Bears News

5 Takeaways: The real work begins now for Bears

1 year agoChris Emma

CHICAGO, Ill. — Nearly a year to the date Sunday, as the Bears began forming their rebuilding plans, perhaps they didn’t realize the arduous process ahead. But the teardown is now all but complete and the challenge sure seems great. 


The Bears completed their 2022 regular season with a 29-13 loss to the Vikings at Soldier Field, marking a franchise-record 10th consecutive loss and a 3-14 record. Chicago secured the No. 1 overall pick by virtue of its loss and the Texans’ thrilling 32-31 victory over the Colts. But this clearly was no cause worth celebrating inside a locker room that has fought through this season. 


Now, the real work begins for the Bears as they strive for their goal of sustained success ahead. Here are the five takeaways from the season finale at Soldier Field. 


1. On the clock 


Bears assistant general manager Ian Cunningham walked slowly through the bowels of Soldier Field after this 14th loss of the season, his phone in pocket and members of the front office trailing behind. They didn’t know what was taking place some 164 miles away at Lucas Oil Stadium. 


Texans rookie quarterback Davis Mills had completed a fourth-and-20 desperation heave for a touchdown with 51 seconds remaining, then connected for a go-ahead two-point conversion. Houston held on for a wild win that marked a 3-13-1 season — and opened up the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft for Chicago. 


Eleven weeks ago, the Bears earned an unlikely 33-14 win over the Patriots on a Monday night in New England that brought their record to 3-4. But first-year general manager Ryan Poles realized what he truly had in the roster that he inherited from the Bears’ previous regime. 


Poles traded veteran pass rusher and beloved team captain Robert Quinn (Eagles) two days later, then after watching the Bears get blown out by the Cowboys, 49-29, elected to deal star linebacker Roquan Smith (Ravens) and devote a greater focus on the future. 


The Bears went into this first season led by Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus believing they would be more competitive, that a young roster would fight, that second-year quarterback Justin Fields would emerge, and that the No. 1 overall pick would not even be a possibility. And while much of that did come to fruition, Chicago still finished its season with 10 straight losses and at the top of the draft. 


As the season continued on from that primetime victory at Gillette Stadium, the Bears were decimated by injuries to key players, saw their lack of depth revealed and an endured a spiral of apparent fortune.  


It’s why there’s a prevailing feeling of hope for the Bears despite an otherwise forgettable season.  


“I think we grew as a team,” Poles said Sunday morning to the WBBM Newsradio 780 Bears pregame show. “Our culture is right. Our locker room is right. And we’re ready to go vertical next year and build off of the foundation that we set this year.  


“I’m excited for the future.” 


Not only do the Bears now own the top overall pick in the Draft, but they possess seven other selections and more than $120 million in projected salary cap space. Poles can look to Jacksonville for a shining example of what could come from this. 


The Jaguars earned a 20-16 win over the Titans on Saturday night to cap their season at 9-8 with the AFC South crown. A year ago, Jacksonville was similarly a 3-14 team and owned the No. 1 overall pick. The Jaguars worked to build around young quarterback Trevor Lawrence and saw through a season of significant growth that will now continue on into the playoffs. 


The Bears are well positioned for a breakthrough offseason, now strapped with the No. 1 overall pick and assets to build from the bottom. Most importantly, this team can stand confident in the future of Fields if he’s provided the right investments around him. 


“Shoot, he’s special,” Bears running back Khalil Herbert said of Fields. “He’s special. As far as he goes, we go. I’m excited for what’s going to happen next year and what we’ll be able to do.” 


Early Monday morning, Poles and Eberflus will return to Halas Hall and begin their exit interviews with this Bears team. They will take inventory on why this season went south so suddenly, begin a careful process for this offseason and get back to work. 


The Bears believe in what’s to come for their future. And they can only hope to never again be positioned at the bottom of the league and the top of the draft. 


2. Foundation in place 


Veteran offensive lineman Riley Reiff signed with the Bears as they began training camp in late July, electing to play his 11th NFL season and join a team in transition. 


Reiff, who turned 34 in early December, never truly realized what he would be joining as he signed his one-year contract in Chicago. He played in 16 games and started 10 at right tackle, but this experience with the Bears was memorable for reasons he never intended. 


“Just one of the best groups I’ve been around,” Reiff said as he reflected in his locker stall at Soldier Field. “I mean, they fight, they work. New guys come in and they contribute. Nobody complains.  


