CHICAGO -- It might not be a stretch to think the best is yet to come for the Chicago Bears.
They exorcised an important demon on Sunday by clinching their first division title since 2010, but the ultimate goal is to build a winner that is routinely a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
An argument can be made the Bears are on that path.
Chicago’s future hasn’t looked so bright since Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman were playing in the prime of their careers in 2005. That group, led by head coach Lovie Smith, won three division titles from 2005-10 and one NFC championship.
Smith’s group was the closest thing to sustained success since the Bears have had since the Mike Ditka teams of the 1980s and early 1990s.
A quick glance at the current Bears core reveals a roster loaded with starters -- on both sides of the ball -- 28 or younger: quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (24), all-purpose threat Tarik Cohen (23), wide receiver Allen Robinson (25), tight end Trey Burton (27), left tackle Charles Leno Jr. (27), left guard James Daniels (21), center Cody Whitehair (26), safety Eddie Jackson (26), outside linebacker Roquan Smith (21), cornerback Kyle Fuller (26), inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (28), outside linebacker Khalil Mack (27), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (24), wide receiver Anthony Miller (24), wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (27) and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (26).
“Hopefully we can keep the same group of guys together,” Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara said on Sunday. “With the way everyone is playing you can’t pay everyone in this league, but I think one constant we do have is going to be our head coach and our quarterback. Those are recipes for success.
“When you think of a dynasty, you think of what the Seahawks did and what the Patriots are doing, and I think all of that comes from continuity and when you have the same guys, like we on defense, we tried to keep most of the same guys from last year and now we are reaping the benefits.”
Amukamara is correct. You can’t pay everyone in the NFL. The Bears, however, have locked up numerous key veteran players long-term such as Mack, Leno, Robinson, Burton, Fuller, Gabriel, Goldman, Akiem Hicks (29) and Amukamara, who turns 30 in June.
Many of the other important parts are still playing on their original (and affordable) rookie deals.
“We're a young team,” 40-year-old head coach Matt Nagy said. “[Bears general manager] Ryan Pace and [director of football administration] Joey Laine have done a really good job with -- contractually with these guys. And that's such an important part that you see, I think with our team we are set up for the right way and the right direction.
"There are just so many things that go into it with things down the road, but we're in a good spot right now and we know that. And to be where we're at right now as we stand we know down the road we want to just keep this thing going.”
Each year presents unique challenges. No one understands that better than cornerback Sherrick McManis, the most-tenured Bear on the current roster.
“Every year is different,” McManis said. “Every year is a new team. I’ve been through four different coaches since I’ve been here so I really understand that process. But regardless if you have the same coaching staff or not, every year is different. So, you have to refocus, you have to get back together and mesh as a team in order to give yourself an opportunity to be successful.”
The Bears feel they are positioned to do just that -- health permitting.
As Green Bay heads toward an offseason full of more inevitable changes and Minnesota -- once viewed as a Super Bowl favorite -- fights to earn a wild-card berth, the Bears resemble the NFC North’s most stable operation.
That hasn’t been true in a long, long time.
“The coaching staff is doing a great job of creating a culture that caters to the players,” Amukamara said. “It’s not like public school and it’s not like private school, it’s just in the middle where we have enough boundaries but we have room to be who we are in those boundaries. It’s working.”