NFL 2019: Here are the three moves the Bears can still make to boost their chances of reaching the Super Bowl
The Bears have finally emerged as a Super Bowl contender after a lengthy rebuild, but the job isn't done yet
Parkey missed an opportunity to give the Bears their first playoff win since Jay Cutler was still considered The Prince That Might Be Promised, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs protected the middle of Soldier Field like two great whites patrolling Seal Island, and Robbie Gould could be counted on to make kicks that actually matter, but Parkey's miss -- a 43-yard field goal -- shouldn't obscure the Bears' return to prominence. There's a good chance that this version of the Bears isn't a one-year wonder. Out of the 10 playoff teams that fell short of reaching last season's Super Bowl, the Bears are right up there with the Saints and Chiefs in terms of But they can't become complacent. Success in football can be fleeting.
There are two things to understand about the Bears' rise to power in the NFC North.
The first is that it didn't come out of nowhere. It was the culmination of a slow and steady rebuild that happened to coincide with the Packers' slow and steady decline. As the Bears acquired talented, cheap players through the draft and developed those players, many of whom fell to the mid-to-late rounds, into the studs they are today, made smart additions in free agency, , and to bring Khalil Mack to Chicago, the Packers got complacent. The end result was the Bears overtaking the Packers in the NFC North in dominant fashion and establishing themselves as the team to beat in the division. It required a lengthy rebuild, but the Bears are finally fully operational. Their five losses (including the one in the playoffs) came by a combined 15 points.
The second thing is that even though the Bears have built a good and young roster with very few holes and a few superstars, if they're not careful, they might regress. Both things can be true at the same time. The Bears can be a contender in 2019 and also a regression candidate. The Bears' roster is still loaded with talent, but they did lose two key players on the defensive side of the ball in slot cornerback Bryce Callahan and safety Adrian Amos, in addition to , who might just be impossible to replace. While the Bears deserved the 12 wins they captured in 2018, they were also lucky to have made it through the season mostly unscathed. In terms of injury luck, they were one of the most fortunate teams in football. That kind of luck might not continue into 2019.
With all that in mind, as we continue our offseason series here at CBS Sports, let's look at the moves the Bears can still make to ensure regression doesn't turn them into a one-hit wonder.
Given the overall talent level of their roster, there aren't many headline-worthy moves the Bears should make at this point in the offseason. They're not going to trade for another Khalil Mack or sign a Ndamukong Suh, because they don't really need to. In truth, the biggest key to the Bears' Super Bowl aspirations is already on their roster. How the Bears fare in 2019 will likely come down to Mitchell Trubisky's development at quarterback after an occasionally sensational, but maddeningly inconsistent second season. If he takes the next step, the Bears should be fine, even if their defense gets more banged up than it got a year ago. If he doesn't and the Bears' injury luck takes a turn for the worse, the Bears might stop following the Rams' trajectory and start following the Jaguars' path.
That said, there are still a few movies the Bears can make to improve their team. The first one shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
1. Trade for Robbie Gould
It's both a good and bad thing that the Bears' biggest weakness is their kicker.
It's a good thing in the sense that the rest of their roster is lacking serious holes. It's a bad thing in the sense that having an unreliable kicker can be the downfall of an otherwise good team and fixing a kicking problem isn't exactly easy because there aren't that many elite kickers in the NFL.
The worst part about all of this is that the Bears sabotaged themselves. General manager Ryan Pace is the reason why the Bears have a fatal flaw at kicker. Before the 2016 season, Pace made the decision to cut Gould. Since then, the Bears kickers have made 76 percent of their field goals in regular season games only. In that span, Gould has connected on 96.5 percent of his field goals with the Giants and 49ers.
one year after the Bears gave him a four-year deal with $9 million in guaranteed money. The Bears have since decided that their best method of replacing Parkey is to hold a massive competition with as many legs as possible. It's not a bad strategy. So far, though, it hasn't provided any clarity.
