There are few things more painful in sports than being a Chicago Bears fan. While that bold statement may seem ludicrous to most, the inescapable mediocrity that Bears fans are ensnared in is truly a fate worse than death. The Bears are completely incapable of maintaining consistent organizational success, as indicated by their meager six total playoff wins since the Bears’ utterly dominant 1985 Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots.
In sharp contrast, however, Chicago always manages to unveil true hidden gems, both through the NFL draft and the Bears free agency, usually on the defensive side of the ball. This uncanny knack for realizing the potential of under-the-radar players is a trait prevalent to this day, with stellar rookie campaigns by cornerback Jaylon Johnson and wide receiver Darnell Mooney.
With the promising talent at key positions that the Bears boast historically, the club always manages to stay competitive. Winning a game, losing a game. Slipping into the playoffs by the skin of their figurative teeth, but always getting trounced by a powerhouse NFC team in the first round. Never considered the bottom-feeders of the league, but a far cry from the best of the best.
This curse is why Bears fans are so tortured and always disillusioned with the promise of true talent, but the front office and head coach always managing to make that fragile dream come crashing down. Over the last couple of weeks, Bears fans fell for that cruel trick once again. They became infatuated with Russell Wilson, an All-Pro quarterback, and fooled themselves into believing he would lead this lost franchise to a sense of purpose again. A lofty achievement that would ultimately culminate in a Super Bowl victory. The veil had been cast over fans’ eyes. Then, the veil shattered.
General Manager Ryan Pace and Head Coach Matt Nagy failed in their attempts to woo Wilson and settled for a painful rebound in Andy Dalton. A backup quarterback. The virtual riots began.
Chicago Bears Free Agency: Ryan Pace’s Continuous Blunders
Swings and Misses
In the vast majority of Bears fans’ minds, this was the last straw. The tightrope the club’s general manager and head coach were walking on had snapped under the weight of their incompetence. Fans wanted this horrid quarterback carousel to stop. Twitter was lit ablaze with anger and frustration boiling over from Chicago-based accounts, with pure vitriol being spit at this franchise for subjecting their fanbase to this excruciating mediocrity for another season. The message was loud and clear: no more.
To understand where this seething contempt for the Bears’ front office lies, it’s imperative to know the history of failed opportunities that could’ve changed the franchise’s destiny. Ryan Pace was hired as the GM of the Chicago Bears in January of 2015 and immediately got to work.
Following the firing of Marc Trestman, who had just come off an abysmal 5-11 record, Pace decided to put his faith in defensive-minded coach John Fox, who had led a historically great Denver Broncos defense to multiple playoff berths. Fox subsequently led the Bears to a combined 14-34 record over his three seasons as the Chicago Bears’ head coach. This failure to bring in a quality head coach for his rebuilding football team was the first red flag that had Bears fans wary.
Because of the Bears’ atrocious record over that period of time, Ryan Pace had yet another opportunity to get a game-changer in the first round of the NFL draft that could alleviate the club’s troubles. In the 2015 NFL draft, Pace had his first crack at a high-potential player. The Bears selected Kevin White, a talented wide receiver out of West Virginia. He would go on to accumulate 25 total receptions and ZERO TD’s in his tenure with the Bears.
He turned out to not just be bitten by the injury bug, but absolutely tormented by an infestation of the buggers. He played in only 14 games over his three seasons in Chicago and, although he had a real upstanding personality, was released after the 2018 season.
Fast forward to 2016, and Pace came face to face with his arch-enemy: another first-round pick. He selected Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, and he was actually a solid player. He never quite developed into that speedy, explosive pass-rusher that Pace envisioned, but he unexpectedly developed into a sort of hybrid linebacker, often dropping back into coverage and tackling in open space.
No matter how solid Floyd was as an all-around linebacker, he still did not live up to his pass-rushing potential, and was allowed to walk at the end of his rookie deal. 0-2 for Pace.
Not only would the deficit get larger for Pace’s draft track record in 2017, but he was also the catalyst for what will be considered historically as the biggest “what if” scenario in NFL history. The fateful day arrives. Pace is in desperate need of a quarterback and the previous 2016 season saw three different QB’s try to captain a sinking Bears ship.
The polarizing, yet talented Jay Cutler sustained multiple injuries that would eventually lead to his unceremonious retirement, and career backups Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley tried to save a doomed season. Pace knew that Chicago needed to finally address the most important position in sports with the third overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft.
Pace had three choices. Clemson’s reigning national champion Deshaun Watson, Texas Tech’s immensely talented Patrick Mahomes, or North Carolina’s inexperienced, yet promising Mitchell Trubisky. Pace had his guy. Pace went on the offensive, trading up to the number two overall pick to be sure he could select his franchise-saver. He had his chance to save Chicago from years of mediocrity and disappointment. Chicago finally would have its champion.
