Another year has past and the Chicago Bears found themselves moving in the wrong direction. The club was hoping to bounce back from a gut-wrenching one-point loss in the waning moments of the previous year's wild-card game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but did nothing of the sort. They instead battled injury at key positions and poor play from quarterback Mitch Trubisky, en route to an 8-8 finish and no playoff appearance.
Entering 2020, it's all about not only getting back to the winning ways they saw in 2018 when they went 12-4, but it's also about taking the next step and making themselves a contender.
To that end, they made the move to add Nick Foles as a means to push Trubisky and potentially take over at the most important position, they signed All-Pro pass rusher Robert Quinn and potentially solved the glaring hole at tight end in both free agency and the draft. As training camp gets underway, lots will be sorted out eventually, but what's clear is the Bears have all the pieces to return to the playoffs this season. With questions abound in Green Bay and the Detroit Lions being the Detroit Lions until further notice, there's no reason the Bears shouldn't give the Minnesota Vikings (and Packers) a run for their money in the NFC North.
If these three bold predictions come true, you can believe those who laughed at Chicago in 2019 will see those smiles turned upside down in 2020.
Nick Foles leads Chicago to a Wild Card berth
This would be something.
Most, if not all, have written off Foles as he readies to begin his career with the Bears, after being traded by the Jacksonville Jaguars after only one season into a four-year contract that included $50.1 million guaranteed and was structured to potentially max out at $102 million. Things got off to a fiery start in Week 1, when he started the opener against the Kansas City Chiefs by completing five of seven passes for 75 yards and a touchdown, but the wheels fell off immediately. Foles left that game early on with what was determined to be a broken clavicle, and rookie Gardner Minshew stepped in and took the NFL by storm.
Although Minshew cooled a bit just ahead of being replaced by Foles in November but it was clear head coach Doug Marrone was eyeing Minshew as the future, and he'd eventually bench Foles to achieve that mission. But, for Foles, late-season struggles after having returned from injury, he didn't exactly look washed up, but instead like a guy who might not have been quite 100 percent physically.
Now fully healthy, it's a good time to remember he's a former Super Bowl MVP who heads to Chicago to battle a thus far disappointing Mitch Trubisky. It's easy to presume the latter will begin the season as starter but don't be surprised if he ends the year on the bench. Foles is a proven veteran who simply needs a fresh start after having swam through the swamp that is the Jaguars, and likely feels this could be his last chance to again make some magic.
Khalil Mack lands career-best sack tally
It's weird this needs to be said, but Khalil Mack is still Khalil Mack.
Offseason rankings for NFL pass rushers have varied in how analysts view Mack, but there are times he's found himself on the back end of the "best of" lists, and there's no doubt the usually reserved three-time All-Pro is seething just a bit. Some are wondering if Mack is beginning to trail off a bit after being on an absolute tear for most of his career -- having registered four consecutive double-digit sack seasons heading into 2019. Having set the bar that high, it stands to reason he'd see question marks from those staring at the 8.5 sacks he posted last season in 16 starts, but deeper analysis reveals several reasons for the step back in production.
Simply put, Mack needs help, and not simply rotational help that can mostly be seen as an afterthought by opposing offenses. What he needs is another potent edge rusher and, spoiler alert, he now has one. Not to take away from the six sacks Nick Williams donated in 2019, but the addition of Robert Quinn in free agency adds another cannon to the armory, and Williams is now with the Detroit Lions. Quinn is coming off of a resurgent 2019 season with the Dallas Cowboys that saw him rack up a team-high 11.5 sacks, finding his All-Pro form once again en route to a five-year, $70 million deal with the Bears.
The team forked over that type of cash for a reason, and it's not simply because of what they believe Quinn will do from an individual standpoint, but also because they're visualizing what a tandem with Mack could mean for their defense. Mack never stopped being Mack, but if Quinn is truly back to being his former, dominant self and Akiem Hicks regains form -- having produced 23 sacks in his first three seasons with the Bears before missing 11 games in 2019 due to injury -- expect Mack to roughly double his sack count in 2020.
Cole Kmet becomes a top weapon in Year 1
Be it Trubisky to start and/or Foles to finish, Kmet won't waste any time getting acclimated.
The rookie second-round pick might be overlooked a bit in an offseason that saw the team trade for Foles and sign veteran speedster Ted Ginn out of retirement, as well as Jimmy Graham to presumably help provide a stopgap measure at tight end. The Bears might find out quickly they don't truly need the aging Graham though, because Kmet has all the tools to be the medicine for what ails them at the position and, as such, will likely find himself a key receiving target early on in his NFL debut. The Notre Dame product won't floor you with his collegiate production, but that's more attributable to QB issues for the Irish than anything Kmet supposedly did incorrectly.
He'll, unfortunately, enter a situation wherein his NFL team also has a QB issue, but they might also already have a solution, and if that's Foles -- you can bet the guy who loved tossing passing to the likes of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert will get aim at Kmet often. What also works in Kmet's favor is the fact there's an opportunity from the outset for him to become the No. 3 receiving option behind Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller, potentially even challenging Miller for targets a time or two.
The Bears desperately need to finally locate a tight end of the future, and it appears they have in Kmet, who has all the talent in the world to be the team's No. 1 TE. He'll have to go through Graham first though, but Chicago used a second-round pick on him because they think he can -- Graham initially being signed as draft insurance.
What the veteran might quickly end up being is depth, however.