“I tell you what, it was a hell of a year. We didn’t win many games but it was fun. I had a blast. The coaches, this organization, like I said, it was one of my finer years ever.” 


Though the NFL is a results-oriented business and 3-14 speaks for itself, the Bears have been able to set a culture in place – one of the primary objectives for Eberflus when hired as head coach early last year. 


The Bears bought in with what Eberflus was selling and stayed the course despite their struggles. They pushed for improvements, even as the losses piled up. 


“The arrow is definitely pointing up here,” Bears running back David Montgomery said. 


Poles overhauled the vast majority of the roster he inherited last offseason. Now, the Bears hope they have some key building blocks as they work through the next phases of this rebuild. 


With their resources in place, the Bears are looking towards this offseason with aspirations to come back a contender in 2023. What this team does have to work with is a budding culture. 


“We’re setting the right foundation,” Reiff said. “Tough. Physical. Fast. Run the ball. Stopping the run. It’s going to pay off in the long run. I just can’t tell you how much each one of these guys contributed to it. They laid the foundation around here. I’m excited to see what they do in the future.” 


3. Montgomery’s last run? 


Montgomery hasn’t turned his focus towards the future just yet. He hasn’t spoken with his agent about how to approach free agency or concerned himself with what the Bears’ future holds at running back. 


After finishing the final game of his four-year rookie contract, the 25-year-old Montgomery walked out to Soldier Field with family and friends to take photos at midfield.  


“I need to repress a little bit, allow my emotions to soak in and just be able to be grateful for the opportunity I was blessed with for the last four years,” Montgomery said. 


Montgomery finished the season finale with just seven carries for 21 yards, part of an offensive effort from the shorthanded Bears that was lacking production. In a way, it was fitting. A third-round pick in 2019, Montgomery’s four seasons with the Bears were filled with adversity around him and he continued to push through, serving as a model of consistency for a struggling team.  


The Bears haven’t made any determinations on Montgomery’s future but it seems unlikely he will be back. Poles and his front office might be more intrigued to offer Herbert the primary role in his third year rather than paying for a lucrative contract Montgomery can land elsewhere. 


“If he’s here, I’m going to be excited,” Herbert said. “If he’s not, I know he’s going to get paid. I can’t control what happens. But he’s going to get paid. That’s what I’m happy about.” 


Montgomery rushed for 3,609 yards and 26 touchdowns over 60 games with the Bears. He finished this season with 801 rushing yards, marking at least 800 yards in each of his four years for Chicago.  


While the open market will include several prominent running backs — led by Giants star Saquon Barkley — Montgomery should be in demand. 


“I feel like I’ve been a hell of a player but I know that I’m just scratching the surface of what I can be and what I’m capable of,” Montgomery said. “It gives me more motivation and excitement going into the offseason knowing I can get better and I will.” 


4. Get stronger 


Bears rookie Braxton Jones was the team’s lone player to serve on 100% of the snaps for the offensive side of the football. He started all 17 games, something that doesn’t happen often for a Day 3 selection. 


A fifth-round pick out of Southern Utah, Jones held his own making the large leap as an NFL left tackle. But he’s already setting a clear goal for the offseason. 


“I got to get in the weight room,” Jones said. “I’m going to grind it out. You’re going to see something a little bit different.” 


The 23-year-old Jones said last month that he hopes to prove himself as a “cornerstone” for the Bears, a long-term fit at the key position of left tackle. While there will be enticing tackle options for Chicago in free agency and the draft, Jones may enter next season as the uncontested starter at his position. 


If Jones is able to produce an offseason of growth, the Bears certainly can be excited for his future.  


5. A historic run 


The Bears became the fifth team in NFL history to rush for more than 3,000 yards in a single season, carrying for 118 yards on the ground Sunday and finishing this 17-game slate with 3,014 rushing yards. 


In doing so, the Bears set a new franchise record by surpassing their 1984 season total of 2,974 rushing yards (albeit, that was a 16-game season). This team averaged 177.3 rushing yards per game and built an identity on offense. 


Fields led the Bears with 1,143 rushing yards over his 15 games played (before missing Sunday’s season finale with a hip injury), while Montgomery posted 801 rushing yards and Herbert capped his year at 731 rushing yards. 


“It makes me excited for next year,” Herbert said. “It makes me excited for the future. Because we were able to do that this year and we didn’t even have the record we wanted to have. It just makes me excited for going forward, what we’ll be able to do.” 

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