Top Factors That Could Sink Chicago Bears This Season
It should go without saying, but a variety of issues could plague the Chicago Bears in 2017.
So goes the nature of an extensive rebuild that started at the top with general manager Ryan Pace a few years back. The new man in charge just rolled the dice twice on the quarterback spot, invested heavily in areas of need and has to hope another injury bug doesn't sweep the roster.
As they say, that's just the tip of the iceberg. A roster so thin in most areas right now trapped in the throes of a rebuild is susceptible to a serious reduction in quality if anything befalls starters, whether it's injury or otherwise.
Granted, fans probably shouldn't go into this season with anything close to playoff aspirations. But understanding the potential pitfalls facing the team before the season starts is a good way to force focus on the positive long-term aspects of the campaign.
Below, let's sort out the top factors capable of sinking the 2017 Bears.
The Defensive Line
It's easy and understandable to cast the Chicago defensive line in a positive light going into next season.
Where to start? Akiem Hicks just came off the best season of his career. Eddie Goldman at nose has all the upside in the world, as does second-year end Jonathan Bullard next to him. Late free-agent adds such as John Jenkins and Jaye Howard at least give the Bears depth that the roster didn't have one year ago.
But this pendulum swings both ways, folks.
Hicks was great a year ago, but can he repeat after a mostly ho-hum career? Was Goldman playing in only six games a year ago an anomaly or a sign of things to come? And is Bullard even ready to go, to the point that he can beat out a stopgap like Mitch Unrein?
None of these have easy answers. The front office largely ignoring the line despite plenty of cash to spend and high draft picks illustrates the gamble it was willing to take on the area for the time being.
Now those in charge have to hope it doesn't backfire.
This is an obvious point, but a necessary one.
Chicago revamped the secondary so much this offseason that every position in the unit could have a new starter. Free agents Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper could start on the outside, while free agent Quintin Demps and rookie Eddie Jackson could start at safety.
Both Amukamara and Cooper weren't overly impressive last year in their respective locales, but the Bears took the dive on both anyway because the general thought seems to suggest they'll better thrive in the press looks often thrown out by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
At safety, things are a little more unclear after Demps, a surefire productive veteran with a knack for creating turnovers. Maybe rookie Jackson doesn't win the job, but guys such as Adrian Amos weren't overly encouraging last year.
Readers can start to see where this could all go wrong. It's one thing to add a new piece to a secondary over an offseason or so, but it's an entirely different animal to assemble a brand-new unit and ask them to mesh well enough to not be a liability.
Things will be rough for the unit to start the season. If the play doesn't improve, it'll sink the Bears just like last year's cast did.
Unlike the secondary, the Bears at least have a few moving parts returning at wideout capable of easing the transition for new arrivals.
Cameron Meredith seems to be everyone's breakout candidate next season after his 888 yards and four scores last season despite the chaos around him. Almost acting as a counterbalance is Kevin White, the former top-10 pick who has yet to see significant playing time.
Thanks to the loss of Alshon Jeffery and stunning lack of depth after the above names, the front office brought on Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz.
There are positives for each new face, but pause-worthy questions are worth asking. For instance, whether Wheaton can do anything other than stretch the field with his speed, let alone stay on it after only playing in three games last year.
Another is whether the Bears can unlock the secret to Wright, who has put together a handful of shrug-worthy years as of late. Don't forget Cruz, who is now 30 and hasn't scored more than one touchdown in a season since 2013.
Bears fans had a front-row seat to how a miserable set of wideouts can derail an offense last season. So many new faces suggests it won't happen again, but if it does, it's back to the drawing board for the front office.
Injuries ruined last season for the Bears.
It's easy to point at a bevy of other issues. We're not underselling those by any means—it's almost impossible to given the injuries woes.
Here's a look at some names on injured reserve last year for the Bears as of January 1:
- Jay Cutler
- Lamarr Houston
- Kyle Long
- Eddie Royal
- Kyle Fuller
- Danny Trevathan
- Eddie Goldman
- Brian Hoyer
- Kevin White
- Zach Miller
- Connor Shaw
There are others, but readers get the idea. This wasn't just a case of players getting shut down because of a lost season, either.
Here's a deeper dive on some of the numbers a year ago, courtesy of Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times:
"The Bears have an NFL-high $32.7 million in salary cap space on injured reserve, according to spotrac.com (the Vikings are next at $27.7 million). The Bears have 16 players who have played in all 15 games—the league average is 22.2 (only the woebegone Jets have fewer, with 14). The Bears have just two players who have played in 90 percent of the offensive/defensive snaps this season. The league average is more than triple that—6.3."
With any luck, this isn't a systematic problem within the organization. But another lost developmental year for a rather young roster would have era-defining repercussions on the rebuild and long-term outlook of the team.
The Offensive Line
The knee-jerk reaction is to scoff at the offensive line coming in as a potential problem area capable of doing massive hurt to the Bears in 2017.
That's fair enough. Josh Sitton and Kyle Long tag-teamed to shore up the guard spots and rookie Cody Whitehair admirably stepped in at center and helped create one of the league's best interiors.
But look at the edges of the line—Charles Leno Jr. ranked as the 53rd tackle in football at Pro Football Focus and right tackle Babby Massie wasn't much better at No. 49.
Chicago didn't upgrade either of the spots this offseason. And now the coaching staff might consider moving around Long and others inside, per Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. Don't forget Whitehair—good as he was, we've seen only one year of quality play.
Maybe the line further develops great chemistry and benefits from better play around it. But if not, it's not hard to see both the damage the line's struggles could do and the massive need it could create for the offseason next year.
Maybe it's no fun to end on a predictable note, but quarterback is obviously the biggest thing capable of sinking the Bears in a hurry next year.
Mike Glennon, humble as he's been about the whole Mitchell Trubisky thing, isn't a lock to nail down the starting gig with effective play. He's only 27 years old and has plenty of room to grow, but we're also talking about a guy who has attempted all of 11 passes since 2014.
Glennon was in a miserable environment during his stay in Tampa Bay, but he could also just chuck the ball in the general direction of Mike Evans. Now he's going to need to be a true franchise quarterback while leaning on a potentially strong running game and the aforementioned array of weapons facing plenty of pressure of their own.
This won't ignore the chance Trubisky could see playing time at some point, too. It's hard to imagine he wins the quarterback battle outright, but it is easier to think the front office gives him some run as a rookie during lopsided games or near the end of the season, provided the Bears are out of the running.
Knowing the adaption issues normally facing rookie quarterbacks, though, Trubisky struggling seems a necessary hiccup involved with his development.
Either way, Pace took two shots at the most important position of all. Neither are guarantees to work out, which for fans, has to be as terrifying as it is thrilling.