Opinions of the Chicago Bears’ offseason have varied depending on the analysts and pundits to which you subscribe, but finally, some peer assessments have been unearthed … and they’re not great.
Mike Sando digs into the minds of NFL executives, who offer up offseason grades for each of the league’s 32 teams. It’s an ESPN Insider piece, so I won’t give away too much. However, I do want to highlight the not-so-flattering ‘D+’ grade that was handed out to the Bears.
That ‘D+’ grade was among the worst grades given out by NFL executives who participated in this grading exercise. Only the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, and New York Jets – all of which received ‘D’ grades – ranked below the Bears. Even still, that means Chicago had the worst grade of any team in the NFC. Ouch.
To briefly recap the Bears’ offseason, the team was active. They added seven players via free agency who are projected to be starters in 2017. They also showed some aggressiveness and creativity in the draft, by moving up to select Mitch Trubisky and back to draft tight end Adam Shaheen.
So, then, how did the Bears earn this particular grade?
Let’s get this out of the way while we can: Chicago and San Francisco will forever be linked because of their draft day trade, and their rebuild processes will be compared down to the most microscopic details. With that in mind, the Bears earned a comparison with the 49ers because of the way the team went about adding a flurry of free agents, but none of the high-caliber, big-money players. However, executives ding the Bears’ because their offseason was “an odd mix of planning for the long-term future and scrambling to plug holes by questionable means.”
Additionally, the offseason plan on the free agent front was compared to “trying to find lightning in a bottle” with the idea of getting lucky to finish near or at .500 to save some jobs … only to fall back into double-digit losses. Another executive, who saw their signings as a push to get to 6-10 or 8-8 said: “I don’t see many good players that they added. It looks like a lot of mediocre players on mediocre deals.”
Fair enough. After all, this does help put the current state of the Bears into perspective, with GM Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox operating on parallel tracks, but moving in different directions. The Bears’ free agent signings vibe with the idea of an experienced coach like Fox coaching to keep his job on the strength of veterans who are motivated by one-year “prove-it” deals.
Then there’s Pace, who is working on the other track trying to build a team with the big picture in mind. The Bears made five picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, but none of the players chosen are projected to be Week 1 starters. Sure, a player like Shaheen, running back Tarik Cohen, or safety Eddie Jackson could contribute with roles here and there throughout the season, but each of the Bears’ rookies has long strides to make to get into Fox’s good graces and earn playing time.
Remember, it took an injury to Jeremy Langford to elevate Jordan Howard into a starting role, and he was a third-string back at this time last year.
However, why were the Bears dinged with their grade when they followed a similar blueprint to the 49ers, who received a ‘C’ grade? Executives in this piece deemed San Francisco’s offseason signings to be “confusing” and their draft – which was supposed to solidify the team’s situation – was described as “all over the board.” So, yeah, it doesn’t really add up.
Were the Bears quietly punished in the grading process for their handling of the quarterback situation?
While one former GM told ESPN the Bears were “hoodwinked” by the 49ers in the draft day deal, another executive said: “I am totally cool with the Glennon signing and will never object to someone spending on quarterbacks or investing in quarterbacks.” Which is exactly what the Bears did, covering the short-term with Glennon, while making a long-term investment with Trubisky. And since another executive noted the Bears’ ability to recoup the draft capital sent to San Francisco in the deal, it’s a wash at this point.
So instead, let’s take a moment to talk about the Bears’ alternative course of action this offseason. And that would have been to stand pat, hope the team’s key contributors stay healthy for a full 16-game schedule, and sit idly by after building up a significant amount of cap space.
To me, that adds up to the riskiest proposition a football team can make. Hoping players stay healthy throughout the course of the season and standing pat after a 3-13 year doesn’t seem to be a winning game plan. Further, I would argue that short-term commitments to middle-tier free agents (after whiffing on the top-shelf talents) is a safer bet for the Bears’ big picture building plan than long-term commitments – which tend to get the most out of a player within the first two seasons – to the same players.
And in any case, there weren’t a ton of free agents who were long-term targets for the Bears anyway. After missing out on those top targets, they clearly began to position themselves with their eyes set on 2018 and beyond. So, in short, no, I don’t think the Bears were perfect this offseason, but I think they were far from a D+. I suppose no one can know this soon, though.
As it stands, the further we step away from the 2017 offseason, the more likely we are to put a more accurate grade on what happened as we watch the future unfold.