Considering the lofty goals defensive end Bilal Nichols owns for this season, the Bears can look to raid the vault for him before next season.
"All-Pro, simply," Nichols said. "All-Pro and winning the Super Bowl. That's just how I feel. That's the type of the standard I hold myself to each and every day.
"I'm just trying to get better every day and reach that ultimate level. If I can reach that level, then that can help our team tremendously. That's all I'm focused on right now."
Nichols says it's not the cash he's focused on as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. With some players it would be easy to wink, laugh and look the other way.
With Nichols, it's been obvious he's about more since arriving in Chicago in 2018. He doesn't have high draft pedigree. He came in as one of GM Ryan Pace's fifth-round success stories. It's also where Pace found Darnell Mooney, Adrian Amos and Jordan Howard.
"I've really seen him develop," said guard Cody Whitehair, who gets to face Nichols plenty in training camp. "One thing that is different when you come into this league is in the offseasons it's all your time; you can spend it how you want it. And you can tell Bilal works really hard. He focuses on the lifting and studying and learning how to be a pro, and that's what he is: He's a pro.
"He takes the game seriously, he takes care of his body, and you can see that on film. He's quicker, he's stronger and he's faster. That's going to help him on the field on Sundays as well."
The Bears have brought in undrafted of free agent defensive linemen in the past and trained them up under former defensive line coach Jay Rodgers to succeed. Then they lose those players because they're basically role players to Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman up front.
They can't pay everyone, but in Nichols' case the talent could force a change either in the way the Bears approach their pay structure on defense or in the personnel up front. That's because Hicks would need a contract extension at the same time as Nichols, but Hicks will be 32 next year. Would they pay both?
Nichols made this all possible because he had the proverbial breakthrough late last season when he was finally over some nagging injuries and could focus on playing the way he had at the end of his rookie year.
"I'm just playing this year," Nichols said. "Who know what the future holds? I'm living right now in the present. I can't really speak too much on the future.
"I just know right now, every day I have to continue to get better to give our team a better shot at winning the Super Bowl."
Nichols showed his value by playing both defensive end and the nose last year. He's obviously a better end but was adequate at nose. Now with Goldman back, he can focus where he's strongest. And focus is what he's all about, even with the possibility of a big pay day finally ahead for him. He had seven of his 13 career tackles for loss last year and made four of his five sacks on the 2021 season in the second half of the year
"It's all about focus, really," Nichols said. "Obviously, I'd be lying to you if I said I don't think about it or that it's something that's easy not to think about because you work your whole life to get up to this point.
"It's just about staying focused. At the end of the day, I feel like if you are thinking about things in the future, you are messing up for yourself in the present. I try not to get caught up in all that. My time is going to come. I put the work in and I'm going to continue to put the work in. I'm going to let the work speak for itself. The work has gotten me this far. We are going to keep working."