Optimism reigns supreme at the outset of each NFL season for all teams, even the lowliest teams.
Those mired in .500 hell like the Bears have been the last two years will think big.
There is always another possibility.
This is when the bottom falls out. In many cases, it means regime change at GM and coach or at one of the spots. The roster gets gutted.
The Bears went through this to a large extent in 2015, because GM Ryan Pace was already in place in 2018 when Matt Nagy was hired.
The Bears, at .500 the last two years and with coaching staff and GM firmly in place for years, appear to be at a pivotal point heading in 2021. They could step up and continue building on their current path or suffer complete collapse and an expected complete regime change.
The Bears face one of the most difficult schedules in the NFL this year. It's the third most difficult based on opponents' winning percentage from last year (.550). Even worse, it includes games against the two teams who have to play even harder schedules, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.
In April the Bears were graced with the kind of good fortune the Bulls had when they drafted Derrick Rose. They had quarterback Justin Fields basically fall into their laps and can build the future with him.
When they drafted quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in the first round in 2017, they fired coach John Fox after that season.
When they drafted quarterback Rex Grossman in 2003 in the first round, they fired coach Dick Jauron after that season.
If Justin Fields finds himself with a new head coach and/or general manager in 2022, it wouldn't necessarily be the end of the world for the franchise.
In fact, the Bears are at a pivotal point not just because of their record the last few years but because of their entire salary cap structure.
They have 27 unrestricted free agents after this season. Only Houston (44), San Francisco (36), Indianapolis (30), Tampa Bay (29), Kansas City (29), Las Vegas (29), Washington (29) and New England (28) have more. This means those players' contracts, or at least almost all of their money, comes off the books.
The Bears have seven players who figure to be starters and their contracts expire after this season: wide receiver Allen Robinson, defensive linemen Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols, quarterback Andy Dalton, safety Tashaun Gipson, guard James Daniels and cornerback Desmond Trufant.
According to Overthecap.com, they could save about $28.5 million by cutting or trading Robert Quinn ($6.7 million), Eddie Goldman ($6.6 million), Angelo Blackson ($2 million), Tarik Cohen ($2.25 million), Jeremiah Attaochu ($2.85 million) and Nick Foles ($8 million) before the 2022 season. In some cases, they save even more if they do it after June 1. For instance, Goldman traded or cut after June 1 would be $8.9 million in cap savings instead of $6.6 million.
With so much potential cap savings from personnel turnover, a young quarterback and enough younger players who can make a difference like Jaylon Johnson, David Montgomery, Cole Kmet, Roquan Smith and Darnell Mooney, it's safe to say the Bears are well-suited to conduct a complete rebuild.
The only thing keeping the franchise from being perfectly suited for a change of this sort is the lack of a first-round draft pick in 2022.
Then again, there are ways of acquiring a first-round pick.
After this season, the pride and joy of their defense also becomes a player they could realistically trade or cut.
Because of his value, Khalil Mack most likely wouldn't be a cut victim but they would save $3.15 million against the 2022 cap by trading or cutting him prior to June 1 and $17.75 million if they did it after June 1.
It's an unwanted plan, but one possibility nonetheless.