This offseason will be one of the most crucial ones in Chicago Bears history. After an up-and-down three-year tenure for the tandem of general manager Ryan Pace (who has been in his role for six years total) and head coach Matt Nagy, the pair has been given one more chance to get it right in 2021. With both men's jobs seemingly on the line, they have their work cut out given the many areas that need to be addressed.
Not only is it postseason or bust for this upcoming season, but the decisions made this offseason could impact the future outlook of the franchise as well. The biggest challenge for Pace and Nagy is upgrading the roster within the constraints of the salary cap, which has been reduced ($182.5 million vs. $198.2 million in 2020) due to the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Entering the new league year, which officially starts on March 17, the Bears are $19.3 million over the cap according to overthecap.com, which is far from ideal given the different positions on the roster that are either unsettled or in need of an upgrade.
Here's a rundown of five things that must be a part of Pace and Nagy's offseason to-do list if the Bears want to get back to the playoffs in 2021.
1. Fix the quarterback position once and for all
This is the most important task for this offseason, especially if Pace and Nagy want to save their jobs. Unfortunately, they're starting to run out of options. Dak Prescott and Dallas finally came to an agreement on a monster, four-year contract with Cam Newton reportedly returning to New England for another season. Chicago still has Nick Foles on the roster, but he could get traded depending on what happens. Foles also is a prime candidate to restructure his contract to free up cap space. Ideally, the best-case scenario would be for the Bears to bring in another starter with Foles remaining as the backup.
Chicago was believed to be very active in the Carson Wentz sweepstakes, but Philadelphia ended up trading him to Indianapolis. Now the fan base is hoping that the team will trade for either Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson, assuming each is actually available. As fun as it may be to imagine Wilson or Watson in a Bears uniform, the acquisition cost — both in terms of what it would cost to acquire either player and then subsequent moves that would need to be made to fit their contracts into the team payroll — cannot be ignored. An alternative (and much cheaper) trade option could be working out a deal with Carolina for Teddy Bridgewater or possibly getting Marcus Mariota (or Derek Carr?) from the Raiders.
There are other free-agent options, including Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jacoby Brissett, Tyrod Taylor, and Andy Dalton. Some of these may not fit for financial reasons and, with the possible exception of Winston, none would be considered a long-term answer. Chicago also could turn to the upcoming draft to bring in a new face, but barring a trade to move up, the top prospects will likely be off the board by the time the team makes its first pick at No. 20 overall. However it's done, fixing the quarterback position is without question the No. 1 priority this offseason.
2. Sign Allen Robinson II
Chicago recently placed the franchise tag on Robinson, but the hope is that both sides will be able to work out a long-term deal. Not only would it ensure that the team's best offensive weapon will stay put, it also would likely help the salary cap situation. Robinson has been as good as advertised (255 rec., 3,151 yds., 17 TDs) since signing with the Bears in 2018. He has earned a big payday, and it would benefit both parties for that to happen in the near future.
3. Address the offensive line
Some of the team's offensive struggles from last season should be pinned on the performance of the offensive line. The group gave up 36 sacks in 2020, 17 of those coming during a brutal six-game losing streak. Injuries were certainly an issue, something that both Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder) and Nick Foles (hip) dealt with as well. Running the ball was difficult at times too, as the lack of cohesion hurt the execution up front.
Playing musical chairs with the offensive line for extended stretches took its toll, as did the fact that James Daniels only played five games before suffering a season-ending injury. Rookies Arlington Hambright and Lachavious Simmons hardly played at all, thinning out the depth even more.
Change is coming to the offensive line with Chicago not expected to exercise the option on starting right tackle Bobby Massie's contract to save valuable cap space. But that also means another hole to fill considering Massie started all 64 games he played in for the Bears over the past five seasons.
Chicago definitely needs to add depth up front, and solidifying the tackle spots would be a good idea. After quarterback, bolstering the offensive line should be the team's top priority and could be the position the team addresses with their first-round pick.
Finding offensive line help in free agency certainly won't come cheap, but another intriguing option is out there. Former Bear Kyle Long recently announced his desire to return after stepping away from the game following the 2019 season due to injuries. The three-time Pro Bowler has said he's healthy again, and it will be interesting to see if there's mutual interest in a reunion with the former mainstay at right guard. Rust concerns aside, a rejuvenated Long could be a big boost to the offensive line as a whole.
4. Carefully navigate free agency
The Bears will have a fine line to walk between keeping their in-house free agents in the fold and adding new faces. Making that task difficult will be the team's aforementioned cap situation. The team is reportedly finalizing a new deal with defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., signed kicker Cairo Santos to an extension, and inked punter Pat O'Donnell to a one-year pact. But kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, offensive linemen Germain Ifedi and Rashaad Coward, and multiple defensive players (Roy Robertson-Harris, Brent Urban, John Jenkins, Deon Bush, Tashaun Gipson, Sherrick McManis, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Barkevious Mingo) are all set to hit the open market. The team will have to make some tough decisions when it comes to free agency.
5. Use draft picks wisely
The Bears could be a part of the first round of the draft for the first time since 2018. It's also possible that this selection (20th overall) is a part of any trade for a quarterback. But for now, let's say Chicago stands pat, there are a number of areas that can be addressed with the first-round pick. Depending on how the board plays out ahead of them, the Bears could use that pick on a quarterback. An offensive lineman, particularly a tackle, could be very much in play with this pick. Wide receiver could be another possibility, regardless of what happens with the Robinson contract negotiations. But the position could become an even bigger need if it appears that the two sides won't be able to work things out.
Chicago also could decide to use the first-round pick to bolster a certain position on defense or use it in a package to move up in the draft to get a player (most likely a quarterback) the team really wants. While the options for the draft are pretty open-ended at this point, this much is clear. Between getting ready for the draft, navigating free agency, and attending to other business, Pace, Nagy and the rest of the front office and coaching staff will be very busy over the next several weeks.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.