Progress or Mirage? It’s All Part of the Plan.

Some thoughts on The Athletic’s Dan Durkinsevisceration of owner George McCaskey’s comments at the owners meetings in Arizona:

“‘We want to continue to see the progress that we’ve seen so far,’ McCaskey said.

“Hearing these quotes in the middle of the desert at the NFL owners meetings seemed very fitting. The image the Bears have of themselves is a mirage. Fans thirsting for a winner are instead left out to dry, dealing with the reality of a bottomed-out franchise, savoring their last precious drops of water — nine to be exact, if we’re measuring what separates teams in the league: wins.”

“As a daily observer and analyst of this team, I’m struggling to see said progress. The Bears are selling history in the present. That’s just the fact of the matter. Legacies and stories about the days of old are about the only positive things fans can cling to at this point. Reality is just too hard to bear.”

I certainly understand where Durkin is coming from here.  Fans and media who measure progress in terms of wins from year to year are obviously going to think that such comments are down right foolish.  After all, how else is “progress” measured except as wins?

But neither McCaskey nor Bears fans can afford to think that way.  At least not too much.  Quick turn arounds are, indeed, possible in the NFL but they are just as often followed by quick declines.  What the Bears are aiming for and, indeed, what most teams in their position are aiming for, is long-term success.

In 2013 the Bears barely missed the playoffs and guys like Durkin called that visible progress.  But it was that progress that was the mirage as the Bears totally fell apart as a team in 2014, largely due to bad chemistry.  That chemistry was reportedly cause by the influence of veteran player like Brandon MarshallMartellus Bennett and, at least according to some, Jay Cutler.  The Bears have spent the last two years completely dismantling that team, a process that was only complete this offseason with the release of Cutler.  And that’s the reason why the Bears are in the position that they are in today.

Progress can, indeed, be an illusion, and fans can hardly be blamed for being skeptical.  But we’re probably really only now seeing the current Bears leadership implement the vision they had when they came in.

I truly believe that General Manager Ryan Pace loves new quarterback Mike Glennon despite the statistical evidence that indicates that he’s been mediocre to this point.  The signing of Glennon has led to the Bears being a laughing stock amongst media league-wide.  Despite that, Pace is betting heavily that he’s the answer.   Whether he is or not will be a large factor in determining whether the Bears are finally headed in the direction that McCaskey believes they are.  At least that’s the plan.

But perhaps more important are  the players the Bears have concentrated on in free agency.  Yes, those guys have limited talent and that probably is one of the things that makes Durkin and many Bears fans think that the team is spinning its wheels.  But, according to the plan, those guys are being counted on more to show the younger guys how to do it right and build a winning attitude.
For example, when Pace addressed the signing of back up quarterback Mark Sanchez, he didn’t even bother to try too hard to convince anyone that he thought the players was actually any good.
““I like him in this role for a lot of reasons, and one of them is the experience that he has. He’s been through the highs and lows of our league. He has played in some big markets. He has dealt with challenges. He has dealt with success,’ Pace said of Sanchez.  “I think he’s the kind of player that exudes confidence. I like that about him. He’s knowledgeable. He’s smart, and him and Mike have already kind of clicked. They’re together and they’re organizing workouts on their own, and those kinds of things are important.’”

And it’s that last point that is obviously the most important.  Sanchez is there to help Glennon.  That’s why almost all of the veteran signings are there, to help the younger players.  That’s why they’re short term contracts.  They’ll be replaced ASAP with more talent through the draft and that’s where the Bears plan to get it.  That’s how they will establish a foundation for long-term success.

Whether they can sustain success that way under the current regime is certainly a legitimate quesiton.  The 2016 draft class looks to have been a very successful one in that respect.  Cody Whitehair is already one of the top handful of centers in the NFL.  Jordan Howard is already amongst the elite running backs in the league.  Leonard Floyd showed promise in an injury marred season.  Nick Kwiatkowski also looks to have starter potential.  However, while the bears should be very happy with the 2016 rookie class, it it needs to be pointed out that the Bears’ 2015 draft class – Kevin White, Eddie Goldman, Hroniss Grasu, Jeremy Langford, Adrian Amos and Tayo Fabuluje – didn’t look anywhere near as good in their second year.

In any case, it has to be recognized that the veteran free agents are just there right now to establish the right culture – something that was lacking in the mirage of 2013 and led to the disaster that followed.

 I think George McCaskey probably has the right attitude.  As long as things look like they’re moving in the right direction, he’ll be OK with it.  That should show up in the form of more wins than 3.  But I don’t think there’s a target as long as they see progress towards a long-term goal.  And everything I see happening right now is geared towards that long-term plan even if it’s very tough to see sometimes.
We’re all going to have to be very, very patient, I think.  This thing is going to be, at best, pretty mediocre for at least a couple more years and during that time, we’re going to hear from media and fans like Durkin a lot.  Despite that, hopefully it will result in something special at the end.  The only way fans are going to be able to sustain that hope through the tough times ahead is going to be to see the Bears actions in the proper perspective.

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