The Chicago Bears finished with the worst record in the NFL this season, which includes the rights to the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft. Chicago had a disastrous first season under head coach Matt Eberflus, yet all hope was not lost for one of the oldest franchises in the NFL.
For the first time since Jim McMahon was drafted, the Bears have found a franchise quarterback they drafted in Justin Fields. Not only have the Bears drafted a quarterback who has the potential to be one of the best players in the NFL, but Fields is just scratching the surface of his capabilities.
The Bears will have plenty of assets to help Fields out in 2023. Chicago has the No. 1 pick in the draft for the first time since 1947, a valuable asset in a draft in which there are teams desperate for franchise quarterbacks. The Bears don't have that problem, so the price for that pick will be steep -- giving Chicago the opportunity to stockpile more picks.
Chicago also has $118,090,358 in available salary cap space (per Over The Cap), by far the most in the NFL. The Bears have the opportunity to control the free agent market along with the top of the draft. In essence, the offseason runs through Chicago.
With the NFC in a transition period comprised of mediocrity, the Bears have an opportunity to fix up this roster quick and become a team that can compete for a playoff spot next season. These are the three best ways to fix the Bears and make them a team that can compete for a postseason spot in 2023.
1. Get Justin Fields a No. 1 wide receiver
The Bears need to take a page out of the Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins playbook in getting a star wide receiver for their young quarterback. Josh Allen became one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL since the Bills traded a first-round draft pick for Stefon Diggs, Jalen Hurts became an MVP candidate after the Eagles traded a first-round pick for A.J. Brown and Tua Tagovailoa led the NFL in passer rating in his first season after the Dolphins traded a first-round pick for Tyreek Hill.
The Bears need to find Fields that No. 1 wide receiver who can take his game to the next level. Fields is already one of the most dynamic running quarterbacks in the NFL, rushing for 1,143 yards in just his second season and leading the league with 7.1 yards per carry. Fields has also the lowest passer rating in the fourth quarter and overtime in the league (61.7) because he didn't have a go-to wideout all season.
Chicago's leading receiver was Darnell Mooney with 493 receiving yards -- and his last game was in Week 12. Equanimeous St. Brown had 323 receiving yards and Dante Pettis had 245, which is just plain unacceptable if the Bears truly want Fields to succeed as a passer. Chicago didn't even have a pass catcher have over 500 yards this year!
Drafting a No. 1 wide receiver with the first overall pick is insane, but trading down and stockpiling more picks would be a wise move for Chicago. Perhaps the Bears can use the other first-round pick they acquire by trading out of No. 1 to dangle in a deal for a playmaking wide receiver looking for a new contract and a change of scenery. Chicago certainly has the money to pay that wideout.
There aren't any No. 1 wideouts in free agency, but some solid players who are upgrades from what the Bears currently have. Chicago made a mistake trading the No. 32 overall pick for Chase Claypool, yet he's a player they have to continue to develop. Mooney is a good deep-ball receiver with the potential to be a No. 1 -- yet the Bears need a proven commodity.
Add a No. 1 wideout with Mooney and Claypool, spend money on one of the good free agent wideouts, and Fields will immediately have the pass catchers he needs to develop in 2023.
2. Use cap space and improve the pass rush
The Bears didn't have a pass rush this year, finishing with the fewest sacks (20) and pressures (129) in the NFL. Chicago was the only team not to have 150 pressures on the season, finishing with the lowest pressure rate (24.4%). Opposing quarterbacks had 2.63 seconds to throw against the Bears, which was the fourth-best for signal callers.
Chicago's leader in sacks was Jaquan Brisker with 4.0 -- and he was a safety. Trevis Gipson was the team leader in pressures with 30, a very low number for a team that has a defensive-minded head coach. Once the Bears traded Robert Quinn, their pass rush was even worse -- finishing with just eight sacks in their final 10 games.
This isn't a year for excellent edge rushers in free agency, but the Bears can find excellent interior pass rushers in Javon Hargrave and Daron Payne. Most of the good edge rushers in free agency are in their 30s, but this draft has two difference-makers like Will Anderson and Tyree Wilson. Then there's defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who may be the top defensive player in the entire draft.
The Bears can improve the edge in free agency with veterans -- and find a difference-maker in the draft. Chicago's pass rush should be immediately better in 2023, especially with one of those potential stars at the top of the draft.
3. Improve the run defense
While the Bears had a nonexistent pass rush, the run defense was not much better. Chicago allowed 157.3 rushing yards per game -- second-most in the league. The Bears allowed 31 rushing touchdowns -- the most in the NFL -- and 4.9 yards per carry (sixth-worst in the league).
How does a defense that allowed 200-plus rushing yards in five different games improve? There's where the cap space lies in free agency. Chicago will have plenty of money to spend on its defensive front, and should look at Dalvin Tomlinson as a start toward improving that run defense. Payne and Hargrave come up again here, as both are good at stopping the run as well as getting to the quarterback.
The Bears need to have a competent defense in order to give Fields a chance in 2022. Good teams are built off a strong pass rush and the ability to contain the run, which Chicago did neither of last year. This also will help the secondary shut down the pass better, as the quarterback will actually experience some pressure.
Chicago has to invest in the run defense, or the results for 2023 will look the same as 2022.