The Chicago Bears defense has guided the fortunes of this franchise for the better part of 70 years. People don’t remember the championship victories in 1963 or 1985 for outstanding quarterback play or even strong ground games. They’re remembered for their dominant defenses. Whenever this organization has found sustained success in the modern era of NFL football, it’s been on the back of their defense.
These past three years have been no different. Making the playoffs in 2018 and 2020, it was a talent-laden defensive group that navigated the team through the toughest parts of their schedule. Both times they showed out well in the postseason. They held Philadelphia to just 16 points. Then they kept the high-powered Saints to just seven points until four minutes left in the third quarter this past January.
Yet despite those strong efforts, it wasn’t enough.
GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy know the reality. If they’re going to break through towards a Super Bowl in Chicago, they must get more out of the offense. In order to do that, a re-allocation of team resources will likely be required. That means money. Right now, the Bears have the 7th-highest paid defense in the league at $99.84 million. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN hinted that significant salary cuts could be looming after this season. Especially if the defense doesn’t perform up to customary expectations.
“A once-great but now-aging Chicago defense can retool on the fly while maintaining star power. Akiem Hicks will have trade value, Robert Quinn has an out in his contract in 2022 and Khalil Mack has a modest (for his standards) $12 million salary with a $5.5 million roster bonus next year.
In fact, Chicago could move on from the contracts of Mack and safety Eddie Jackson after next season if it wants. The Bears can phase out certain players while building around promising young stars Roquan Smith and Jaylon Johnson.”
According to Over The Cap, the Bears are projected to have around $36.19 million in space next offseason. Cutting Robert Quinn and using post-June 1st cut designations for Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson would push them to $66.74 million. They could also part ways with Eddie Goldman for another $6.66 million if they wish. This paints a clear enough picture. If the Bears hope to be aggressive building around their new QB next year, they have the means to find the capital.
Chicago Bears defense has a foundation for the future
As Fowler pointed out though, this isn’t like back in 2013. That time the Bears’ veteran core was trying to hang on as long as possible. Both because they desired to keep playing but also because the organization had done a poor job restocking the roster with young talent. As Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman, and Lance Briggs left the picture? Nobody stepped into the void. As a result, the defense completely fell apart.
This time around could be different thanks to the presence of Roquan Smith and Jaylon Johnson. Both are 24-years old or younger and establishing themselves as high-end starters. Smith looks like an All-Pro while Johnson had the best season of any rookie corner in his draft class. If they continue to ascend, all Pace would have to do is add one or two core members and the Chicago Bears defense would be just fine.
All the while those freed-up dollars can go towards helping Fields.
Remember that Allen Robinson, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Germain Ifedi, and James Daniels are all free agents next year. So the offense could undergo a significant overhaul. Pace will need spending money. If sacrificing parts of the defense is needed to accomplish this goal? Then so be it. Fields is the future. His success will determine the ultimate ceiling of this franchise for the next five years at least.