Even with a playoff berth under their belts, it's hard to call the 2020 season a successful one for the Chicago Bears. Through smoke and mirrors -- and the NFL adding another playoff team in each conference -- the 8-8 squad was able to back its way into the postseason only to get a shellacking at the hands of the New Orleans Saints on Super Wild-Card Weekend. While they were technically a playoff team, signature wins throughout the season were hard to come by. The Bears went 1-7 against playoff teams and were clearly a class below the NFC's elite teams like the Saints and Packers, who rather easily defeated them over their last two games.
What that three-game winning streak toward the end of the season that put them over the edge for the playoffs likely did was cool the seats of Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy and Mitchell Trubisky a bit after they were white-hot following a six-game midseason skid.
But where does Chicago go from here? Does the team need to take a few steps back to take giant leaps forward? That's what we'll try to detail here today by highlighting a few key points the Bears will need to address to get back into contention heading into 2021 and beyond.
Examine the masthead
Chairman George McCaskey really needs to spend the next few days putting the 2020 Bears under the microscope and comb through the mediocre campaign. Despite a playoff run, Chicago isn't close to being one of those elite teams in the NFC legitimately contending for a Super Bowl as we saw over their final two games against Green Bay and New Orleans. Just because they managed to get in the tournament, that shouldn't automatically disqualify an examination of both GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy. That duo has been solid enough to build the Bears to this point, but are they the ones able to take them to that next level? That's something McCaskey needs to evaluate.
After all, the mediocrity of an 8-8, one-and-done playoff team is the last place you want to be in the NFL.
Under Pace, Chicago has built a strong defense but has just one winning season over his tenure, and the GM has tripped over himself trying to find an elite quarterback. Meanwhile, Nagy's teams have been a bit inconsistent, which was highlighted this year after melting down to a .500 record following a 5-1 start.
While the two may have been able to salvage their jobs for at least one more season, it might be fair to ask if team president Ted Phillips should be the one who exits stage right. Regardless of which way the team goes, McCaskey needs to make that determination and move swiftly if he decides a revamped masthead is needed.
Cut ties with Trubisky, find a new QB
There's no debating that Mitchell Trubisky was worlds better after reclaiming his starting position in Week 12. From that point until the end of the regular season, Trubisky completed 70.1% of his passes, averaged nearly 250 yards passing per game and had a 2-1 TD-INT ratio. That said, his Bears were .500 over that stretch and it seemed like he turned back into a pumpkin during the wild-card loss to New Orleans last weekend. There, he threw for just 199 yards and one garbage-time touchdown as Chicago's season came to a swift end.
While one game isn't enough to make a determination on any player, the entire body of work during Trubisky's tenure with the Bears has been ... meh. It would probably do both sides a world of good to part ways this offseason, which they can do very easily as Trubisky's fifth-year option was not picked up and he can simply enter free agency. It's no doubt a tough pill to swallow, admitting your mistake on a quarterback you chose No. 2 overall, but it's a necessary step for the Bears as they retool.
Once they move on from Trubisky, targeting a quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo -- an Illinois native -- or Carson Wentz in the trade market could be a strong way to lean. Another route could be a sort of double-dip at the position by signing a veteran (Ryan Fitzpatrick or Andy Dalton?) and pairing him with a rookie selected at the 2021 NFL Draft. The Bears pick No. 20 overall in the first round and CBS Sports NFL Draft expert Ryan Wilson has the club taking USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker in his latest mock. While that would also address a key need, they could look for a Mac Jones, Trey Lance or Kyle Trask at that spot. If the Bears follow that path, they could mirror what the Miami Dolphins did with Tua Tagovailoa this year and bring the youngster along slowly with a reliable veteran also on the roster.
No matter if it's swinging for the likes of Garoppolo or going with the hybrid of a veteran/draft pick, either of those options provides promise at a position that the Bears likely haven't had in quite some time.
Reshape offensive identity
While the personnel was lacking for the Bears this season -- particularly under center as we highlighted above -- Chicago's offense under Matt Nagy needs to take a hard look in the mirror. They ranked 31st in the NFL in third-down efficiency and that's partially on the coaching staff not putting the players on the field in a position to succeed.
That was on full display in last weekend's loss to New Orleans where Nagy's offense failed to convert a third down until coming out of the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter. In that same game, Nagy's play-calling seemed more fearful of the Saints getting the ball back before halftime than wanting to push for more points and possibly take a lead before the break, deploying three straight run plays while getting the ball with 1:49 left and two timeouts in your pocket. They also struggled to get their best all-around weapon on offense in Allen Robinson involved until the second half, which undoubtedly contributed to them scoring just three points during meaningful action.
Whether it is mixing up play-calling duties once again or changing the playbook itself, the Bears offense had a bit of an identity crisis this year and if that bleeds into 2021, it may not matter who is under center.
Bring back Allen Robinson
This likely should have been done a long time ago and now Robinson seems intent on seeing what the open market has to offer. That said, Chicago should do whatever it can to be competitive in bringing the star receiver back as this offense desperately needs playmakers. Of course, they could place the franchise tag on Robinson, but that would open up an entire can of worms that displeases the pass catcher, who just put up a career-high 102 catches.
Robinson has publicly talked about his affinity for the city of Chicago and the Bears organization, so he would likely be open to a return and it would be in the club's best interest going forward to make that happen. If the team can't, the franchise tag likely needs to be deployed so that the Bears don't lose arguably their best player for nothing.
Make tough calls to help cap situation
Chicago isn't in the best situation cap-wise, ranking 20th in the league in available space this offseason, per Spotrac. That may mean that some tough decisions need to be made to give the club more wiggle room as it builds a foundation going forward. The Bears could create space by moving on from the likes of corner Kyle Fuller (clears $11 million) and/or defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (could clear $10.5 million).
Not only would moves of that nature -- while hard decisions -- create more space, but Chicago could also gain some assets in return and bring some youth to the defensive side of the ball. Bringing in younger players can help build a unit for the long haul, and with the Bears committing over $41.3 million of their cap to linebackers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, they'll need to find more affordable players in other spots. The team could also look to move on from tight end Jimmy Graham, which would clear $7 million off the cap.