The Chicago Bears have a final game against the Minnesota Vikings at US Bank Stadium on Sunday that will close the book on another disappointing season. More intriguing developments are likely to come in the hours, days and weeks after which the team is required to set a new path for 2022 and beyond, while explaining the rationale behind each of the changes they make.
As the prospect of another infection begins to creep in, here are five key dynamics to assess.
1. Matt Negi’s Job Status
On Wednesday morning, Matt Nagy said he had not heard anything from his superiors about his job security beyond Sunday, refuting NFL analyst Boomer Asiason’s on-air comments that Nagy had been told. Sunday will be his last game with the team.
“I’m very honest and open with all of you, and it hasn’t been told to me,” Nagy said during a Zoom session with Beat reporters. “There are going to be news that will probably come out at this time of the season. So whatever is said or reported by anyone is just that. I haven’t been told anything. I’m too good a source to ask.”
Still, it seems unlikely that Negi will retain his job. The Bears will make an official announcement about their position after Sunday’s game or in the first few days of next week.
Negi entered the game in four years with a 34-30 record. After leading 12-4 and winning NFC North in their first season, the Bears have slipped to the back, posting 6-10 points so far this season while finishing 8-8 in 2019 and 2020.
Negi’s teams have made it to the playoffs twice – losing both times. The Bears have also lost four games, six games and five games respectively in the last three seasons.
The biggest strike against Negi has been his inability to set up a productive offense under multiple quarterbacks and two offensive coordinators. Over the past three seasons – along with quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton and Justin Fields – the Bears have ranked 29th, 26th and 28th in total offense and 29th, 22nd and 26th in scoring.
Negi has faced repeated questions about his job status since mid-November, but he has repeatedly said he is focused on the next game. To deal with all external speculation, Negi reiterated on Wednesday, is part of his job.
“When you’re in a results-oriented business, you know when you’re involved,” Nagy said. “It’s just a matter of making sure you handle it the right way and that you’re open and honest. That’s what I’ve been like this whole time. I think the players understand and respect that. And maybe that’s why we We’re playing like we’re playing.”
2. The Future of Ryan Pace
What’s next for General Manager Ryan Pace? It has been difficult to explain, especially as the extreme silences team president George McCaskey and chairman and CEO Ted Phillips have adopted over the past 12 months. In 357 days neither has taken questions from reporters, leaving the outside world to understand the organization’s overall vision as if it were one of those old Magic Eye posters. Staring for a long time and dizziness causing headaches become inevitable.
There is growing buzz in several league circles that Paes will be safe at Halas Hall after Sunday, to remain with the team in 2022, either in his current role or in a different front office post. But it has been difficult to judge how much of that rubbish is information and how much is based on conjecture.
If McCaskey decides to retain Pace as GM, he will have to find a way to clearly articulate his reasoning while preparing for another significant wave of public backlash.
A year ago, McCaskey sold the collaborative efforts of Paes and Negi as an optimistic catalyst for what the organization believed could lead to a bounce-back season in 2021. 6-10 Bears now head to Minneapolis for a meaningless finale against the Vikings, it’s hard to see how the organization can interpret this season’s results as there is undeniably damaging evidence against Nagy without blaming Paes equally. .
A year ago, when McCaskey was asked for the benchmark to be used in 2021 to evaluate Paes and Nagy, he remained modest with his response. “Ted used the word improvement. I used the word progress,” McCaskey said. “I think they are similar. I think the four of us will know if there is enough improvement or enough progress to continue past 2021.”
In seven seasons as Bayers general manager, Paes’ teams have lost 56% of their games and have never won a playoff event. The Bears have also struggled to establish stability at quarterback, even with the free-agent signings of Mitch Trubisky in 2017 and Justin Fields in 2021, as well as Mike Glennon (2017) and Andy Dalton (2021). Have also struggled with aggressive first round trades. And a high-profile trade for Nick Foles (2020).
The roster, as it is currently built, is widely seen around the league as below average, in line with the Bears’ place in the standings.
A major league source skewered the idea of the organization promoting Pace or placing him in his current role with a new supervisor overseeing a new GM. The source added: “It would be like divorcing your wife, but when your new girlfriend comes in she’s allowed to be in the guest room. It’s really hard to see how that could work.”
