Chicago Bears

What should the Bears’ top priority be in 2022?

The Chicago Bears aren’t expected to win many games in 2022. In fact, some analysts are projecting the Bears to be the worst team in the NFL. And while it’s true Chicago’s roster has its share of weaknesses, it’s also fair to say the Bears’ favorable schedule and improved coaching staff will lead to more success than anticipated.

The 2022 season is the first year of a massive rebuilding effort for the Bears. General manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus are the architects. Their first season on the job will be as much about surveying the state of affairs in Chicago as it will be about winning football games. But that doesn’t mean the main goal for the Bears shouldn’t be winning football games.

Wins vs. high draft pick: What should be the Chicago Bears’ focus in 2022?

The Bears are back in the first round in the 2023 NFL draft after not having a first-round selection in 2022. Former general manager Ryan Pace sent it to the New York Giants in Chicago’s trade-up for quarterback Justin Fields. Should the Bears suffer through another six-win (or worse) season in 2023, the reward will be a top-10 selection next April. And to some analysts, landing a high first-round pick will mean more to Chicago than a nine- or 10-win season.

“Any 9-8 or 10-7 run through a schedule slated with bad teams would likely be an outcome filled with fool’s gold,” NBC Sports Chicago’s Josh Schrock wrote. “One that could lead the Bears’ new regime down the wrong path, believing it’s closer to Super Bowl contention than reality suggests.”

Schrock pointed out the value of playoff experience for a young group of players like the Bears’ but suggested an early first-round pick in a draft year that includes at least two top-of-the-round quarterbacks will do more for Chicago’s long-term outlook.

“Think back two years to the 2021 NFL Draft,” Schrock wrote. “The 49ers owned the No. 12 pick while the Dolphins, who had just drafted Tua Tagovailoa a year earlier, were at No. 3. Miami did not need to draft a quarterback, while the 49ers saw an opportunity to get the signal-caller of Kyle Shanahan’s dreams. So the Dolphins leveraged their position and got that No. 12 pick and two future first-round picks from the 49ers for the No. 3 selection.”

First-round picks don’t always make a rebuild easier

Chicago Bears NFL Draft

Sure, it’s a great situation for any team with an apparent answer at quarterback to leverage an early first-rounder into a treasure trove of picks because of another team’s need at the position. But the Dolphins are also a cautionary tale for why football is about more than transactions. Acquiring draft assets are great, as long as you make the correct picks. It’s also critical to have the right coaches and organizational structure in place to take advantage of those picks.

The head coach on staff when Miami made that blockbuster trade, Brian Flores, is no longer there. He was replaced by Mike McDaniel, an offensive-minded coach who may have used some of the picks the Dolphins received in last year’s trade differently. It’s as if the Dolphins took one step forward, two steps back.

The Bears want to avoid that kind of roster-building seesaw at all costs.

Chicago Bears must focus on rebuilding a winning culture

It’s true that the best way to sustain success in the NFL is by drafting well. And the more picks a team has, the better their chances are at landing good players. But of equal importance is culture; players need to buy into the program and go to work every day with the mentality of a winner. For that to happen, the program needs to produce wins.

Here’s the other thing: the Bears have lost their fair share of games and have held their fair share of top-10 picks over the years. It’s time for a different set of goals. The NFL Draft can no longer be Chicago’s Super Bowl. Instead, the Bears — and their fans — have to begin every season expecting wins. It’s important to keep those expectations reasonable, though. And perhaps it would be unreasonable to predict the Bears will win 10 games or more in 2022. But it shouldn’t be outright dismissed, either.

An end-of-year record that approaches or barely exceeds .500 is the kind of season Chicago needs in Year 1 under Eberflus. Anything worse than that will begin the Eberflus era like many Bears coaches who preceded him. And that’s the last thing Chicago should want, even if it comes with a high first-round pick.

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