As Chicago’s roster takes shape after what was thought to be a monumental offseason, it’s becoming clear who may or may not be key parts of the team going forward, despite what was previously believed. Here are three winners and three losers of the 2023 offseason.
Fields has to make this list because the team announced with authority that Fields is The Guy.
Even after last season, it was fair to question if the Bears viewed Fields as the quarterback they wanted moving forward. (If we all acknowledge the moves Poles made this offseason show the team’s commitment to Fields, then we must also acknowledge that the moves Poles made last year showed uncertainty about the young quarterback.) The Bears did their homework on the quarterbacks in the draft — a decent group — and instead decided to stick with Fields, knowing they almost certainly wouldn’t be in position to draft a replacement next year.
Poles added a top-20 wide receiver and replaced the entire right side of the offensive line. He signed a free agent running back and drafted another; added a wide receiver in the draft and signed a tight end who has been a productive player in the NFL.
Fields is the guy, now he has to reward the faith.
Jenkins might have to fight for his job but there’s no question he will enter training camp as the favorite to start at left guard. Many expected the Bears to spend a Day Two pick on either a center or a guard. Instead, the team didn’t draft a single interior offensive lineman. That means Jenkins is penciled in at left guard with Cody Whitehair shifting to center and Lucas Patrick backing both of them up.
It’s certainly possible that Patrick will play well enough to shift Whitehair back to left guard and Jenkins to the bench, but considering Patrick was reportedly playing right guard — with free agent signee Nate Davis absent — at practice last week, it seems the plan is for Jenkins to be the guy. Patrick was also rotating with Jenkins at guard to start last season despite Jenkins’ inexperience at the position.
The Bears will probably bring in another defensive end and replace Gipson as a starter, but that is far from a guarantee. Even if they do, Gipson seems to be in line to get considerably playing time this offseason as he’d only have to beat out second-year player Dom Robinson.
Gipson should be the favorite to start at defensive end opposite Demarcus Walker. He played nearly 59 percent of the team’s snaps last year to Robinson’s 51. After picking up seven sacks in 2021, Gipson didn’t quite breakout like many had hoped in 2022. But he still had three sacks and 11 quarterback hits — by far the most on the team and nine more than Robinson.
There is little question that Johnson is among the best players on the Bears roster, but it’s beginning to seem like he may not fit the culture.
You can’t just read the words Matt Eberflus said at last week’s press conference to understand how annoyed he is that Johnson did not attend the team’s voluntary organized team activity practice. You have to listen to him; see his face when reporters ask questions about the starting cornerback. We went through this last year too. Johnson didn’t show up for an OTA practice and was on the bench when he returned. Keeping him on the bench wasn’t a realistic option a year ago, but it might be now.
The team seems to love Kyler Gordon and, while they see his most impactful position inside, it seems likely that he will continue in the same capacity he did last season — playing outside in the team’s base defense before shifting inside in sub-packages. Then the team traded up to secure Tyrique Stevenson, a corner who they clearly think can start outside.
Being a Miami guy, it was natural that Dave Wannstedt asked Eberflus about Stevenson, but what stood out to me was the unprompted compliments given to fifth-round pick Terell Smith — another boundary cornerback; a player Flus said had impressed the team so far before adding he was “excited” about the team’s competition at cornerback.
The team using a fourth-round pick on a player at the same position with a similar skillset is, at the very least, interesting.
It doesn’t seem likely that the Bears will be able to retain both Mooney and Chase Claypool next offseason, unless one of them has an underwhelming season. The team has already invested a considerable asset in Claypool and hearing Justin Fields throw unprompted praise at the relatively new Bear recently was, well, also interesting.
How many interesting facts do we need to draw a conclusion?
Through three seasons, Mooney and Claypool are pretty similar statistically. They’ll battle to be the team’s second wide receiver, but Mooney hasn’t been able to partake in the competition so far due to a serious injury suffered last season. If Mooney and Claypool have similar seasons again this year, who is the team most likely to stick with: The 6’4”, 240-pound freak who is unlike any other player they have on the roster or the 5’11”, 175-pound player who is very similar to one the team spent a fourth-round pick on? Also consider that Claypool is nearly a year younger than Mooney and isn’t coming off of an injury.
The Bears handling of Herbert has been a little odd.
After averaging a whopping 5.7 yards per carry, one would’ve thought that Herbert would get a bigger role as the season went on last year. But, in the final two months of the regular season, he managed more than 40 percent of the team’s snaps just once. In the final four games they both played, David Montgomery – who averaged just 4.0 yards per carry — had 134 snaps to Herbert’s 88.
When Montgomery left, it figured to be Herbert’s job. The team first signed Travis Homer, a player who could fill in for Herbert on passing downs. Then signed D’Onta Foreman, a player whose skillset is quite similar to Herbert’s. Like Herbert, Foreman’s best trait is explosiveness, using his 4.4-speed to explode through holes into the secondary. Unlike Herbert, Foreman is 235 pounds and can also move the chains in short yardage situations.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the team used a fourth-round pick on Roschon Johnson, a versatile back from Texas who can carry in short-yardage situations and help in the passing game. While not quite as explosive as Herbert or Foreman, the Bears didn’t draft a running back so high on Day 3 with the idea that he’d be sitting on the bench.