My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top -- cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures -- and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).
Bears 2020 Recap
The Bears were who we thought they were, a defensive-led team failed by quarterback play. Between Mitchell Trubisky (9 starts) and Nick Foles (7), Chicago finished 24th in passing EPA behind the No. 25 pass-blocking offensive line. Allen Robinson’s miracle work and David Montgomery’s second-half emergence were just enough to sneak into the playoffs, but the Bears Offense had no vertical game with Trubisky struggling to see the field without pocket panicking. Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, and Akiem Hicks had down years relative to their potential on defense, but the unit was well-coached and ultimately finished 14th in points allowed. Most of the defense will return in 2021, but the coaching staff and front office only have so many options under their capital constraints to fix QB, WR, and OL this offseason. Give me the under on 8.0 wins next year.
Bears 2021 Offseason
Bears Cap Space
-$2.5 million (22nd)
Bears Draft Picks
1.20, 2.52, 3.84, 5th, 6th, 7th, plus compensatory picks
Bears Cut Candidates
Bears Depth Chart
% of Passes
RB (Early Down)
RB (Third Down)
Offensive Coordinator: Coach Matt Nagy and OC Bill Lazor were in charge of play-calling at various points of last season, but the offense was limited due to quarterback and offensive line play. With their cap space, it’s difficult to see how either of those issues are resolved in 2021. If Nick Foles or another pro-style guy is the quarterback, Chicago will likely incorporate more three-receiver sets while mirroring outside zone runs with play-action passes. They were 10th in play-action rate last year and had the second lowest YPA (5.8) on non-PA attempts. At the same time, da Bears want to play slow (27th in neutral pace) in an attempt to hide their offense. It’s not going to be a fantasy friendly offense. You already knew that.
Passing Offense: It would cost the Bears more money to cut Nick Foles than keep him in 2021, and a trade only saves the Bears $1.3M or $4.0M depending on if it happens before or after June 1st. Foles has a reasonable chance of remaining on the roster, and the Bears don’t have too much money to find a much better quarterback. It’s likely going to be a bad quarterback situation again. Complicating things is Allen Robinson’s contract situation. He’s a free agent, but the Bears are likely to at least slap the franchise tag on him even if he has no intentions of playing another down in Chicago. A sign-and-trade is an option, although GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy don’t have time to acquire future draft picks. Behind Robinson, the Bears have a low-volume vertical threat in 2020 fifth-rounder Darnell Mooney and inconsistent slot man Anthony Miller. Those are fringe starters. Chicago likely moves on from Jimmy Graham ($7.5M in cap savings), allowing 2020 second-round TE Cole Kmet to move into a full-time role. He’ll be targeted frequently next year.
Rushing Offense: Late in the 2020 season, the Bears transitioned into a outside zone rushing team, which partially explains David Montgomery’s explosion. But the two primary driving forces were a cupcake schedule and Tarik Cohen’s ACL injury. With Cohen under contract, Montgomery may lose third-down reps in 2021 and thus his RB1 workload. He averaged 19.2 expected PPR points without Cohen and 12.7 with him. Both Montgomery and Cohen will be running behind an offensive line that’s currently only losing RG Germain Ifedi and that likely will be healthier next season (2018 second-round LG James Daniels only played five games and RT Bobby Massie only played eight last year). With that said, this line is still one of the league’s ten worst. A repeat of last year’s No. 18 rushing EPA ranking would arguably be a good outcome.
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% of Plays
Defensive Coordinator: The Chuck Pagano replacement is dope as hell. Sean Desai, 37, is a first-time defensive coordinator and the first NFL coordinator with Indian descent. Desai is nicknamed “Doc” by players because he majored in philosophy and received his PhD in education. Don’t see that very often, but it’s easy to see how that background would help with coaching. Since this is an in-house promotion, the Bears scheme should be quite similar to last year’s when they blended both man and zone concepts (sometimes all at once). They commonly ran Cover 6 (Cover 2 on half the field and Cover 4 on the other side), while rarely blitzing (21%, 29th). The formula requires edge pressure and smart defensive backs, both things the Bears have on the roster. This defense should be good once again.
