some waves on draft weekend with some high-ceiling selections (albeit without a first round pick at present). And so on. Point being, there are paths to getting this thing going in the right direction again. But the Bears have to make it happen. They have to zero in on the right kind of targets, make their offers and picks, and seal the deal.
It’s not as if believe Poles isn’t trying.
You don’t climb the organizational ladder and survive three GMs just to get the top job … and coast. It doesn’t work like that. And Poles certainly isn’t actively sabotaging the 2022 season upon arrival. That can’t be it. What makes this all so frustrating is that Poles very well could have the right plan in place. But the lack of execution, in terms of adding impact talent in this phase of the player acquisition process, is notable.
If watching the NFL for long enough has taught us anything, it’s that it can all change at the drop of a hat. The league is literally designed for parity to reign supreme. But to get there, Poles needs to do something to get the ball rolling. May today provide the first step toward a better Bears future.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.