The season of talent acquisition has nearly passed for NFL teams.
Some will go into OTAs and minicamp and determine they need to add a low-priced free agent who are still on the market.
Virtually every single player left unsigned by the end of OTAs is someone hoping to find a job and be paid, not someone who can make a big impact.
There are always a few big-contract guys who slip through the cracks and must take a one-year offer for lesser money.
By and large, teams have their rosters and barring a late unusual trade like the Bears pulled off in 2018 with Khalil Mack, or someone being cut and then added, the rosters will be set.
Much change has occurred to the Bears since the playoff loss.
Here is where they are better and where they are worse for this 2021 season than after the defeat they suffered without starters Roquan Smith, Jaylon Johnson, Buster Skrine and Darnell Mooney against the New Orleans Saints last January.
Where they're better
Quarterback: Considering Nick Foles knows their offense now and is healthy, Andy Dalton is a veteran with 10 years of knowledge about the way the NFL game is played and Justin Fields is a dynamic athlete who should begin to ascend from Day 1 at practice, they're far ahead of last year when Foles didn't know the offense as well, they had lifetime camp arm Tyler Bray and both began and ended the year with a limited starting quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky. In four years, Trubisky never learned to read defenses well enough or process things and make decisions fast enough. He also gave away the athletic asset he had by disdaining the run so he could "buy time" with his feet before throwing. He never did read the defenses fast enough, so buying time with his feet amounted to treading water for no reason. He needed to take off with the ball. Trubisky's futility is the base line for Fields now as an athletic rookie. It can only get better from here.
Running Back: Cordarrelle Patterson was never a running back and they used him as the backup to David Montgomery after Tarik Cohen's injury. Now they have a player who was close to being a Super Bowl MVP in Damien Williams and a promising rookie with Khalil Herbert. And Tarik Cohen is returning from an injury. They have depth and the players they have as backups actually know how to play this position, unlike Patterson.
Wide Receiver: It's not a big improvement. However, the Damiere Byrd and Marquise Goodwin signings brought them receivers who ran 4.28 and 4.27 respectively in the 40 quite a while ago. It's like they made a move like last year with Ted Ginn Jr., except for younger players. Goodwin is a "Z" receiver who has still competed as an international long jumper while his pro football career was slowed by injuries, while Byrd can play "Z" receiver or in the slot. Dazz Newsome possesses many traits slot receivers need for most teams, although he lacks the idea speed for this offense at the position. The competition was said to be fierce for jobs at camp last year at this position. That was playtime compared to what this year will be. Receiver will be a war for roster spots from Day 1.
Defensive Line: Adding Eddie Goldman back into the mix more than makes up for losing Roy Robertson-Harris and Brent Urban. Having Goldman back can stabilize the run defense, provided he steps in and picks up where he left off after 2019. Signing Angelo Blackson made up for losing Urban. In the rotation, bringing back Goldman lets them replace Robertson-Harris, although they definitely will miss the extra depth he provided. Overall, this is a slight improvement.
Inside Linebacker: Danny Trevathan can't possibly start out as poorly as last year and is still a strong enough player to bounce back from his worst season in Chicago. Roquan Smith has ascended. Beyond those two, depth here is far better with Christian Jones returning from Detroit. Last year they had no one with real playing experience as a backup and had to promote mid-season practice squad addition Manti Te'o to the starting lineup for his first action of the year to start in the playoffs.
Outside Linebacker: It's hard to see how Robert Quinn could be worse than last year, so automatically the change to a new season makes him better. Khalil Mack is healthy now after shoulder issues. The big change is Jeremiah Attaochu is a legitimate experienced, productive, backup edge rusher. They had to get by last year with Barkevious Mingo, an all-around athlete and player who really has never been a pass rusher. Attaochu should be the best backup edge they've had since Matt Nagy became coach. He's more athletic and a better technician as a rusher than Aaron Lynch was for the 2018-19 teams.
Where they're the same
Safety: It's the same group back with Jordan Lucas thrown into the competition for a roster spot. This is a good thing, though. Stability in the deep secondary means better communication and that's key in defending the deep passing game.
Interior Offensive Line: Having James Daniels back from injury makes them deeper, but he has to stay healthy in a contract year and this has been difficult for him to do. Germain Ifedi was supposed to be a right guard. It's unclear whether he will be again, or whether he's a tackle. Another year for some inexperienced players and having Elijah Wilkinson for depth pushes the trend upward for the guards and centers, but there is no huge addition to immediately raise the talent level.
Kicking Game: Cairo Santos still hasn't missed since that Atlanta game in Week 3 last year. Pat O'Donnell is coming off his best all-around year as a punter. It's hard to get better than they had last year.
Where they're worse
Cornerback: This isn't close. They've taken a step back by losing a player of Kyle Fuller's ability. Replacing him with an older player who has been injured the past few years, or one of several unproven talents on their roster is hazardous. Their other options are fifth- and sixth-round draft choices. Buster Skrine had plenty of faults as a slot cornerback. Yet, there is no veteran like Desmond Trufant available here to replace him and it's going to be a Day 3 type of player stepping into a vital position in the secondary.
Offensive Tackle: Sure, they added two tackles. The Bears currently have no one on the roster who has started a game at left tackle in the NFL, and that's a huge setback. Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom eventually project to be better than the players they replace. At least, this is Ryan Pace's thinking. They are not coming in at this level. The price of experience at this position in the NFL is sacked quarterbacks. Competing at right tackle are a rookie and two players who were better lining up as guards. Risk is great here, too.
Tight End: This is a very slight decline. Another year older with Jimmy Graham, but a Cole Kmet with more experience. They made no additions to help the position and lost third tight end Demetrius Harris.
Return Men: It's impossible to replace Patterson unless you find the new Gale Sayers or Devin Hester, because those are probably the only two return men who have been better than him in NFL history. The punt return game could actually get better if Newsome does it or if they decide to use Cohen again at this. Using Cohen would be too risky this soon after his ACL tear.
Coaching: Chuck Pagano might have been trending downward as a defensive coordinator, but had years of experience. Sean Desai has no coordinator experience and not even much positional NFL experience. He was largely a quality control coach. Losing defensive line coach Jay Rodgers is the defensive line equivalent of losing Ed Donatell as defensive backs coach after 2018. In fact, it might be even worse. There isn't a coach on the defensive side manning the spot they coached when Vic Fangio was coordinator and only two who were even with the team then but in different capacities.