For all the talk of parity in the NFL, the NFC is not complying in 2021. Six of the seven seeds in January’s postseason tournament are all but spoken for, with Arizona, Los Angeles, Green Bay, Dallas, Tampa and New Orleans creating a sizable gap between themselves and the rest of the field. There will now be a scrum, a scramble, a scrape for the seventh seed, and the honor of getting absolutely thrashed on the road come Wildcard Weekend. (Personal note: I’ll be celebrating my 40th birthday in Atlantic City that weekend and gambling heavily against this seventh seed.)
The Bears are not going to be that team. First, they are not very good on either side of the ball.
Defensively, they survived the first stretch of the season with exemplary pass rush from Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. When that rush evaporated, due to a combination of injury, Covid and Trent Williams, the secondary has been revealed as what it is: Jaylon Johnson, DHC and a collection of practice squad guys.
Offensively, they just don’t have enough talent. Their wide receivers are mediocre. Their offensive line can’t pass protect. Their running backs can’t stay on the field. Sunday was the most inspiring loss in Bears history, with Justin Fields looking every bit the part of star quarterback, but it was also plainly obvious how much help he needs.
Second, this team’s schedule doesn’t get easier. They will be significant underdogs at Pittsburgh, home to Baltimore, home to Arizona and at Green Bay. Their best case record scenario when they arrive at games against Minnesota and Seattle, teams also fighting for the seventh seed, is 5-8, assuming they win in Detroit on Thanksgiving. That record would require this team to RUN THE TABLE to get into the tournament.
So, let it go. It’s over. There will be no playoff football for the 2021 Chicago Bears. And you know what? That doesn’t matter! They’ve got the horse that matters; they’ve got the quarterback. Now they need to try and unload any player not part of the long-term Justin Fields Project. The Bears should have a sign on their lawn in Lake Forest that reads “(Just About) Everything Must Go”.
I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of the NFL salary cap. I do understand that trading big contracts is exceedingly difficult, and thus happens rarely in-season. But the Bears need to unload whatever they can, and they should be willing to take financial hits in 2022 to do so. This team will be better next season because the quarterback will improve and the coach should be different, but they still won’t be contenders yet. They need more draft picks to replenish this secondary and wide receiving corps. And they need them next spring.
Who can they deal?
Allen Robinson is the obvious first choice as Jesse James has better chemistry with Fields than Robinson, through no fault of his own. His game simply doesn’t sync up with the quarterback. Hard to imagine wide receiver needy teams like Baltimore and New Orleans wouldn’t be willing to part with a late second round pick to acquire his services.
Akiem Hicks is on his last legs but those legs could be valuable to a contender. He’s still capable of flash plays. And the Bears gain far more playing Angelo Blackson and Khyiris Tonga. You won’t get much for Hicks. But even a mid-round pick has value.
Has anyone seen Bilal Nichols this season? The belief coming into the season was Nichols would require a hefty raise at season’s end but there is no way the Bears will be cutting that check. He simply hasn’t been the impact player the team expected. But with his upside, and rookie contract, there should be a suitor out there.
Teams want Khalil Mack. Several have already called the Bears. But trading Mack is not like trading the aforementioned three. Trading Mack, the team’s best player, is full acknowledgement of where this franchise resides and this leadership group has been terrible at self-evaluation.
And with news of Derrick Henry’s injury, and the emergence of Khalil Herbert, why wouldn’t the Bears get what they can for David Montgomery?
It is time for the Bears to do what they should have done the second they drafted Justin Fields: move the focus to 2022 and beyond. Hell, if ownership needs to commit to Ryan Pace for another season to achieve this, it’s worth it! The Bears are looking at draft that will be focused in the middle rounds and Pace has shown talent there.
This trade deadline is an opportunity embrace the reality of the moment for the Chicago Bears. 2021 is over. 2022 starts now.