Coming off a league-worst 3-14 record in 2022, many expect the Bears to improve this season en route to much brighter days in 2024 and beyond. After all, GM Ryan Poles spent much of last season tearing down the Bears roster and really only began building it back up again in earnest this year.
ESPN seems to have some misgivings about the Bears’ ability to come out of their rebuild as real title contenders, however. In a recent set of “future” power rankings which aimed to project how each organization will fare from 2023 - 2025, ESPN ranked the Bears 21st in the league. That’s just ahead of the Titans and just behind the Panthers.
Overall, ESPN gave the Bears a 76.9 score, which places them in the middle of the “average” bracket. Interestingly, they’re higher on the team’s young talent, with Justin Fields earning an “above average” 81.3 score, and the Bears draft taking an 85.3 score. If young drafted players like Darnell Wright, Gervon Dexter, Tyrique Stevenson, Zacch Pickens, Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker develop into cornerstones, then the team will have a real foundation to continue building upon. If Fields continues to develop as a passer to become a more complete playmaker, then the Bears will have the most important piece of the puzzle in place.
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“If you aren't excited about the electrifying talent that quarterback Justin Fields showed last year, I'm not sure what you were watching,” wrote Dan Graziano when explaining why there’s reason to be hopeful about the Bears’ future. “The Bears have a lot of building to do, but they made a ton of additions to their roster in an effort to help Fields' development, and he seems to have the ability and the frame of mind of a quarterback who could ascend quickly as his circumstances improve. Having Carolina's first-round pick next year also is big for the future.”
The biggest detractors ESPN listed for the Bears were the front office (76.7), coaching (76) and the roster besides QB (70.3). The concerns about the roster are understandable, since the Bears are still at the beginning of their rebuild as previously mentioned. It seems a little early to score the front office and coaching poorly, though. Early returns on Matt Eberflus indicate his H.I.T.S. program is taking hold and that key players are committed to building the culture he envisions. The product on the field obviously was not up to standard last year, but we have to wait to see how the team fares when it has more talented players in place. If the linebacker play is still poor with Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards leading the way, we’ll have to revisit this.
Same goes for the front office. Poles has made moves that were both largely praised (DJ Moore trade, Darnell Wright selection) and moves that have been panned (Chase Claypool trade, Lucas Patrick signing). Realistically, we won’t know the full impact of any of his decisions for several years. Further, Poles was frank earlier this year when he admitted the Bears wouldn’t be able to fill every hole on their roster in one offseason. That seems to be ESPN’s major gripe.
“General manager Ryan Poles went to work trying to protect and provide help for Fields, but what about the defensive side?” wrote Louis Riddick. “Do the Bears have enough impact players to effectively rush the passer and create turnovers? They were last in sacks (20) and middle-of-the-pack in turnovers created (23) last season. Keep an eye on rookie defensive tackles Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens. These two will be major determining factors when it comes to the success or failure of this defense.”
If Dexter and Pickens both flop, it will be a major blemish on Poles’ record. Again, we won’t have real grades on those two picks for years to come.
Truth is, there’s still way too much unknown to make a real assessment on the Bears’ future. If Fields is the guy they’re on the right track no matter what. If he never reaches the potential the team sees in him, then they’re likely back to square one. Real questions on both the offensive line and defensive line could negate improvements made elsewhere on the roster. Alternatively, Moore and an improved o-line could help unlock a new gear for Fields and the offense. The Bears’ young secondary could create numerous takeaways to not only stop opponents, but give Fields more chances to score. In those scenarios, the Bears could undergo a rapid rise like the Eagles, Bengals and Jaguars did recently.
The range of outcomes for the Bears is wide this year. They could end up with five wins, or 10, and neither result would be any more surprising than the other.