There’s so much room for optimism with the Chicago Bears entering 2018. There’s also well-founded reason for skepticism.
The Bears are a team that could shoot into playoff contention or quickly fall into irrelevance with an eye on the 2019 draft (when they will likely be without a first-round pick after the trade for Mack). They are among the NFL teams with the greatest volatility entering this season after an underwhelming 2017 season when they went 5-11.
Reasons for optimism
On Saturday, the Bears’ trade for Mack (pending an agreement to a long-term contract) drew rave reviews. One in the hand is better than two in the bush — Mack, a former fifth-overall pick and current superstar, is better than two first-round picks, which the Bears gave up to acquire him. Over the last three seasons, Mack had at least 10 sacks and 50 tackles. He’s been a difference-maker, no matter the state of the defense surrounding him. He should be the same in Chicago.
The huge acquisition follows what the Los Angeles Rams have done over the past two years. While their quarterback is still on his rookie deal, they’ve made good use of the cap space to build a strong supporting cast to mask his immaturity. Mack will join Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd and a promising Bears defense, which proved surprisingly stingy last season.
On the other side of the ball, Nagy and Trubisky will try to channel Rams quarterback Jared Goff and coach Sean McVay from 2017. McVay took over an underwhelming offense with Goff and company, and turned them into one of the NFL’s finest. Fair or not, Nagy has to do something similar with Trubisky, who finished the 2017 season completing 59.4 percent of his passes for 2,193 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Bears attempted the fewest passes in the NFL. But just like Goff, Trubisky was a top five draft selection. And just like McVay, Nagy is considered one of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL. The Bears are hoping they can recreate the Rams’ blueprint.
They certainly have tools for Nagy and Trubisky with running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen along with offseason acquisitions Allen Robinson and Trey Burton. That should be a fascinating group of skill players to watch in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers.
Mack could lead the NFL in sacks on an energized and fast Bears defense. Trubisky could take a huge leap forward with the help of Nagy. And Chicago could be in the mix for a wildcard spot.
Reasons for pessimism
But of course, every aggressive move the Bears have made over the last two years could come crashing down. Bright stars can combust. They might find that the Rams’ blueprint doesn’t work for them — and they might have to recollect themselves after a potential loss to the Packers in Week 1 and the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2.
Mack is getting paid, and you never know how players are going to respond to a payday from a new team. After all, it’s not entirely clear why the Raiders didn’t pay him. Will his mentality change? What’s more, he has spent zero time in the Bears system, and will have to learn their defense — or least some of it — within the next 8 days before the season opens. It’s not a long-term concern, but at least for 2018, he’ll be playing catchup all year long. On that same same note, Smith — the No. 8 overall pick in 2018 — held out for 29 days. He, too, is playing catchup.
In his rookie season, Trubisky teetered between competency and chaos, like most young quarterbacks do. Nagy, who did wonders with Alex Smith as the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator, has to develop Trubisky in a big way with a system tailored to his strengths. Nagy has to send Trubisky’s developmental curve in the direction of Matthew Stafford — and nowhere near Blaine Gabbert.
Robinson was a garbage-time wonder in Jacksonville, but hasn’t proven a No. 1 threat in meaningful scenarios. Burton was a backup behind Zach Ertz in Philadelphia, which doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll immediately elevate his production once promoted to starter.
And if this conglomeration of talent doesn’t stick, the Bears won’t have first-round picks to fall back upon for the next two years.
The Bears’ storylines are exciting in large part because they’ve taken so many risks. A developmental quarterback at No. 2 overall. The hotshot offensive brain at coach. The blockbuster and mega-contract to steal away another team’s star. Even the risky signings of Robinson and Burton.
Chicago went boom or bust for 2018. The explosion should be fun to watch, whether they take off or blow up on the launch pad.