The Chicago Bears have an opportunity to make the king of all shrewd football decisions this offseason, and I’m not talking about replacing Justin Fields. No, no, no. What I’m offering is much more… drastic. Chicago is as well positioned as any rebuilding team, and there’s one coach who’s basically up for auction as if he was the No. 1 pick. You know who I’m talking about: Sean Payton.
I’m sorry, but Matt Eberflus should be a lot more at risk of being upgraded than the guy who almost made league history despite pretty much everything the Bears’ coaches did this year. On Tuesday, General Manager Ryan Poles said he’d have to be “absolutely blown away” to pick another QB. Hey, Ryan, you mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.
I’ve been reading about how supremely set up Chicago is going forward. Draft capital, potentially more draft capital from that draft capital, salary cap space, and a young, dynamic quarterback. Yet, in all that optimism, I never heard anything about the coaching staff. Maybe I missed it, maybe the jury is out, or maybe nothing Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy did this year merited mentioning.
This was Justin Fields’ breakout season
Look, I get it. This was a lost season from the jump. That roster was never designed to go to the playoffs or even .500. Be that as it may, experts said the same thing about the Giants, and they’re headed to the postseason with a more anonymous receiving corps than the Bears. Brian Daboll might be a genius, but Fields also was 64 rushing yards away from the single-season rushing record for a quarterback.
If you have a player wreaking the kind of havoc that Fields did in 2022, it’s really hard to suck as badly as the Bears sucked. Twenty of the top 22 rushing seasons by a quarterback have come after 2000, and of all those teams, the Bears had the worst record by at least three games. (The 2011 Panthers finished 6-10 with Cam Newton under center.)
However, most of the modern quarterbacks on that list of 20 led their organizations to the playoffs, and many had career years. (Including one Daniel Jones.) Not counting Chicago, four of those teams finished the year with losing records and a fifth ended up .500.
I’m not going to get into the X’s and O’s of why it’s easier to run the ball 11-versus-11 — mostly because I can’t explain it. Just know: The type of pressure a potent running attack puts on defenses opens up the rest of the offense, or at least it should.
I don’t buy this notion that Fields forgot how to throw the ball. He wasn’t a Michael Vick or Lamar Jackson-type prospect coming out of Ohio State, and the fact that he had to rely so much on his legs this year tells me he’s out there sprinting through pro defenses mostly on instinct while the rest of his game atrophies.
Do NFL fans not watch college tape, or am I the only one who remembers Fields destroying Clemson and Trevor Lawrence in the College Football Playoff — and doing it with his arm? The Bears’ approach to football has always been defense first, and that worked when the rest of the league was still figuring out the forward pass.
What’s so great about Eberflus, anyway?
The Eberflus hire was perfectly fine if the organization had the kind of defense that we normally see forcing turnovers at Soldier Field. I know upheaval and instability are the quickest ways to ruin your young signal callers. Yet, I just watched two different first-year play callers pull failing QBs back from the brink of being career backups. Daboll turned Danny Spare Change into a playoff QB, and Mike McDaniel was resurrecting Tua Tagovialoa’s career until the concussion issues.
Payton is out here almost making Taysom Hill an NFL starter. Imagine what he could do with someone as talented and as promising as Fields. The Windy City needs to shake this truism that it’s “where quarterbacks go to die,” and the first step toward that goal is to hire an actual offensive mind. I promise, Payton won’t be like that time Jay Cutler made someone else look like an asshole.
Everybody praised Arizona when they cut bait on Josh Rosen after his rookie campaign because Kyler Murray was available. Well, coaches like Payton are seemingly available less often than potential franchise-altering No. 1 draft picks, and Eberflus got his shot. The Texans saw all they needed from Lovie Smith to know he wasn’t the guy. That could be because he was just a diversity hire/placeholder, but there is precedent. Look at Nathaniel Hackett — aka the coach who was ahead of Getsy in the pecking order when they were both hired away from Green Bay’s staff.
The Bears have been around for a long ass time, but they had never lost 10 straight until this season. Even if all Eberflus had was scotch tape and a handful of paper clips, his defense shouldn’t have been the worst in the NFL. And they shouldn’t have been 3-14 with Fields doing the best Vick impersonation since Lamar.
If Chicago really is as ripe as we’ve been led to believe, the franchise should explore all avenues to capitalize on this perfect moment in time — and that includes the head coach.