CHICAGO -- George McCaskey walked around the bowels of Soldier Field on Sunday with pep in his step. He didn't look like the chairman of a franchise that just finished the 2022 season at 3-14 and on a 10-game losing streak. He seemed happy and hopeful.
Why wouldn't he?
Sunday's 29-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings is irrelevant. It's not part of the big picture. Hell, it isn't even in the vicinity of the blueprints general manager Ryan Poles is drawing up. The result Sunday at Soldier Field was meaningful only in that it allowed the Bears to put a topper in what can be described as a successful season.
When Davis Mills and Jordan Akins connected on a 28-yard touchdown pass and subsequent two-point conversion to give the Houston Texans a 32-31 lead over the Indianapolis Colts with 50 seconds remaining Sunday, it was clear everything broke the Bears' way during the 2022 season.
Poles arrived and went to work gutting the Bears' roster to clear the deck for his grand rebuild. Quarterback Justin Fields took a leap in Year 2 despite the Bears surrounding him with a horrendous offensive line and limited weapons. Those inside Halas Hall are impressed with Fields' leadership and ability to overcome challenging circumstances. He made strides as a passer, and they believe another offseason of development and more talent around him will allow him to blossom next season.
Then came Sunday's events. When the Texans beat the Tennessee Titans in Week 16, it brought the Bears back into play for the No. 1 overall pick. When the Bears shut Fields down Wednesday due to a hip strain, it was clear Poles understood the assignment.
The Bears trotted out a quarterback rotation of Nathan Peterman and Tim Boyle on Sunday against the Vikings. By taking Fields off the board, the Bears removed any chance of a surprise Week 18 win and ensured a Texans win over the Colts gave them the No. 1 pick, the final piece of as perfect a season as Poles could have drawn up when he took the job a year ago.
Sunday has the chance to be a transformational day for the Bears franchise.
With the No. 1 pick in their pocket, the Bears now hold the key to the draft and free agency.
They will enter the offseason with over $110 million in salary cap space. They believe they have a franchise quarterback in Fields and own the No. 1 pick, which they could auction off to a quarterback-desperate team willing to mortgage their next few years of first-round picks for the right to draft C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young.
The salary cap space makes the Bears a player for any top-shelf free agent that makes it to the market. Orlando Brown Jr.? Daron Payne? Mike McGlinchey? It also allows the Bears to take on any contract they want in a trade.
In theory, the offseason should run through Chicago.
Poles' first offseason as general manager was all about the teardown. It didn't give us great insight into his talent evaluation or the type of team he wants to build.
After the loss to the Vikings, Poles emerged from the back of the Bears' locker room. He didn't stay long. The general manager pulled on his winter coat without breaking stride and headed for the door.
There's no need to spend any more time on the 2022 Bears. Their work is finished.
After a perfectly-executed season and a potentially transformational Sunday on the lakefront, Poles' work is just beginning.