Chicago Bears NFL offseason preview: Developing Justin Fields and OL are priorities for new regime

Bill Polian sees potential in Justin Fields, but he said it takes four years to develop into a first-rate quarterback. Stacy Revere/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- The lowlight of Matt Nagy’s stint as Chicago Bears head coach may have come in Week 3 this past season, against the Cleveland Browns.

Chicago was coming off a solid win against the eventual AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields was making his first NFL start, but Nagy’s game plan let him down in a big way on that Sunday in Cleveland. Fields was sacked nine times while producing a passer rating of 41.3. From that day forward, the Bears’ offense was a punchline.

The situation was emblematic of Nagy’s tenure, where any success the team had -- whether that be in a given week or even year -- was followed by disappointment. Playoffs one season, disappointment the next. It’s what factored into Nagy and GM Ryan Pace losing their jobs.

Head coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy vow to create an offense based on Fields’ strengths, which would be a departure from how Nagy ran things.

A departure from the past can only be a good thing for the Bears.

Projected salary cap: $27 million

Top free agents: WR Allen Robinson, OT James Daniels, DT Akiem Hicks, QB Andy Dalton

Potential cut candidates: Quarterback Nick Foles, defensive lineman Eddie Goldman

If the Bears are truly moving on from the past then cutting Foles needs to be part of that transition. The dead money isn’t pretty -- more than $7 million -- but at least they save $3 million and can turn the page on an expensive backup to the backup. Cutting Goldman would provide over $6 million in savings, and he wasn’t necessarily the same player from his pre-pandemic days.

The big question: How will the Bears' new regime maximize the skill set of Fields? GM Ryan Poles will have the first crack at it as he needs to upgrade the offensive line. Those nine sacks in Cleveland weren’t all on schemes and the playbook. Left tackle is a priority, but so are the skill positions, particularly on the edges. The Bears have several No. 2s at wide receiver but need explosiveness downfield. If Poles could wave a magic wand and steal free agent Davante Adams away from Green Bay, the Bears would look a whole lot better on offense.

It doesn’t stop with Poles, though. Getsy has to decide how to best use Fields, along with running backs David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert. That’s a solid trio of legs, so perhaps more RPOs will be in order. He’s already stated that play action will be a cornerstone -- all the more reason to get better on the outside.

Best case scenario: The Bears sign Adams and hit home runs in the later rounds of the draft (they don’t have a first-round pick) as they search for depth on their offensive line. If they can manage to keep star free agent defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, without curtailing their desires on offense, all the better.

Worst-case scenario for the team’s offseason: Poles doesn’t have the eye for scouting that his reputation suggests. If the offensive line isn’t markedly better in 2022 then the GM hasn’t done his job. And while the focus should be on the offense, the Bears’ defense needs some retooling as well. The Bears have five draft picks, so it will only take a couple misses for it to be a wasted year.