The fantasy football offseason is upon us. Coaches have lost their jobs, and some players are primed for bidding wars in free agency or find themselves on the trading block. Looking over the final rankings at each position, it’s clear that some teams need more help than others. Scoring was down across the league, directly impacting the number of fantasy points scored. As we kick off the 2023 offseason, let’s take a look at a few teams that can use free agency, the trade market, and the draft to improve their offenses. And who better to start with than the worst team in the league last year? Let’s fix the Chicago Bears for 2023.
Fixing the Chicago Bears
The Bears ranked 28th in total offense, averaging 307.8 yards per game. The good part of this? They ranked first overall in rushing offense, totaling 3,014 rushing yards on the season. How impressive is that? They’re only the 5th team in the modern era to eclipse 3,000 rushing yards in a season. In this new pass-happy era, they’re the third team in the last four years to eclipse it.
The Passing Stats
The bad part? They ranked dead last in passing yards with 2,219. That’s the 8th-lowest total by a team in the league since the year 2000. In addition, their 377 pass attempts were the 2nd-fewest by a team since 2000. So for as good as their rushing offense was — led by the legs of QB Justin Fields — their passing offense was the polar opposite.
Fields has become a pretty polarizing player not just in league circles but also in the fantasy football community. We love QBs that can run, and let me tell you, we fell in love with his 1,143 rushing yards and eight rushing TDs. However, they also need to be able to throw the ball. Fields completed 60.4% of his passes, was sacked 55 times, and led the league in average time to throw at 3.45 seconds. He also ranked 27th among QBs in passer rating (85.2) but 17th in QBR (53.9). Safe to say, Fields is still an incomplete product.
Fields’ top pass catcher was TE Cole Kmet. Kmet saw 69 targets (nice) for a 50/544/7 slash line. Fields’ top targeted WR was Darnell Mooney, with 61 targets, and he only played 12 games. The top WRs in the game typically command 125+ targets. So I can safely say there’s work to be done all across this offense.
Where to Start?
When you spend a first-round draft pick on a QB, the goal is that they provide you a sense of hope that your franchise is headed in the right direction. Well, their record has steadily regressed in the two years since the Chicago Bears traded up to draft Ohio State’s Justin Fields. They now sit with the number one overall pick in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft.
Some network prognosticators say that Bears GM Ryan Poles should move on from Fields and spend the first overall pick on the best young QB in this upcoming draft. Presumably, that would be Alabama’s Bryce Young. However, I’m sure Fields would garner plenty of interest on the open market. He is a young QB who has flashed plenty of potential while going through two offensive systems in two seasons and had arguably the worst arsenal of talent around him this past season.
But trading the number one overall pick to a team that needs a franchise QB? Now THAT’S how you fast-track a rebuild.
The Bears have the most available cap space of any team in the NFL at a projected $108 million. They have arguably the most attractive trade piece in all of football — the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft. They can turn this thing around quickly, much in the same way that the Jacksonville Jaguars did, going from number one overall pick to the NFL playoffs in just one season.
So how can we fix the Bears’ offense and ensure that they deliver us plenty of fantasy points in 2023? Let’s look at some moves they can make, starting in free agency.
Address The Offensive Line
The “best” available offensive tackle is scheduled to be Kansas City’s Orlando Brown. Brown and the Chiefs talked long-term deal last season, but talks fell apart. So, the expectation is that they’ll work a deal out, but if he does hit the market, I wouldn’t be so quick to go after him. He allowed the most hurries and second-most pressures on the Chiefs, plus four sacks. His 47 pressures-allowed ranked 4th among all tackles. His 36 hurries-allowed ranked 2nd. For a QB like Fields, who holds onto the ball too long, this doesn’t sound like money well spent. The only other notable free-agent LT is Isaiah Wynn of the Patriots. My co-host with No Punt Intended, Joe Zollo, will tell you he is awful.
At right tackle, San Francisco’s Mike McGlinchy will be highly sought after, but John Lynch and the 49ers will make every effort to bring him back. So why not look at a backup LT with high draft capital who just had better players in front of him the last few years?
