As we move through the off-season OTA period, I put together the second installment on the Vikings’ NFC North rivals- this one looking at the changes with the Chicago Bears over last season.
The Bears were the worst team in the NFL last season, earning the first pick in the 2023 draft as a result. But in their quest to have a top quarterback for the first time since rock n’ roll was invented, the Bears elected to roll with Justin Fields, who they traded two first-round picks and a 4th and 5th round pick to acquire in 2021, rather than move on and take Bryce Young with the first pick. Since being drafted, Justin Fields has proven to be one of the best running quarterbacks in the league, but one of the worst passing. And so the decision to stick with Fields may prove to be a fateful one for Bears’ GM Ryan Poles, however Fields turns out in the end. Bears fans are hoping it won’t turn out as poorly as Ryan Pace’s decision to trade up for Mitch Trubisky in the 2017 draft, foregoing Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, who were drafted later in the first round that year.
The Bears and Vikings both underwent a regime change in 2022, replacing both GM and head coach, but have taken different paths since then. The Bears under Ryan Poles opted for a tear-down in 2022, jettisoning their top defensive players Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, and Roquan Smith- clearing salary cap space and gaining a second-round and a few Day 3 draft picks. They subsequently spent their 2023 second-round pick (which was #32 overall) to acquire WR Chase Claypool from the Steelers, in Poles’ first re-building move outside the draft.
The Bears went heavily on defensive players in the 2022 draft, selecting six defensive backs, a linebacker, and an edge rusher, using just 3 of their 11 picks on non-defensive players. But one of those- 5th round pick Braxton Jones- had a good rookie season at left tackle. The Bears’ defensive picks outside of S Jaquan Brisker and LB Jack Sandborn were a bit disappointing according to PFF grades, especially second-round pick CB Kyler Gordon who is slated to start again this season.
2023 Roster Moves
The Bears were one of the top teams, if not the top team, in both draft capital and salary cap space this off-season. They opted to push some of that draft capital into future years by trading out of the #1 overall spot with Carolina, in exchange for their 2023 1st and 2nd round picks, their 2024 1st round pick, and their 2025 2nd round pick, and WR DJ Moore. They traded down again with their first 1st round pick with the Eagles for a 4th round pick as well.
They ended up with RT Darnell Wright with the 10th overall pick, DL Gervon Dexter Jr. with the 53rd pick, CB Tyrique Stevenson with the 56th pick, DL Zacch Pickens at #64, RB Roschon Johnson at #115, WR Tyler Scott at #133, LB Noah Sewell at #148, DB Terell Smith at #165, DL Travis Bell at #218, and S Kendall Williamson at #258.
Wright, Dexter, Stevenson, and Johnson are likely to have the most impact this season for the Bears in this draft class.
But in addition to the draft trade for DJ Moore, the Bears also acquired veteran LB TJ Edwards, LB Tremaine Edmunds, DI Andrew Billings, DI DeMarcus Walker, TE Robert Tonyan, G Nate Davis, RB D’Onta Foreman, and ED Rasheen Green. They moved on from RB David Montgomery and LB Nicholas Morrow.
Overall, the Bears have added 20 new players to their defensive roster in the last two seasons under defensive head coach Matt Eberflus. But of those 20, only the two linebackers Edmunds and Edwards could be considered top players at this point. Edmunds had a breakout season last year with the Bills after struggling in his first four seasons.
Above is the PFF projection of the Bears’ starting roster in 11 personnel and nickel defense. These are not always accurate, but usually pretty close. I wouldn’t be surprised if another player ended up starting at RB, or if Dexter ended up starting at defensive tackle, but we’ll see how it plays out. In any case, it’s fair to say that the Bears have improved their defense of the middle of the field this off-season, and now have a pair of good linebackers and safeties. But at the premium positions of edge rusher and cornerback, it’s still looking pretty rough for the Bears this season. The Bears had the last-ranked defense last season in points allowed, and were 29th in yards allowed, so head coach Matt Eberflus still has a lot of building ahead of him.
Offensively, the Bears have a good offensive line and improved wide receiver group in place, but all still depends on Justin Fields and his ability to develop as a passer. He’s coming off a season with just over 2200 yards passing and a league-leading 55 sacks, despite the Bears offensive line being ranked second in pass block win rate (68%) according to NextGen Stats. Having a better receiving corps should help in that regard, but there’s still a lot of improvement needed from the last ranked passing offense of a season ago.
The Bears did not have any coordinator changes this off-season, so there is unlikely to be any major change due to scheme or coaching changes this season.
The Bears didn’t have a lot of outliers when it comes to injuries (they were ranked 16th in adjusted games lost (AGLs)) and turnovers last season (although they were ranked 27th in turnovers but 14th in takeaways) and were only mildly unlucky in other factors with an estimated -0.36 game impact on wins last season.
Strength of Schedule
The one area that suggests a better record for the Bears this season is their projected strength of schedule. The Bears had the 5th most difficult schedule last season but are projected to have the 6th easiest schedule this season, based on projected wins totals in sportsbooks for all the teams on their schedule. Their actual strength of schedule, which will only be known at the end of the season, could change based on how teams fare over the course of the season, but for now strength of schedule looks to be beneficial for the Bears this season.
Adding up all the changes for the Bears from last season to this, and estimating their impact on the Bears’ win-loss record from a season ago, I estimate the following:
- Roster changes: net positive (+2)
- Coaching and scheme changes: neutral (+0)
- Regression to the mean in AGLs: neutral (+0)
- Regression to the mean in net turnovers: neutral (+0)
- Regression to the mean in other luck factors: neutral (+0)
- Strength of schedule: net positive (+3)
Coming off a 3-14 season, adding +5 wins based on off-season changes, results in a projection of a 8-9 season for the Bears this year. That is also consistent with their 7.5 win over/under, with a bias toward the over.
The Bears look to be an improved team this season, but don’t have the roster yet to compete for a division title or a spot in the post-season. If Justin Fields has a 2020 Josh Allen-like improvement in his passing production, there would be more upside for the Bears, but DJ Moore isn’t Stefon Diggs and Fields is starting from a worse position than Allen was in 2019. In any case, jumps like Allen’s in 2020 are the exception and not the rule.
How many wins will the Chicago Bears have this season?
This poll is closed
11 or more
5 or less