The Chicago Bears are the ultimate example of how to reset an NFL franchise, and in a three-year period have become legitimate Super Bowl contenders once again.
In 2014, the Bears went 5-11 for the season and looked like they lacked any legitimate talent on either side of the ball. Fast-forward four years and they’re the sneaky-good team that nobody wants to play in the playoffs.
They grabbed their first NFC North title in eight years with victory over bitter rivals Green Bay – an irony in so many ways, given the Packers have been mishandling funds and wasting the career of the most talented quarterback to ever play the game for nearly a decade now.
Chicago began their redevelopment in 2016. They used good draft collateral, shrewd free agency pickups and entered seasons without the fear of losing, knowing full well that this league comes full circle. That’s the first admission that NFL general managers need to make.
In 2016, the Bears extended the deals of low-profile players like Sam Acho, Josh Bellamy and Zach Miller. They spared a lot of cap room and cleverly went about drafting Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, Jonathan Bullard and Jordan Howard. That’s how you build at minimum cost.
Their scouting network enabled them to build up slowly, under the blueprint of spending little until you’ve got a franchise quarterback on a rookie deal so you exploit the remaining money.
Chicago were vigilant and in no rush.
In 2017, they made their move by picking Mitch Trubisky from North Carolina with the second overall pick in the NFL Draft. The franchise believed in him going forward, and would gladly have another losing season in exchange for him getting reps at pro level.
In that draft, they also picked up Adam Shaheen from a tiny college in addition to a genuine MVP contender in Eddie Jackson in the third round. You don’t often get franchise players on both sides of the ball in the same draft class. The Bears did. They also added one of the most dangerous running backs in the game – Tarik Cohen.
In 2018, they struck. They brought in former Giant and Jags defensive back Prince Amukamara, enhanced special teams with Pat O’Donnell and extended Kyle Fuller. They also took one of the best players in the draft in Roquan Smith at linebacker and picked up Taylor Gabriel from Atlanta.
In the space of three years, the Bears had a franchise quarterback, a brilliant running back tandem, an All-Pro mauler in Cody Whitehair, functional receivers, two lockdown corners, one of the best linebacking prospects to come out of college and a safety who may be the best in football.
Oh, and they traded for the best pass rusher in football – Khalil Mack – to take them to the next level.
If Chicago win a Super Bowl, it won’t just be an example in how to craft a team to win, but also how to set up a franchise to win long-term. Sometimes in sport, you need to be fearless in losses to be consistent in wins.
The Bears were just that.