Thinking about 2022 as a developmental season means thinking about what the primary roster needs will be heading into 2023. And just three weeks into the season, those needs are becoming clear on the defensive side of the football.
First things first. The Bears should not even consider letting Roquan Smith play elsewhere next season. Does that mean signing him to a $100 million contract? Not necessarily. While a happy Roquan is the best possible outcome for both sides, it was obvious Sunday that Roquan is more than capable of delivering a professional (and brilliant) performance even without the (somewhat absurd) guaranteed money he seeks. The franchise tag is awful for players, but it exists, and the Bears should not hesitate to use it on one of the best defensive players in the league. Unless another team approaches with a knockout trade offer Roquan should be wearing #58 in Chicago next year.
Second is the secondary, which looks solid at the very back and sketchy everywhere else. At corner, there are too many questions. Can Jaylon Johnson stay healthy for a season? Kindle Vildor has shown an ability to make plays, but can he display the consistency required to be a starting NFL corner? Kyler Gordon is a rookie, and rookies struggle, but some of Gordon’s struggles are, let’s just call them…eye-popping. Yet there are still plenty of moments that show why Gordon was selected in the second round, including several in the second half Sunday. Can he overcome the former and produce more of the latter? Corner is a position where you can’t have too much talent and the Bears need to add several quality bodies.
Last, and the opposite of least, is the defensive front. There is some talent on this line, but it’s hard not to notice two alarming trends.
- For as good as the Bears have been running the ball, they have been equally bad defending the run. They’re getting pushed off the ball and it’s now very clear why their first free agent target was Larry Ogunjobi. They lack heft in the middle of the line.
- The Bears are struggling to get off the field on third downs, primarily because their pass rush disappears in those spots. (Robert Quinn seems like he’s been a few feet from about ten sacks.) There is no such thing as a great defense absent a great pass rush. The quickest route to a great pass rush is finding yourself a great pass rusher. It will likely be their second biggest need this offseason.
Through three games, the Bears are firmly a mid-table defense, which should give fans confidence in what Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams are building in Chicago. They don’t have top of the league defensive talent. But they might only be three or four players away from being among the game’s best.