The Bears enter the bye week off a last-second 12-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings that might have set offensive football back a decade.
Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy relied on a screen-heavy approach to combat the Vikings' constant defensive pressure. It had some success early on, but the Vikings adjusted, and the Bears' offense stalled in the second half.
Two fourth-quarter fumbles by quarterback Justin Fields put the Bears in danger of dropping another game they controlled throughout. But the third-year quarterback engineered a game-winning drive to ensure the Bears left U.S. Bank Stadium with a 12-10 win in which they didn't find the end zone.
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Fields' game-winning drive was a welcome sight for a Bears team that is steadily improving, but many questions remain about the franchise's future direction as they enter the off-week.
Those questions start with the 2024 NFL Draft. The Bears are currently slated to own the No. 1 and No. 5 selections come April. But how the final five weeks unfold will play a significant role in how they attack another critical offseason.
That's where we start this week's mailbag:
We'll begin without an overreaction and just try to game this out.
First, we're assuming that the Bears stick with Fields and pass on Caleb Willams and Drake Maye.
I'd say that's about 50/50 with five games to play.
But let's say the Bears once again survey the QB class and decide Fields is better. If that's the case, I agree Marvin Harrison Jr. is the obvious pick with one of the two first-rounders.
If the Bears own the No. 1 pick and aren't taking a quarterback, they could trade down with a team looking for a QB and add future draft capital. But I wouldn't move down past three if they want to make sure they get Harrison, who might be a top-10 receiver in the NFL the second he gets drafted.
The second first-round selection is where things get interesting.
That conversation will start at left tackle and the Bears' evaluation of Braxton Jones.
Per Pro Football Focus, Jones has allowed just 14 pressures and one sack this season in 229 pass-blocking snaps. He has been whistled for seven penalties and missed six games with a neck injury.
Jones is improving and seems to be on track to securing his role as this rebuild's starting left tackle.
If the Bears don't feel that way and would rather Jones be their swing tackle, then Notre Dame left tackle Joe Alt or Penn State left tackle Olu Fashanu should be the selection. If the Bears are good with Jones and Darnell Wright as their bookends, then that second first-round pick can be used in a number of ways. The Bears could double down on offense and draft Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, who would be a terrific compliment to Cole Kmet. They could go edge rusher with UCLA's Laiatu Latu or Florida State's Jared Verse. Or, they could trade down here as well, add more capital, and then either get a lesser edge prospect (Chop Robinson, Jared Verse, Dallas Turner), a defensive tackle (Jer'Zhan Newton), or a versatile offensive lineman (Graham Barton, Troy Fautanu). That will depend on how far they move down and how they address the other holes on their roster in free agency.
I understand the thought process of moving down a bit and getting a guy in Malik Nabers, who is an insane talent in his own right.
But I'm not passing on Marvin Harrison Jr. He's that special of a wide receiver prospect. Right now, the Bucs are projected to have the No. 7 pick. Nabers' stock is rising around the league, so I don't even know that it's a safe bet he'll be available at that selection.
Adding draft capital looks good on paper. Vea is a terrific defensive tackle. But sometimes teams get too cute. Just take Harrison. It's a pick the Bears won't regret, no matter who the quarterback is in 2024 and beyond.
Overreaction? Not at all.
Fields is incredibly polarizing, and I see both sides of the argument.
He's arguably the best runner in the NFL with the ball in his hands. The athleticism is exceptional. He throws a great deep ball, and there are flashes when everything clicks, and it's easy to see him as the guy for the next 10 years if he can harness it. I loved Fields coming out of Ohio State and thought the 49ers should have drafted him at No. 3 when they moved up in the 2021 draft. (They whiffed on Trey Lance but found Brock Purdy. Kyle Shanahan lives a blessed life.)
Fields landed in arguably the worst situation for a young quarterback that needed some time to develop. He fought through the lame-duck Matt Nagy year and showed promise last season with zero talent around him.
But the consistent, high-level passing that the Bears want to see hasn't been there to this point. Part of that falls on the scheme, sure. But Fields has to own his inconsistencies this season. I don't blame you if you're watching Fields and think he's fine but doesn't have it. The flashes have been incredible, but there have been too many moments in three seasons where he either doesn't see an open receiver, doesn't throw a guy open, holds onto the ball too long, or turns it over in the fourth quarter.