Deshaun Watson went on to become an elite, dynamic top-ten QB who led his team to a series of playoff runs. Patrick Mahomes went on to become the NFL’s best quarterback, winning a Super Bowl in his second year and solidifying himself as a living NFL great. Trubisky went on to have one winning season, losing in the first round of the playoffs twice, and earning just one Pro Bowl selection.
Guess who Pace decided would have the most success of the three? Yep. Mitchell Trubisky. 0-3. This monumental error would cause years of pain, despair, disappointment, and hopelessness in Bears fans everywhere. The shadow of Pace’s decisions looms largely of his tenure as the Chicago Bears general manager, and his failures are why Bears fans hold resentment and distrustfulness for him.
Snapback to the present day and Chicago fans everywhere are at their limit with Pace. For all the good Pace has brought to the franchise, such as the hidden gems he has an eye for in the late rounds of the draft and key free agents, it’s all for naught if he is so inept at getting the sport’s most important position right.
The Bears were, once again, in a prime position to wash away all doubts for the club’s competence. An all-or-nothing trade for a premium QB like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson is exactly the medicine that would cure Chicago’s ailments. Instead, the front office confirmed all of Chicago’s fears and settled for an over-the-counter elixir in Andy Dalton.
Picking Up The Pieces
“What now?” That’s the question fans are forced to ask themselves in immense disbelief. Good question. What now? Well, the answer is not entirely clear, and certainly not easy. The QB situation has now become complicated. The most unlikely of scenarios is, by some miracle, the Bears still end up trading for Russell Wilson.
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter recently said that he still thinks the door is open for the Seahawks to deal Wilson to another team. “I don’t think I’m ready to say Russell Wilson is a Seahawk, will be a Seahawk.” He even mentions that he doesn’t think the Bears are entirely out of it, pointing out that the Seahawks were intrigued by Andy Dalton when he was coming out of TCU in 2011.
Conspiracy theorists might say that the Bears’ signing of Dalton was their attempt to gather ammunition and that they’re going to fire one last shot in the dark in an attempt to claim their prize.
A more likely scenario is that Chicago is planning to keep Dalton for the 2021 NFL season and draft a quarterback in the first round of the draft to either compete for the starting job or learn behind the starter. This idea will inspire groans in most Bears fans, as they watched this same song and dance in 2017 when the team tried the same experiment with Mike Glennon and Mitchell Trubisky. While this plan of attack isn’t ideal, it could prove to be fruitful. It could be a smart move during the Bears free agency, however, it’s not anything Chicago fans are excited about.
While Dalton certainly struggled when he first was entered into NFL action for the Dallas Cowboys in relief of an injured Dak Prescott, he improved his play significantly in a valiant attempt to make a final playoff push.
In his final seven games with the Cowboys, he threw for 13 TD’s and only five INT’s, leading the Cowboys to a 4-3 record in that stretch. If he were a stop-gap starter with a first-round QB like Alabama’s Mac Jones, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance being an understudy to Dalton, that could prove to be beneficial in the long run.
Of course, there’s the bleakest option, which is to have Dalton, Nick Foles, and another middling QB brought in through the Bears free agency or the draft, and slug it out for the starting position and accept the reality that the Bears have no plan for the present or future.
Though the trust in the front office is at an all-time low, this is the least likely of scenarios. Whether Pace and Nagy are truly on their last legs or, for some unknown reason, have at least a two-year leash to make some progress, they simply cannot settle for just going halfway.
The best way for them to keep their jobs is to acquire a superstar QB and win, or draft a talented QB with real potential and prove to ownership that they have a plan for the future. Meandering in football limbo and just letting the average Joe’s “win” a starting position that will most likely end in another frustrating 8-8 season is the quickest way to get shown the door.
In finality, the issue that Bears fans are so frustrated with isn’t that Andy Dalton is terrible. The problem is that he’s so painfully average, and the signing follows the exact line of thinking that had doomed the franchise to this limbo for years. “Let’s just settle.” Bears fans are so sick and tired of settling. The Chicago Bears historically have always just shrugged their shoulders at a position that is so crucial to consistent, winning football in the current day.
The organization is so infatuated with the days of old, where teams ran the ball 90% of the game and played suffocating defense to win their games. The organization gazes with their rose-tinted glasses at Chicago football’s glorious past but refuses to face the present and see how much the NFL landscape has changed.
It’s not the 80s or 90s anymore. Cell phones have evolved from grotesque bricks to sleek touch screens. TVs have rapidly grown from thick boxes to ultra-detailed, thin LEDs. Most importantly, the NFL has irrevocably changed from the days of monstrous run blockers and bruising fullbacks to spectacular, gifted quarterbacks throwing their teams to victory. The NFL has changed, and it’s high-time the Chicago Bears changed with it.
Thanks for reading my article on the Chicago Bears free agency, and the woes of the franchise! For more great content follow me on Twitter @Masonite22.
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