Welcome to No Man’s Land.
That’s where the Chicago Bears organization resides on December 9, 2020. They’re not a talented, aging team with a closing championship window. They’re not a young, rebuilding side with their eyes on the future. They’re nowhere. They don’t exist.
Two years ago that was not the case. Coming out of the 2018 campaign the defense was stacked. The head coach was a breath of fresh air. The quarterback had shown enough promise under the new regime to make fans believe he could be “they guy”. Now the defense is fading before our very eyes. The head coach has relinquished play-calling duties and any sense of job security. The quarterback will be looking for a job come March.
And there are only three possible roads forward. (For the sake of argument, let’s assume Ted Phillips is re-assigned away from football operations. It’ll likely happen as a symbolic gesture, if nothing else.)
Road One. Do That To Me One More Time.
Ryan Pace would be entering the final year of his contract. Matt Nagy would be entering the penultimate year of his contract; a de facto final year as coaches rarely work on a “final” year for some reason no one has ever clearly explained to me. The factors that could lead to George McCaskey bringing both back:
- The defensive contracts. Kyle Fuller has voidable 2022-23 seasons. Akiem Hicks is off the books after next season. Per Sportrac, Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn have “outs” after next season. The guys on this defense in 2020 are likely to be the guys on this defense in 2021. But the unit could look ENTIRELY different in 2022.
- As Andrew pointed out yesterday, Nagy could argue two things: (a) the offense is improving and (b) he needs better players, including a quarterback. (Where that quarterback would be coming from is a different matter entirely.) He could also make a needed change at defensive coordinator to reinvigorate that side of the ball.
- The post-Covid salary cap. The new GM’s role this off-season would be a complete tear down because there’s not going to be any money to enhance the current roster. Do the Bears really want to try and send Fuller, Mack and company out of town this spring and commit to a 2-3 win 2021? Can the organization afford to have an apathetic fan base in September? (They would.)
Road Two. Go Your Own Way.
Would the Bears fire one and not the other? It’s possible.
The Ryan Pace decision is too easy – even for the McCaskeys. You don’t even have to get to the Trubisky bust, other failed trades/high picks, FA mistakes.
6 yrs with 39-53 record
3 QB misses
2 bad head coaches
1 winning season
1 drafted QB
1 more yr under contract
0 playoff wins
— Joe Ostrowski (@JoeO670) December 7, 2020
Nagy is going to end this season as a head coach with a winning record. Would the Bears change GMs and allow that GM to evaluate the coaching staff in 2021? It would be a mistake, but it’s possible.
Firing Nagy and keeping Pace would reach a difficult-to-fathom insanity level, making a losing GM one of the most powerful in the league.
Road Three. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.
The full house clean.
Ted re-assigned. Pace and Nagy fired.
This, of course, makes the most sense.
The Bears are not going to be a consistent winner in this league until they find themselves a quarterback. And with a pick hovering around the top ten in the upcoming draft, the Bears will have an opportunity to go get a young quarterback. How on earth could they rationalize allowing these men to choose that player?
And while those defensive players can be slid off the books more comfortably at the end of next season, the Bears could accrue some draft capital this off-season by unloading them a year early. While it would make many incredibly sad, Fuller’s contract would be the most easily dealt and would likely bring back the best pick.
- The thoughts above are not unrelated. If the Bears can get a second-round pick for Fuller, that pick goes into the package to move up for the quarterback. And ultimately, getting the quarterback trumps all other things. The Bears wouldn’t HAVE TO draft a first-round QB next year but they must spend every moment from January until the draft doing work on the available options at the position. And Ryan Pace can’t be the one doing that work.
- The worst thing for a young QB is changing offensive schemes early in their career. This is the primary argument for releasing Nagy before that selection is made. Because Nagy will need wins to stay in the gig and wins don’t usually accompany a rookie quarterback.
Three possible roads for George McCaskey. Which will he take, and when will he take it? If he doesn’t move on from the whole of this team’s football leadership it is hard to see the decision as anything more than kicking the can down the road.