Now that the Bears have Justin Fields in the fold for the foreseeable future, they’re set to dominate the NFC North and then the rest of the league, right? Not so fast says ESPN. On Monday, ESPN released “Future” Power Rankings, which aimed to list which teams have the brightest outlook for the next three seasons, and the Bears came in near the bottom of the barrel at No. 27.
To quantify the outlook for each team, ESPN graded five categories: QB situation (worth 20% of final score), Non-QB roster (30%), coaching (20%), drafting capabilities (15%), front office (15%).
ESPN did think Fields was the best thing going for the Bears moving forward, and gave their QB situation a 71.8, good for 20th-best in the league. From there however, things went downhill. Concerns about Matt Nagy’s ability to develop Fields into a premier QB, plus an aging defense led to a coaching score of 66.8 (25th) and an overall roster score of 72.0 (21st). However, the worst was reserved for Ryan Pace, who received a 59.3, the absolute worst in the NFL.
“The Bears have a clear and direct path to flying up these rankings in Justin Fields,” wrote Field Yates. “If the former Ohio State quarterback meets the promise so many see in him, Chicago's fortunes turn immediately, and GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy likely continue to be the architects of this team going forward. If Fields does not pan out, this franchise could be headed for change next offseason -- and the future is a little less bright with a roster that includes limited cap flexibility, draft capital and some aging veterans.”
“Can Nagy get Fields on the field and help him become a productive, winning QB quick enough for him to keep his job?” wrote Louis Riddick. “The offensive line is a concern for me with this team, and I have questions as to whether the Bears truly have enough firepower on the perimeter to help the young QB succeed early.”
The reservations are understandable, but to rate the organization universally poorly seems a bit unfair. It’s true Nagy wasn’t able to turn Mitchell Trubisky into the franchise quarterback the Bears hoped he would become, however this time around he’ll get to work with a rookie that he had a hand in selecting. That matters, and the last time Nagy worked with a young QB he helped scout in the draft process, things worked out pretty well. As for getting Fields in the starting lineup quickly enough to save his job, all indications from Halas Hall indicate that both Nagy and Pace will have a bit of runway to see through the development of Fields. They have not wavered in their messaging that his path to the gridiron will not be rushed, so there’s no reason to believe that would change in Week 5, or whenever buzz might start generating again for Nagy to be fired if the Bears start slowly.
As for Pace, it’s true that failing to re-sign Allen Robinson over the past two years, and letting Kyle Fuller go instead of working out an extension are recent black marks on his resume. If Robert Quinn can’t turn things around in 2021, that free agent signing could go down as one of the worst in Bears history too. But Pace also deserves credit for some savvy moves that helped dig the Bears out of the desperate irrelevance of the Marc Trestman/Phil Emery era. He made several shrewd free agent signings like Akiem Hicks and Allen Robinson, and has found gems in the draft like Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen, Bilal Nichols, Darnell Mooney and more. Pace also orchestrated two major-impact trades to bring in both Fields and Khalil Mack. His fingerprints are all over a defense that was regarded as one of the best in Bears history just a few years ago, yet he’s relegated to worst in the league now? That’s not right.
Meanwhile, the folks at ESPN weren’t much higher on the rest of the division. Aaron Rodgers drama in Green Bay dropped them to No. 13, and concerns about the pass rush in Minnesota led to a No. 19 rank for the Vikings. The Lions however ranked second-to-last, ahead of only the Texans, as they begin a rebuild with Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell at the helm.
Time will tell if ESPN’s power rankings are accurate or not. But one thing we know now is, if the Bears aren’t serious playoff contenders by 2023 then something has gone horribly wrong with the current plan to build around Fields.