Passing Defense: The Bears have two quality starters at outside corner in veteran Kyle Fuller and 2020 second-rounder Jaylon Johnson. The latter had Round 1 talent -- he was my No. 23 prospect last year -- but shoulder surgeries are a short- and long-term issue. Having some depth wouldn’t be a bad idea for 2021. Slot corner belongs to 32-year-old Buster Skrine who was the vulnerability in last year’s pass defense. It’s a position of need, especially with him listed as a cut candidate. The Bears are losing starting SS Tashaun Gipson to free agency as well. The secondary is in okay, not great shape. Up front is another story with Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn under contract. Even without blitzing much, the Bears were 15th in adjusted sack rate last year. A few depth pieces to replace free agent Barkevious Mingo is all that’s missing at edge.
Rushing Defense: Defensive tackle will be a strength provided Akiem Hicks isn’t cut ($10.5M cap savings) and former second-rounder Eddie Goldman returns from his 2020 opt out. The Bears will need to find a replacement for rotational disrupting DTs Mario Edwards (4.0 sacks), DT Brent Urban, and DT Roy Robertson-Harris, however. The same thing can be said at linebacker. 2018 first-round Roquan Smith is an emerging stud up the middle, but 31-year-old MLB Danny Trevathan is a liability at this stage of his career. A rookie linebacker would make sense as an eventual replacement and 2021 depth option. Overall, the Bears have the potential to be a top-10 run defense, but there are some moving parts to be sorted out.
Bears Team Needs
1. Quarterback - No words are needed.
2. Outside Receiver - It’d be a surprise if Allen Robinson straight up walked in free agency, but it’s possible that the Bears franchise tag-and-trade him this offseason if he forces his way out. With Darnell Mooney providing a vertical element as the No. 2 receiver, Robinson or another physically-dominant No. 1 receiver is needed.
3. Offensive Guard - 2016 second-round C Cody Whitehair and 2018 second-round LG James Daniels are quality starters on the interior, but there’s a hole at right guard with Germaine Ifedi leaving for free agency. The Bears’ offensive tackle situation is also prime for upgrades. Chicago was 25th in PFF’s pass-blocking grade.
4. Strong Safety - Tashaun Gipson and a couple of backup safeties are free agents, and Eddie Jackson is a pure free safety. The Bears commonly played Cover 2, Cover 4, and Cover 6 last year, something I expect new DC Sean Desai to utilize in 2021. The Bears are looking for a strong safety with some coverage skills, not a single-high thumper.
5. Slot Corner - Buster Skrine is still under contract, but he’ll be 32 next season and was a weakness in the Bears’ secondary. With Jaylon Johnson and Kyle Fuller on the perimeter, the Bears could have one of the better cornerback depth charts with one more body added this offseason. They ranked 11th in passing EPA defense last year.
2021 Fantasy Football Rankings
Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.
FA Allen Robinson (WR1/2) - The landing spot will determine the final ranking, but Robinson’s production with bad quarterback after bad quarterback keep him on the WR1/2 border heading into free agency. The soon-to-be 28-year-old was PPR’s WR12 per game on WR6 fantasy usage last year. Hopefully he gets franchise tagged-and-traded to a contender this offseason.
David Montgomery (RB2) - Through 25 NFL games, Montgomery was averaging 3.65 yards per carry and 54.4 rushing yards per game. Then -- partially thanks to a schedule featuring GB, DET, HOU, MIN, JAX, and GB -- the second-year pro averaged 5.16 YPC and 99.7 YPG to close out 2020. Adding to the confusion are Montgomery’s splits with (12.5 PPR points per game) and without (18.1) Tarik Cohen. With Cohen’s contract locking him onto the 2021 roster, Montgomery’s role is uncertain.
Cole Kmet (TE2) - Jimmy Graham is likely to be released ($7.5M cap savings), clearly the way for a full-time role for Kmet. The 2020 second-rounder has enough athleticism to earn targets on an offense that’s currently lacking receiving talent. His upside is capped by the offense, but there’s a TE1/2 path after Graham walked to a TE15 per-game finish in 2020.
Darnell Mooney (WR7) - Only 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, Mooney projects as a No. 3 receiver long term but has a chance to be the second target once again in 2021. Unfortunately, the quarterback situation will work against Mooney’s strengths as a vertical receiver. Mooney was PPR’s WR68 per game and finished 94th in yards per route run last year.
Tarik Cohen (RB6) - Probably because of his petite frame (5’6/191), Cohen has struggled since 2019, averaging just 3.7 YPC and 4.4 YPT across 163 touches. A 2020 torn ACL won’t help either. The scatback offers little ceiling even in the event of a David Montgomery injury. His body simply can’t handle a three-down workload.