As of now, though, that option is still on the table and it could be the direction the organization is leaning in.
3. A change for Ted Phillips?
As the Tribune noted in December, Phillips has been candid with confidants in recent months, acknowledging his willingness to potentially revise his responsibilities and being open to less oversight of football operations. If the Bears choose to proceed in such a direction, the most notable effects will be through the reduction of Phillips’ involvement in the recruitment of general managers and head coaches, as well as the team’s GM from being relieved of his duties as chief performance appraiser. Will come
Phillips has been influential in recruiting the last three Bears general managers – Jerry Angelou in 2001, Phil Emery in 2012 and Pace in 2015. Last winter, he was heavily involved in the decision to retain both Negi and Paes for the 2021 season. At the time, Phillips and McCaskey acknowledged that their collective decision would not be popular among the team’s passionate and highly loyal fan base. But that didn’t dampen his confidence to stay the course.
Phillips’ most infamous quote from the team End-of-season news conference in January 2021 remains the source of great ridicule, both in Chicago and in other parts of the NFL.
Phillips said: “Have we completely settled the quarterback position? No. Have we won enough games? No, everything else is.”
However, shortly before that, Phillips offered a glimpse of how the team would assess the performance of Paes and Negi going forward
“We will know whether we are going in the right direction or not,” he said. “That’s how we feel about it.”
So how much accountability should Philips have for Bayer’s on-field product? This is to assess McCaskey, ownership and the franchise’s board of directors. Since the Phillips jumped into their current role in 1999, the Bears have had nearly twice as many double-digit loss seasons (10) as they have in playoff appearances (six). They have more final places (eight) under their watch than division championships (five). And they went 11 consecutive seasons without winning a playoff game, a drought topped only by the Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, Las Vegas Raiders and Washington football team.
If Phillips were to transform into a modified team president role, the Bears could create a front-office post – in the mold of president of a football operations-type position. (For what it’s worth, it has been a choice McCaskey has previously resisted.) If that major change was made this time, it would be internally to establish a clearer delineation of roles within the power structure on the football side. Will prepare logistic work.
4. Justin Fields Factor
Paes traded four draft picks, including the first-rounder, in 2021 and 2022 to draft quarterback Justin Fields at No. 11 in April. Of course, there’s hope that Fields will fix the Bears’ decades-old problems at quarterback. However, reigning on that is still only one game remaining in a rookie season, during which Fields completed 159 of 1,870 passes for 1,870 yards, with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a passer rating of 73.2.
In 12 games including 10 starts, he has been dismissed 36 times and fought 12 times (five losers), rushing for 420 yards and two touchdowns.
As the Bears look to find a new coach in 2022, they will need to focus on a leader who can help drive the field’s development on and off the field. This should include a candidate’s own quarterback-coaching skills and offensive vision with Fields or – if it is not an offensive coach – a clear plan of who will work with Fields in crafting the offense.
In 2017, Nagy’s background as a former quarterback and quarterback coach was one of the key factors in hiring him to help develop Trubisky. It didn’t happen according to plan. But the Bears must try again to bring in the right people to circle Fields.
While Fields is a rookie who is developing into himself as an NFL player, Bear would be wise to at least consult with him on some of the things he values most as a coach and in the system.
5. Attractive Destination
Whatever jobs open at Halas Hall in the coming days, the history and reputation of the franchise is still magnetic to many people around the NFL. Currently, only the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders are on the market for new head coaches. And the consensus in league circles is that the Jaguars certainly won’t be the first choice from the available pool of candidates, even if their search has begun early.
The Bears’ head-coaching vacancy is likely to be just as lucrative, if not more, than any other potential opening coming up this month. The story isn’t much different at the GM level.
Yes, replenishing and upgrading the roster will require significant heavy lifting to keep the Bears in championship competition. The team will also face significant pay-cap issues this season and are without their first and fourth rounds of selection for this spring’s draft.
Still, a line of interested applicants grows over the next week or so for whatever job opening the organization lists. And it puts the organization’s leaders, starting at the top, with McCaskey and the board of directors to establish direction and reaffirm their priorities.
A series of important decisions lie ahead. The waiting game has almost reached its end.