In nature, hibernation — an energy and life saving process in which animals shut down most bodily functions — lasts several days, weeks, or even months. It’s a vital process for animals like bears to make it through frigid winter months. In the case of the Chicago Bears however, hibernation that has lasted for years, and it’s finally over. (That’s the farthest extent to which you’ll get a basic science lesson today)
The past 20 seasons have seen the Bears make the playoffs just four times, a blemished mark of inconsistency for a franchise that likens itself as a vital NFL flagship. There’s been a host of awful drafts, misguided free agent signings, and overall mismanagement that has led to that prolonged futility. Needless to say, the fanbase in Chicago, and maybe even media, has long awaited relevance on a grander scale for this Bears franchise. (No one after all, wants to be “America’s Team” for finishing 8-8 like the Dallas Cowboys. Looking at you Jerry!)
Finally, that forgettable two-decade era has come to a merciful end.
For example, the recent free agent signings of stalwart linebackers, Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, two previously top 10 available players at their position, are but the tip of the spear. Second year general manager Ryan Pace has effectively changed the culture and atmosphere in Halas Hall, while providing the necessary talent pipeline that has also long been necessary. The mistakes of his predecessors in Phil Emery and Jerry Angelo are not forgotten, but have gone by the wayside.
There’s plenty to look forward to and get excited about.
Pace is after all, the man who hired John Fox, the right man in charge as head coach.
The Bears have an instilled sense of confidence again, which no matter how cliche it sounds, is important in a league decided by the smallest of margins. Fox has turned around the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, and is on his way towards a sling shot for Chicago as well. How else do you explain one of the least talented rosters in the league last year, finishing 6-10, actually having a positive scoring margin? How do you explain a defense finishing 14th overall, despite not having any name players?
The 2015 Bears were much more thrilling on the field than they should be and that speaks to a greater power at work.
People have questioned Jay Cutler’s leadership and overall aptitude on the field for years, and yet on an overall mediocre team in 2015, he was one of the lone bright spots in re-invigorating the franchise and providing new hope. 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and 3,659 yards don’t look like the veteran lit it up in any sense, but a 92.3 quarterback rating speaks differently. His improvisation outside of the pocket and leadership through a tough situation can’t go unnoticed. The 32-year-old had a special season last year. Chicago can win with Cutler and with the right pieces around him, can help alleviate the pressure and silence from the 1985 Bears crowd with a Super Bowl. (Seriously, these people are almost as bad as the 72′ Dolphins and the annual champagne).
I didn’t stutter. Chicago can win a Super Bowl with one of the NFL’s favorite recent punchlines, don’t fall victim to the narrative.
And that’s because in contrast, the proper pieces of talent for him, will be in place. This is after all, a team that has ranked in the bottom five defensively save for last season, since 2013. A combination of factors in lack of talent and leadership (coaching) all played into being so inept. There’s balance and talent on both sides of the ball now.
Defensively, Chicago can now throw out Trevathan and Freeman on the inside, while rolling Pernell McPhee and Willie Young as outside linebackers. Add Akiem Hicks to that defensive line mix, and you have a solid foundation. With the additions of Trevathan, Freeman, and Hicks, Pace significantly upgraded the most important facet of a defense with just $16 million. He did his cap homework. That’s not even taking into account a potential high end draft pick to add to the mix. Chicago is built the right way defensively, up the middle and inside-out. There’s also competence, leadership, quality at every level, something that’s been missing with recent Bears defenses and quite frankly, teams.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio just has to be salivating.
Offensively with Cutler, the veteran will have a more loaded cast of weapons than ever.
There’s superstar Alshon Jeffery, who is seemingly ready for a long term deal, a healthy Kevin White, Marquess Wilson, and the return of Marc Mariani and tight end Zach Miller, who were two reliable targets for Cutler last season. The backfield is also loaded and experienced featuring Ka’Dem Carey and Jeremy Langford (maybe Ezekiel Elliott is added in the draft?). Up front, the offensive line will even be in better shape with another year to gel, as Kyle Long is moving back to the inside even if some are skeptical of the Bobbie Massie free agent signing (I don’t know why. Massie essentially only has one guaranteed year on his contract. He’ll be adequate anyway). Any deal that allows a player to maximize their skill set in the proper role should be praised.
This is a much more talented squad than one that played with the toughest strength of schedule in 2015. Obviously, the Bears didn’t do well with that schedule with the mentioned 6-10 record. Yet, 12 of their 16 games were decided by eight points or less. They fought, clawed, and cliched their way through every game, which bodes well for the future. Those kinds of point gaps are filled by talent as even the best NFL team doesn’t win by the greatest of margins. (We go live to your generic NFL analyst on these merits)
Many spend their time as fans every season getting re-acclimated and excited about the draft and free agency process, thinking this is the year their team will finally turn it around. I’ll admit, that’s how I’ve been looped into the NFL. It’s a shameless cycle of hopelessness without end. Now though, you can finally say “this is our year” (Well, if you’re more of a Cubs fan) with the Bears.
You have my permission to be legitimately excited. As Chris Emma from CBS Chicago reports, new man in the middle Trevathan has the same thoughts:
“I believe we can accomplish whatever we put our minds to..”
Yes Danny, these Bears have a great deal in mind.
Robert Zeglinski is a staff writer and contributor for Second City Hockey and No Coast Bias. He is currently the sports editor at Aurora University. You can follow him on Twitter @ZigZags82.
(CBS Chicago, 15 second sports, ESPN, Aaron Leming, NFL Trade Rumors)