However, I think Fields -- outside of three fourth-quarter fumbles -- has looked pretty good since he returned from the thumb injury. He is escaping the pocket with a passer's mentality, keeping his eyes downfield, and hitting open guys in space. The internal clock and pocket presence still need to improve, but he has shown progress in the past two games.
Does it continue in the final month of the season? It might determine how the Bears approach the 2024 draft if it does.
I think two things can be true: The Bears seeing Fields deliver in the clutch was important, and it probably means little in the big picture.
Fields was 1-for-17 since the start of 2022 in converting game-winning drive opportunities before that drive started. He also just fumbled on his first attempt minutes early. The Bears also wouldn't have been in that position had Fields not fumbled the first time and let them go up 12-3.
That game-winning drive was probably overstated because of how many times Fields and the offense have failed in that scenario in the past two seasons.
The Vikings didn't blitz for the first time all game and left DJ Moore wide-open on a deep in. Fields made the throw, so he deserves credit for that.
But it doesn't need to be made into something bigger than it was.
I've written a few times about the Bears' inability to unlock Mooney, as Nagy's offense did in 2021.
I think there are several reasons for that. They've asked too much of him, the passing game has titled toward DJ Moore, and the aerial attack has been inconsistent at best.
It's possible that the 1,000-yard season Mooney had in 2021 winds up being just an outlier, and he turns out to be just a good No. 3 receiver.
Right now, Mooney is tied with Brandon Powell and Khalil Shakur in catches with 25 and is tied with Christian Watson with 351 yards. Watson has played four fewer games than Mooney.
Mooney is going to look for the best deal in the offseason. That's his right, and he should do what's best for him and his family long-term.
I think Mooney would be open to re-signing with the Bears, but it will come down to numbers. I don't think the four-year, $40 million projected deal from this past offseason is still out there. Would Mooney and the Bears be open to a Kendrick Bourne-type three for $15 million deal? I think something like that could make sense for both sides.
We're going to end here on what is a nine-step offseason plan with two opinions sprinkled in. Shoutout to @K3N7AR01 for going deeeeeeep.
Let's breeze through each step.
- New coaches: I don't think Matt Eberflus' seat is as hot as the outside world wants to believe it is. The Bears' defense has been playing much better since he took over, and they have been banged up until about two weeks ago. I do think that if the Bears plan to draft a quarterback, they should wipe the staff, bring in a new one, and let them choose the quarterback so all parties are on the same timeline. All signs point to Jim Harbaugh wanting to return to the NFL, and I think that would be a home-run hire for the Bears, even if it wouldn't be entirely seamless.
- Keep Poles: I think it's probably the right call. I don't think Poles is in any danger of losing his job. The Bears agreed to let him have the keys and maintain patience in the process. I haven't agreed with a lot of his moves, but he should get one more year before the seat warms.
- The locker room does believe in Fields. Its most vocal veteran leaders are staunch Fields supporters. I don't know if moving on from him would take morale. Players generally understand the business. But if they trade Fields and bring in a rookie who struggles, things could get tense. I believe it's 50/50 on whether or not Fields is the starting QB in 2024. It'll depend on the final five games and where the Bears' draft picks land.
- Yes, they should pay Jaylon Johnson.
- I think it's the end of the road for Cody Whitehair. I personally would keep Eddie Jackson. He's respected in the locker room and has bought into this staff's vision from Day 1, which has allowed him to re-elevate his game.
- Agreed. Marvin Harrison Jr. has to be one of the picks.
- Trading down looks good on paper. It'll depend on if they take a QB with the first pick, what they do in free agency, and what players are on the board when the trade calls come in.
- The Bears' center position has been an abject disaster this season. I don't expect Lucas Patrick to be back as the starter. Poles has to find a long-term solution in the middle of the line.
- The Bears are going to take an L on Velus Jones. It's just a matter of when they admit defeat. St. Brown is a good run blocker, but the Bears are going to have money to spend, and there are better depth receiver options out there.