The 2017 Chicago Bears off-season has been one of considerable turmoil. After a frustrating 2016 that saw the team struggle to a disappointing 3-13 finish, the front office has invested a significant amount of time and money into returning the franchise to respectability.
But will their efforts pay off when the season rolls around?
It’s too soon to say, and while the Bears certainly aren’t on anyone’s early list of Super Bowl contenders, one of the best parts of the off-season is fantasizing about what your team could accomplish with a fresh start and a new year. With that in mind, here are four dream scenarios that Bears fans everywhere are hoping will come to fruition in 2017.
Chicago Bears Dream Scenarios for 2017
A Franchise Quarterback Emerges
By now, the Chicago Bears off-season quarterback transactions have been nitpicked and scrutinized so much that fans are actively tired of hearing about it, so here’s a simple and direct recap:
• Jay Cutler was released after eight years as the team’s signal caller.
• Mike Glennon was signed to a three-year, $45 million contract, presumably to step in as the new starter.
• The Bears surrendered significant resources to trade up one slot and select North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Without question, Trubisky was drafted to be the team’s franchise passer of the future, but if the Bears realistically hope to compete in 2017, then high-caliber quarterback play is needed immediately. In this dream scenario, it doesn’t matter which signal caller it is that steps up, but someone absolutely must.
Perhaps Glennon, feeling the pressure of having a first-round rookie on the roster, steps up and delivers a career year like Derek Anderson did in 2007 after the Cleveland Browns had drafted Brady Quinn 22nd overall that off-season.
On the other hand, maybe Trubisky ends up being less of a project than initially thought, and immediately cements himself as a quality NFL starter, in a similar manner to what Cam Newton and Andrew Luck accomplished in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Even a showing similar to that of Carson Wentz last year would be commendable, and have Bears fans excited about the future.
Okay, so admittedly, these results are long-shots, but this column is called “dream scenarios” for a reason. The quality of quarterback play the team produces will go a very long way to determining how successful the season can be.
The Jordan Howard Breakout Continues
Now, this particular dream has a much greater chance of becoming a reality.
As a rookie, Jordan Howard was one of the best running backs in the NFL and very few people seemed to notice. In a season that saw fellow first-year man Ezekiel Elliott, breakout runner David Johnson, and the always electric Le’Veon Bell get most of the hype, Howard was arguably as productive as any of them.
Despite only starting 13 contests in 2016, Howard rushed for 1,313 yards (second in the NFL), with a sterling average 5.2 yards per carry (fourth in the NFL). While his total rushing yards were a reasonably distant second to Elliott’s 1,632, Howard’s 966 yards gained between the tackles were more than any other back in the league accumulated, and he was a beast in short yardage situation, too.
Jordan Howard was among the elite at the running back position in a number of ways, including short yardage situations pic.twitter.com/8P9yAjab3b
Clearly, Howard is capable of big things and with linemen like Cody Whitehair and Josh Sitton still in the mix, he has the potential to be even better in 2017. The sophomore is working diligently to improve as a receiver out of the backfield, and another off-season of repetition and experience will likely improve his productivity.
So what does Howard’s dream scenario involve? It’s simple, and he has already made it very clear (via The Chicago Tribune):
“I’m definitely trying to be the No. 1 rusher in the league this year,” the second year running back said.
That’s music to the ears of Bears fans everywhere.
A Number One Wideout Steps Up
After five seasons in Chicago, Alshon Jeffery is now with the Philadelphia Eagles. Even though Jeffery was banged up a lot over his last couple of seasons as a Bear, he was far and away the team’s top pass-catcher, and a reliable target for whichever quarterback was under center.
Now that he has moved on, Glennon and Trubisky have been left without a true number one receiver, and as such, someone has to step up. The Bears would love it if 2015 seventh overall pick Kevin White could be the player to do so, but the former West Virginia star has had a tough time staying on the field during his first two years in the NFL.
In fact, White has only played in four of a possible 32 games, as various leg injuries have kept him sidelined for the majority of his career. While he boasts an impressive combination of size and speed, there’s no way of knowing what he’s capable of accomplishing until the team sees more of him in game situations.
Someone the Bears should feel good about is third-year wideout Cameron Meredith. In 14 games last season (ten starts), Meredith snared 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns, while catching passes from a plethora of different quarterbacks. In fact, Meredith seemed to get better each week, and according to Pro Football Focus, the former Illinois State star led all NFL receivers with 3.14 yards per route run over the final five weeks of the season.
No wide receiver in the NFL was as productive as Cameron Meredith over the final five weeks of the 2016 season. pic.twitter.com/Kxx1AGHEGb
It was a truly impressive showing from the undrafted youngster, and perhaps a sign of what he’s capable of accomplishing in the future with a larger role and greater target share. There is no doubt that he is a legitimate breakout candidate in 2017.
The Defense Gets Back on Track
By now, the story of the 2016 Bears defense is pretty clear. While the team performed admirably against the pass (seventh in the NFL), they struggled mightily in run defense (27th in the NFL), and ultimately surrendered 399 points (ninth-most in the NFL).
Looking at those numbers, it seems reasonable to arrive at the conclusion that the Bears are a poor defensive team, but that’s not entirely fair. This unit dealt with numerous injuries last year and in actuality, the defense features some very talented football players.
Clearly, with 2016 first-rounder Leonard Floyd, Danny Trevathan, breakout star Akiem Hicks, Pernell McPhee, and the criminally underrated Cre’von LeBlanc in the mix, the Bears have a reasonably solid base of contributors. Not to mention, the Bears are also fortunate enough to enjoy the talents of Jerrell Freeman, the NFL’s best linebacker in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus.
The top linebackers from 2016 pic.twitter.com/9IwfIhy4PO
In addition to all of these quality returning players, the Bears added Marcus Cooper, Quintin Demps, Prince Amukamara, and Jaye Howard in free agency, and drafted Eddie Jackson in the third round, in the hopes of shoring up the stop unit.
Now, does any of this mean the Bears will field a top-five NFL defense next season?
Probably not, but if injuries can be avoided and the new additions can make an immediate impact, suddenly we’re talking about a much more productive campaign ahead. The dream scenario here is simple. Make some stops. Keep the score down. Don’t force Glennon or Trubisky to have to throw all the time. This way, the Bears can lean heavily on Howard and the running game, and remain competitive in all contests. It’s not as far-fetched a possibility as it might seem.
The Bears need to have a lot of things go their way in order to find success in 2017. This much is certain. Expectations in the Windy City are somewhat lower than in years past, but that doesn’t mean things can’t turn around in a hurry. Does everything on this list have to happen in order for this team to prosper next season? Not necessarily, but if all of these scenarios do in fact play out, the Bears could prove to be the surprise team of 2017.