Matt Nagy and the Bears will have several months to process and reflect on their early playoff exit
After surprising many by winning 12 games in the regular season, the Chicago Bears went one and done in their first playoff appearance in eight seasons. A 16-15 loss at home to Philadelphia in the NFC Wild Card game will forever be remembered for the missed (officially blocked) field goal attempt by embattled kicker Cody Parkey at the end.
But it's not fair to the put the blame solely on Parkey. The running game managed just 65 yards on 18 carries, the vaunted pass rush recorded just one sack, there was minimal production from the tight ends as Trey Burton was a late scratch due to a groin injury, Pro Bowl running back Tarik Cohen got a total of four touches, and there also was some questionable clock management. It could be said that the team's lack of playoff experience, which includes head coach Matt Nagy, was evident as the Bears came just short of eliminating the defending Super Bowl champions.
Even with the disappointment of how Sunday's game ended, this season has to be classified as a successful debut for the Nagy era as Chicago claimed its first NFC North title since 2010. However, with every offseason comes change. This a team that appears to be pointed in the right direction and should be a contender in 2019 but outlook could change depending on what transpires between now and Week 1.
3 Biggest Offseason Questions Facing the Bears
1. Cody Parkey's future
Let's just get this one out of the way. Parkey will go down as the scapegoat for Sunday's loss, as his potential game-winning 43-yard field goal attempt with 10 seconds left caromed off the left upright before hitting the crossbar and then the turf. Parkey's misfire sent shockwaves throughout Soldier Field and caused a social media firestorm. On Monday, the NFL changed it to from a missed field goal to a block by Eagles defensive tackle Treyvon Hester, but that will do little to console heartbroken and bitter Bears fans.
So now the question becomes, was that Parkey's last kick for Chicago? It's not like that was the only kicked he missed this season. During the regular season, Parkey was 23 for 30 on field goal attempts. His 76.7 percent accuracy rate put him 28th in the NFL, ahead of only two other qualified kickers (Dan Bailey, Chris Boswell). Parkey also missed three extra points (42 of 45) and had run into previous issues with the uprights at Soldier Field. In Week 10 against Detroit, Parkey bounced four kicks (two FGs, two PATs) in a forgettable performance. The only difference? The Bears won that game, but they couldn’t overcome his miss on Sunday even though he had connected on his first three field goal attempts.
But those clamoring for a clean break from Parkey may be disappointed. After all, he still has three years remaining on the contract he signed prior to this season. That deal guaranteed him $9 million and it would actually cost the team more to release him ($5.2 million dead money) than to keep him ($4.1 million salary cap hit). Chicago general manager Ryan Pace needs to be judicious with the cap space he has (projected to be about $20 million) to address other needs, so it seems unlikely that Parkey will be cut. However, don't be surprised if the team brings in another kicker to offer some competition in training camp before making a final decision.
2. Will Vic Fangio remain the defensive coordinator?
Fangio's imprint on Chicago's defense is unmistakable. A top-10 defense in 2017, the Bears finished first in scoring defense and third in total defense this season. Fangio's overall body of work has made him attractive to several of teams with head coaching vacancies. He has only interviewed with Denver at this point, but if the Broncos offer him the job he will have a decision to make. Turning down a head coaching job is rare in the NFL, especially for someone like Fangio, who has been waiting a long time for this opportunity. Pace and Nagy certainly don’t' want to lose Fangio, but if he does leave then finding a new defensive coordinator will shoot to the top of the to-do list.
3. Do they re-think the tight end position?
Without Trey Burton against the Eagles, Adam Shaheen and Ben Braunecker combined for just five receptions for 28 yards. Shaheen spent most of 2018 on the injured list, and this was after catching just 12 passes as an underused rookie in '17. He was supposed to be the future of the position but so far he hasn’t lived up to those expectations. Braunecker along with Daniel Brown and Ben Sims have only combined for 53 catches for 369 yards and two touchdowns in Bears uniforms. And that’s providing that they weren’t inactive or injured.
The front office may want to take a second look at this position and add some new blood whether it's through free agency and/or the draft.
Speaking of the draft, Chicago doesn't have a first-, second- or sixth-round pick this year because of trades with Oakland and New England. Considering the end result was Khalil Mack and Anthony Miller, fans can't get too upset, but it's no fun to watch your team sit out the first couple of rounds of the draft either. With so little draft capital (and the Raiders getting the Bears' first- and third-rounders in 2020) will Pace look to make other moves to change the team's draft inventory?
The Bears players may be headed into hibernation but the front office and the coaching staff are getting ready to prepare for what is shaping up to be an intriguing offseason.
— 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's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of @ChicagoBears)