Story time, Bears fans.
Last year at this time, Rams GM Les Snead entered the offseason in an excellent spot. His team had fallen at home in the Wild Card round, but after bounce-back season the likes of which the league had never seen, he had to be feeling great about where his team was headed. After all, Snead possessed the league’s best defensive player, an emerging, young quarterback on the heels of an excellent second year, and a head coach whose mere existence in another man’s life is enough to get that man a job in the NFL.
Snead’s roster, as it stood then, would have easily been a playoff team. With the progression from Jared Goff and Sean McVay, their young coach and quarterback, that they expected and received, they would have been a Super Bowl contender.
Knowing this, Snead decided to let his roster be as it was. He did have multiple key free agents in the secondary – four out of his five starters, in fact – and he stuck with the status quo, re-signing them all. He decided to let his offense be as well, making sure that they maintained continuity on both sides of the ball. The Rams would rely on Goff’s improvement and defensive chemistry in order to make a Super Bowl run.
Except they didn’t.
Snead evaluated his secondary and decided it was time to shake things up. He let cornerback Trumaine Johnson walk, whose mega-deal with the Jets (per Manish Mehta of the NY Daily News) is already causing buyer’s remorse. Fellow outside corner Kayvon Webster tore his achilles late last season, so Snead didn’t give him a new deal. Nickell Robey-Coleman was retained, and he was joined by a third-round draft pick and a veteran on a one-year prove-it deal.
Ha! Got you again. This will never not be fun. Robey-Coleman was bookended by Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, both of whom were acquired by trade. Peters spent most of the first half of the season in Michael Thomas‘s toaster, but he turned it around and was an asset as the year came to a close. Talib played like someone who isn’t done with his prime, doing a marvelous job containing Thomas in the NFC Championship.
The Sammy Watkins trade didn’t work out? Never quite meshed with Goff? Someone who was fine with marginal improvement might have franchise tagged him and given him another chance, citing not the hefty compensation as an excuse, but not Snead. He replaced him with Brandin Cooks, who gave LA more than twice Watkins’s production.
The Rams were able to re-sign John Sullivan to complete a dominant offensive line, but one problem remained: aside from the greek god Aaron Donald, the defensive front was weak. Snead went out and fixed it, signing Ndamukong Suh after he was released by Miami and trading for Dante Fowler midseason.
Their contributions? Suh took down Drew Brees one and a half times in the NFC Championship and Fowler made the QB hit that caused their overtime interception. Both of these players, as well as Talib and especially Peters, went through some very rough patches throughout the season. It tends to happen when a unit has so many new parts in place.
That being said, make no mistake about it – Goff, McVay, and Donald are great, but LA isn’t boasting about reaching the Super Bowl if they have Johnson, Webster, and Watkins instead of Suh, Talib, Peters, and Fowler. No chance. At all.
This brings me to the Chicago Bears. You may have thought “huh, that sounds familiar” while reading the opening paragraphs about a Wild Card loss at home, a titanic defender, a rising QB, and a prodigious head coach.
The resemblance, of course, is because the Bears are in an eerily similar position. The difference is that LA had far more impending free agents and thus more room to maneuver and improve their roster, but the choice that Snead made and Pace will have to make is exactly the same: fall into a mentality of sticking with the status quo or stay aggressive and go for a ring?
Snead chose correctly. Pace will have to make his decision by… right now. This piece came out at 11 AM Central Standard Time on Monday, March 11. The “legal tampering period,” where teams can negotiate with free agents but can’t agree to deals (wink) starts at this exact instant.
Yes, Mitchell Trubisky is going to be better, as is Matt Nagy, and the Bears are already a contender for the Lombardi. But if Pace wants his team to truly be a threat for the top prize, he must remain active in pursuing external free agents or trade targets and he must be cold-hearted in deciding what to do with his own.
Exhibit A: Adrian Amos. Pace did wonderfully when he took the Penn State product in the fifth round, and he turned into a reliable starter. He excels against the run and he’s solid in coverage, but he doesn’t make plays on the ball. Is that kind of skillset necessary for the Bears right now? Absolutely not.
Ditto Jordan Howard. I could essentially copy and paste what I wrote about Amos and say it about Howard, who isn’t a fit for Nagy’s scheme. Pace must work to upgrade both positions if he wants Chicago to truly return to prominence.
There is an abundance of options at all of the Bears’ positions of need. Off the top of my head: Suggs. Mathieu. Ingram. Gipson. Yeldon. Ware. Poole. Hell, if Pace wants to get crazy, maybe he could bring Tevin Coleman or Justin Houston to town.
Whoever Pace decides to acquire, he has to remain aggressive. There are ways to move money around, get guys on contracts that include low future guarantees, and configure the current depth chart to make room for new talent.
Championship teams are never satisfied. Ryan Pace’s Bears will not be an exception.
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