Andre Dillard is a former first-round pick as a left tackle. He was thrust into playing right tackle due to an injury to Lane Johnson, and he struggled. Then, Dillard’s own injury opened the door for a former rugby player, Jordan Mailata, to take the starting LT job. Mailata has been outstanding and has never given the job back.
This season, Dillard has excelled in limited reps as a backup along the whole offensive line. He comes from an Eagles system that has churned out a top-three offensive line for years, and he’s entering his prime years at 28. With limited experience, he shouldn’t command $15+ million per year, but he’s coming off a season where he posted a top-15 pass-blocking grade, per PFF, albeit on only 37 snaps. What made him a first-round pick in the first place was his ability as a pass blocker — where the Bears need serious help.
What About Guards?
After adding a tackle, let’s look at the guard market. Here the Bears can find a starter that can be an anchor in front of Fields for the next five years — Eagles’ starting RG Isaac Seumalo.
Seumalo’s contract can be voided if he’s on the roster by the 23rd day leading up to the new league year. That means there’s a chance he doesn’t reach free agency. But the Eagles have approximately $10.4 million in cap available and a lot of impact players to re-sign. Moreover, Seumalo is 30 years old. So, while he still has plenty of good years left, Philadelphia may look elsewhere.
Seumalo ranked 5th in pass block grade among all RGs, per PFF. However, he allowed only one sack and three QB hits all season. Plus, he has experience blocking in front of a mobile QB who extends plays with his legs. Seumalo’s run blocking leaves much to be desired (11th among RGs), but they would rank better than all but two current Bears — RG Teven Jenkins and rookie LT Braxton Jones. Adding Seumalo helps shore up the inside to push Jenkins back to RT, where he was drafted to play, to fix THAT problem.
If they swing and miss on Seumalo, Will Hernandez would be a great pivot. He’s two years younger and had a solid bounce-back season in Arizona after a couple of disastrous seasons in New York with the Giants. He also was tied with Seumalo in pass block grade a year ago but was significantly worse as a run blocker.
Upgrade the Running Back
Paying running backs isn’t smart business. But when you have roughly $108 million to spend, why the hell not? Justin Fields will take attention away from defenses, opening things up for whoever is behind him to run wild. And this is an offense that ran the ball 558 times in 2022, one behind league-leader Atlanta Falcons. Khalil Herbert, when healthy, handled 129 carries and averaged 5.7 yards per carry and 3.67 yards after contact per attempt. You know who else has some speed, averages over 5 yards per carry, and is good at breaking tackles? Dallas’ Tony Pollard.
Pollard asserted himself in the Cowboys’ offense in 2022, finally showing that he’s the best running back on the team. He handled 193 carries, racked up 1,007 yards, and totaled 12 TDs (3 receiving). Pollard also finished with 41 forced missed tackles, averaging 3.82 yards after contact per attempt. The man he’d effectively be replacing, David Montgomery, totaled 46 forced missed tackles, averaged 2.9 yards after contact per attempt, and only 4 yards per carry (only 0.1 YPC above his career average). So yeah, let’s upgrade the number-one rushing attack in the NFL. (I can’t believe I just typed out those words.)
The idea behind paying for a new starting RB is simple — plug holes on offense in free agency so you can supplement the offense and build the defense in the draft. A potential trade back from the 1st overall pick (more on that later) adds more capital with which to work. Put Pollard in a one-two-three punch with Herbert and Fields, and you have the makings of a very dynamic backfield.
Call Around For WRs
Giving up a second-round pick to get Chase Claypool was an admirable, if not stupid, attempt to get Justin Fields a legitimate weapon. Claypool rewarded the Bears’ confidence with 14 catches in seven games. Unfortunately, as a big receiver who struggles with separation, Claypool also struggled in contested catch situations with Fields at QB. Claypool only caught two of such contested catches (six opportunities). To make matters even worse, Claypool set career lows in every significant receiving category this season — targets (76), receptions (46), yards (451), touchdowns (1), and yards per reception (9.8). Even his more advanced stats were way down, including yards per route run (1.07) and an average depth of target (11.0).
