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Change Is Coming But How Much?

The Bears can anticipate a new GM and coach will not maintain status quo but players say they are close to being winners if the core is maintained.

The usual offseason house-cleaning moves go on even as the firing of GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy left the team without day-to-day decision makers.

The first order of business is always locking up practice squad types for futures contracts.

The Bears signed defensive lineman Auzoyah Alufohai, wide receiver Isaiah Coulter, guard Dieter Eiselen, cornerback Michael Joseph, cornerback BoPete Keyes, defensive lineman LaCale London, outside linebacker Ledarius Mack, edge rusher Charles Snowden, wide receiver Nsimba Webster, tackle Tyrone Wheatley and quarterback Ryan Willis to futures contracts and will have those players available when offseason work begins.

It doesn't matter who these players they've added are, though. When the new general manager and coach are signed, everything could change at Halas Hall—or very little could.

The 6-11 record the Bears had is probably not an indication of the roster's talent level but it can't be too much better because they've been mired between 8-8 and 6-11 for three years since winning the division at 12-4 against one of the easier schedules they've had in the last decade.

With players like Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Roquan Smith, Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson under contract for next year, their defense looks capable of challenging with a little help at key positions.

The offense obviously needs direction more than anything, except for maybe a backup quarterback and a lot of receivers. The only receivers under contract for next year now are Darnell Mooney and those practice squad receivers just signed—Coulter and Webster.

Asked whether this needs to be a total rebuild at Monday's postseason press conference, Bears board chairman George McCaskey couldn't commit. 

It's understandable. After all, he said he's a "fan, not a football evaluator."

So it's up to the new GM to provide this assessment.

"We're looking forward to hearing what the candidates' plans are for getting the Bears back to the top," McCaskey said. "We'll leave that to them to present the details to us. We don’t have a particular approach in mind."

One man's rebuild is another's hard reboot. The Bears are obviously past the level of a soft reboot, because that's what happens when you keep your head coach and/or GM.

Ask the current players and you'll get a predictable answer. They want to keep the train moving, rather than tear it apart.

"You know, we take some time off in the offseason where I want to focus, but I obviously want to be able to be a powerful offense," running back David Montgomery said. "Be able to show the team that we're capable of being a top-tier offense in this league, that we've got all the right pieces, we've just gotta be able to use them properly."

With the passing game last in the league and the running game faltering over the final quarter of the season, it's difficult to see how even new leadership can turn it all around. But Montgomery does.

"Because I've been here for three years," he said. "It's probably the best pieces we've had to this point. That's the most valuable answer you can get from me, because I've seen it every day.

"It's unfortunate what our record looks like. It’s unfortunate. But we’re close. We didn't close out. That's on us. That's on me as a leader and an individual, not getting my guys on the offense to say, 'Look, it's time for us to get down to business.' That's on me. And I take full onus on that."

The defense isn't without fault, either. They had several games like the season finale, when something changed momentum and everything fell to pieces. Besides the Vikings game, this happened against the 49ers, the Steelers, the Ravens and twice against the Packers.

"We have the players to be a contending team, and then for us not to get to the playoffs it's definitely disappointing considering I feel like we have enough people to do it," cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. "Just really being able to figure out how we can piece all of these great pieces that we have together, find a way to get more wins and find a way to execute better, more consistently.

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"Because I mean, there were definitely times where we did it at a high level, but we have to find ways to continue to put it together and put it together consistently throughout the year. So just trying to move forward in that direction."

The difference in the NFL between those teams that win close games and lose them is always small. the Detroit Lions can say the same thing about being close but they won only three games. That's how close talent levels are team to team in the NFL.

Regardless of direction, there are holes. A new GM would have to weigh these holes, determine if they can be filled using available cap space in free agency, or the limited draft picks the Bears have after trading away the 2022 first- and fourth-round picks in the move up to draft Justin Fields.

It might be decided the best way to get the talent is to lose the salaries of veterans like Robert Quinn, Khalil Mack, or even Eddie Jackson if it's a post-June 1 salary cap dump.

It's difficult to tell until they bring in those determining the new direction. 

  • They need to sign or draft three or four new receivers, unless they decide to keep low producers like Damiere Byrd and Marquise Goodwin. 
  • There is no backup quarterback unless they want to hold onto Nick Foles at $10 million. 
  •  Their starting left cornerback and slot cornerback were outclassed all year.
  • They could interior defensive line starters Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols in free agency.
  • .Starting safety Tashaun Gipson is in his 30s and a free agent.
  • They need a young, faster inside linebacker to team with Roquan Smith.

One GM might look at that shopping list and say the only way they can make required changes is to dump veterans and start all over. Another could say the opposite.

So much depends on the decisions of McCaskey, Ted Phillips, Bill Polian and the hiring committee.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven