The first year of Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus' rebuild in Chicago was always about more than the win-loss record for the Bears. That's just the facts.
Poles and Eberflus arrived in Chicago to a roster that needed to be torn down to the studs. They have done just that. According to OverTheCap, the Bears have $52.85 million in dead cap money for the 2022 season. That's the second-most in the NFL behind the Atlanta Falcons.
While that reality hurts the Bears' 2022 prospects, it does improve their outlook going forward. Per OverTheCap, the Bears are projected to have $112 million in salary-cap space in 2023.
That's when Stage 2 of the rebuild begins.
As for this upcoming season, the Bears' playoff chances are understandably slim. PointsBet has their win total set at 6.5. Despite having six games on the schedule against the other bottom-feeders in the NFL, it seems unlikely the Bears will finish the 2022 season with more than seven wins. It's far more likely they go 5-12 than 8-9.
Not being negative, that's just the reality.
But the Bears' season could still be a success even if they walk off the field against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 18 at 6-11, 5-12, or worse.
The Bears shouldn't define success in 2022 by wins and losses.
Instead, a successful season should be based on the two people the Bears want to be the foundation of this rebuild: Justin Fields and Matt Eberflus.
Fields is entering a critical year for his NFL development after showing flashes of his star potential last season.
New offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's scheme remains a relative mystery at this point in the offseason. But given what we know about Getsy's history and his time in Green Bay, we likely can expect some variation of the Shanahan tree. That means an outside zone-heavy rushing attack with bootleg action off it and schemed throws to receivers running in space.
The most vital part of a successful rebuild is finding a franchise quarterback. The Bears believe they have one in Fields, but 2022 has to be about keeping the second-year signal-caller healthy and seeing the necessary upward trajectory.
If the Bears exit the 2022 season believing they have a long-term answer at quarterback, that's a win. If Fields shows he's the real deal, and the Bears end the season with a top draft pick to select an elite wide receiver – Jaxon Smith-Njigba, perhaps? – or edge rusher, the season will have been a success.
The rest of the equation belongs to Eberflus.
Hiring a first-time head coach was the bold but correct decision. Turning the franchise over to a retread head coach would only prolong the necessary rebuild.
With a young quarterback already in place, the Bears needed to nail the head coach hire.
Eberflus is a disciplined, defensive-minded coach who is in lockstep with Poles. The 2022 season will be a proving ground for Eberflus, giving us the first view into what he is like as a head coach. This season, the Bears will be at a talent deficit in most of their games. That's the hand Eberflus and Poles were dealt by the previous regime.
It's crucial for Eberflus to show that he is the right man for the job. Are the Bears disciplined? Are they aggressive? Do they learn from their mistakes? Is their consistent improvement on both sides of the ball? Wins and losses are secondary in this equation.
For Eberflus and the Bears, the 2022 season is about laying a foundation for what they will become, about learning repeatable habits that lead to on-field results. It's about getting everyone on the roster to buy into the Eberflus-Poles vision for what the Bears can be and getting them to lay brick on top of brick even if the losses pile up.
Herm Edwards famously said, "you play to win the game." That's undoubtedly true. But when facing a multi-year rebuild, some things are more important than wins and losses.
That will be true for the 2022 Bears.
If the Bears exit the season at 6-11, 5-12, or worse, but know they have a QB, a coach, and own a top-10 pick, the season will be a success.
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