At rookie minicamp, the Bears had eight kickers each attempt a 43-yard field goal -- the distance of Parkey's miss. Only. As it stands, . The three of them have gone a combined 0-for-0 in the NFL. So, there's really no way to know if any of them will be the cure to the Bears' kicking woes.
The good news is that there's an obvious solution to the Bears' problem: Trade for Gould.
but because he wants to be closer to his family. His family lives in Chicago. The Bears need a kicker. It almost makes too much sense, right?
The problem is, the 49ers don't want to give up Gould. In their eyes, . To get there, they know they'll need a reliable leg. Gould is the second most reliable kicker in NFL history behind only Justin Tucker. They control his rights in 2019. Why would they trade him unless they get the kind of offer that's impossible to turn down?
The Bears probably don't want to give up a mid-round pick for a 36-year-old kicker they cut three years ago and it's almost definitely not a smart long-term move, but if they're serious about contending for a Super Bowl in 2019, they should offer up a mid-round pick for Gould, because it would immediately solve their biggest problem. Unlike a free agent like Matt Bryant -- another very good kicker -- Gould has proven he can handle the less than ideal conditions of Soldier Field.
Again, giving up a draft pick for an old kicker isn't smart. But Pace has demonstrated time and time again that if he wants a player, he's willing to give up draft ammunition. He traded up one spot for Trubisky. He traded up for a running back this year even though he entered the draft with barely any picks. If he wants Gould, he should go get him.
Smart or not, acquiring Gould would improve the Bears' Super Bowl chances more than any other move that's potentially on the table.
2. Add another veteran cornerback
The biggest personnel loss the Bears suffered this offseason was Callahan, who followed Fangio to Denver. Callahan was one of the league's best slot cover guys. His absence late last season was felt by the Bears. His absence will be felt again in 2019.
The Bears responded by signing Buster Skrine, who allowed a passer rating of 124.2 in coverage last season with the Jets, according to Pro Football Focus. The Bears should not expect Skrine to adequately replace Callahan.
Furthermore, a year ago, the Bears' lack of depth in their secondary was pointed out by many as a potentially fatal flaw. Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara are quality starting corners, but if either were to go down with an injury, the Bears would be in trouble. The Bears did take two cornerbacks in the draft, but both of those players -- Duke Shelley and Stephen Denmark -- were taken after the 200th pick. They can't be relied upon, at least not immediately.
The point being, the Bears could use some depth at cornerback. They can't find a better replacement for Callahan at this point in free agency, but they could sign a cheap veteran. Morris Claiborne, who has been a reliable player over the past seasons with the Jets, is still unsigned. He notched a career-high 14 pass breakups last season and has missed only two games since 2017. He's not better than Fuller or Amukamara, but he could be a good, cheap depth signing.
3. Sign pass rushing depth
It might seem weird to list the Bears' pass rush as a position of need, but it's all about adding depth behind Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks, and Bilal Nichols. Getting Aaron Lynch back was a smart move, because he's a quality rotational pass rusher. The Bears don't necessarily need another quality backup at the position, but pass rushers are a lot like ice cream: You can never have enough.
Former Packer Nick Perry, who is only a couple years removed from a 11-sack season, is available. Perry might not be the pass rusher he was during his peak, but he could be a nice rotational option behind Floyd and Mack. Another option could be Dion Jordan, who , but could be a nice addition by serving as a backup to Nichols at a point in the season when injuries could be beginning to mount. They'd both be luxury additions for a defense as good as the Bears, but the Bears are the exact kind of team (a Super Bowl contender) that should be adding luxuries.
The Bears had the league's best defense last season in large part because of their defensive front. Only two teams finished with more sacks. But according to Football Outsiders, the Bears also had one of the healthiest defenses last season. They likely won't be as healthy as they were a year ago. If one of their dominant pass rushers were to go down with an injury, the Bears need to be prepared.
That's why at this point in the offseason, they shouldn't be done adding depth in free agency, even at positions that might appear to be strengths. Without any major weaknesses outside of the kicker position (which might be an unsolvable problem barring a trade for Gould), the Bears can afford to add even more strength to their strengths.
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