LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Bears general manager Ryan Pace said Tuesday that he's committed to using the next few months to make hard decisions and take an honest look at Chicago's roster.
The Bears need a serious dose of honesty after they failed to reach the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons, but will it happen? The same day, Pace expressed confidence in former high draft picks, including quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, linebacker Leonard Floyd and tight end Adam Shaheen, all three of whom have failed to live up to expectations.
Any honest evaluation of the Bears' roster would reveal that. There is no question that the Bears were one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments in 2019. Fresh off a 12-4 record and division championship the previous season under first-time head coach Matt Nagy, the Bears were legitimate Super Bowl contenders. But Chicago's entire operation underwhelmed, especially on offense, where Nagy -- the playcaller -- and Trubisky floundered.
What's next? Here are the four most pressing issues facing the Bears as their offseason begins:
Offensive identity: Nagy's 2020 starts now. He has to figure out what scheme is compatible with Trubisky, who rarely plays well against good defenses. That's no way to win a championship. Nagy has incredibly high standards at quarterback after coaching Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes (for one year) in Kansas City. Trubisky is not Smith, who often ran Andy Reid's system to perfection, or Mahomes, the reigning MVP, but he is a former No. 2 overall pick. When is he going to start playing like one? For that to happen, Nagy needs to lower those standards and accept Trubisky for what he is: a great athlete but a below-average pocket passer with so-so accuracy. The organization is stuck because of Pace's loyalty to Trubisky. Either it's going to work with Trubisky and the Bears get back on track, or everyone's job is in jeopardy after the 2020 season.
Quarterback room: Trubisky remains the starting quarterback. Fine, but he needs competition. Chase Daniel, an affable veteran who understands the offense, is not real competition -- not even after Trubisky was benched this season. The Bears aren't going to pay a backup $15 million-$20 million, so they need the kind of lucky break the Tennessee Titans got this season with Ryan Tannehill. The Bears have to find a proven former starter -- at the right price -- who is content lurking behind the scenes until the moment (and maybe it won't happen) Trubisky self-destructs. That's when Nagy would make the move and never look back. Pace's loyalty to those high draft picks probably ends with the urgency to win next season. The Bears should spend the offseason -- in good faith -- attempting to further develop Trubisky. But if and when it all goes south again next fall, the Bears cannot hesitate to pull the plug. There's too much at stake. As such, having the right veteran backup in place is critical, whomever that might be.
Tight end, please: Want to help Trubisky? Give him a reliable target in the middle of the field. The Bears are still holding out hope that Trey Burton, who recently underwent hip surgery, can stay healthy and produce the way he's paid ($22 million guaranteed) to produce. Meanwhile, it's unlikely that Shaheen will put it all together in the final year of his rookie contract. The Bears have to essentially start from scratch. Signing or drafting a reliable pass-catching tight end (or two of them) is a must. The Eagles have Zach Ertz. The Chiefs have Travis Kelce. J.P. Holtz led all Chicago tight ends with 91 receiving yards.
Run, run, run: The Bears have to establish an identity on the ground. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand -- both heavily involved in designing run plays -- were dismissed. That's the unfortunate reality in the NFL. When a team underachieves, coaches are fired. However, to exclusively blame Helfrich or Hiestand for Chicago's repeated failure to run the ball would be foolish. That was a collective failure. Nagy has to be better. The offensive line has to block better. The running backs need to play better. The good news is that the Bears have talent in the backfield with David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen. The Bears have to open up space for Cohen in the middle of the field. Trubisky is an excellent runner, and despite the risk of injury, Nagy has to play to Trubisky's strengths. It isn't ideal, but that's a risk the Bears might have to take. There's just too much evidence that Trubisky will never be a great pocket passer. He needs the pocket to be moved, he needs the gimmicks like the hurry-up, and he needs to run.