Maybe Claypool bounces back with an entire offseason in the offense and with Fields? However, you can’t bank on it happening and potentially setting Fields back another year. Instead, you could go the draft route and hope the trend of rookie WRs putting up elite performances continues.
Or you can pick up the phone and make a few phone calls.
Last offseason, we saw the Titans choose not to sign A.J. Brown to an extension and trade him to Philadelphia. They then used their first-round pick on WR Treylon Burks, effectively resetting the clock on investing big money into the WR position. All Brown did was go for 1,496 yards and 11 TDs. The Bills made a similar move a few years ago, adding Stefon Diggs from the Vikings to help Josh Allen ascend to greatness.
The Broncos, Bengals, Colts, and potentially the 49ers could find themselves in a similar situation to Tennessee. They all have young WRs about to enter their 4th season and are eligible for an extension. Here are the potential targets for the Bears.
The Broncos will have a ton of cap space in 2024 but have already handed out large extensions to WRs Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick. Couple that with the amount of money being paid to Russell Wilson and the need to extend defenders like Patrick Surtain. This creates a scenario where Jeudy becomes available. If he does, Chicago should make a play to go get him.
I’ve never been the biggest Jerry Jeudy fan, but he took a giant leap in 2022. He set career highs in catches (68), yards (987), and touchdowns (6). However, he finished 12th among WRs in yards per route run (2.16) and 6th in yards after the catch per reception (6.1). He’s mainly been a slot receiver throughout his career, and that’s where Darnell Mooney and the aforementioned Claypool ran over 60% of their routes in this offense. Long story short, Jeudy is better and more reliable than either of them.
If getting Fields a true WR1 who runs mainly on the outside is the goal, Tee Higgins should easily be at the top of their list. Higgins has proven he can handle being the top guy in the offense. He has three straight years with 67 or more catches and back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He averages over 14 yards per reception on his career, had a contested catch rate of 61.5%, and had the 7th-best passer rating when targeted (121.0) this year. Cincinnati has to extend Joe Burrow and eventually Ja’Marr Chase, so Higgins could find himself as the odd man out.
If you miss on Higgins, Michael Pittman is worth a look. Though, I think he’s probably the less likely to be moved. The Colts are likely to bring in a young QB in 2022 via the draft. Having a reliable target to throw to makes all the sense in the world. They also have a ton of cap space in 2024, so extending him shouldn’t be difficult. But in the event they want to blow it up and start fresh, getting picks in return for Pittman can help jumpstart that. Pittman had 99 catches last year and a 50% contested catch rate. Fields could use a receiver like that.
And what about San Francisco? After signing Deebo Samuel to an extension this offseason, Samuel battled injuries for most of 2022. This was part of the reason the team swung a deal for RB Christian McCaffrey. I don’t know if you know this, but Samuel and McCaffrey play similar roles in the SF offense. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that McCaffrey does it better. With McCaffrey’s salary spike next year, San Fran could look to move Samuel. If they decide Brandon Aiyuk is the better WR fit with McCaffrey as their starting RB, this scenario won’t work.
If their loyalty lies with Samuel, San Francisco may find it difficult to have four highly paid skill-position players on the offensive side of the ball. Adding Aiyuk to fit with McCaffrey ($16m AAV), Samuel ($23.85m AAV), and George Kittle ($15m AAV) may prove difficult. This is even with a starting QB on a rookie salary (Trey Lance or, dare I say, Brock Purdy).
Aiyuk registered his first 1,000-yard season in 2022. He led the team in receiving yards and finished second behind Kittle in receiving TDs (8). He’s gradually improved his play over his first three seasons, becoming the WR the 49ers hoped he’d be when they spent a 1st round pick on him in 2020. If he can be a reliable target for Brock Purdy, a 7th-round pick in the 2022 draft, to be a competent starter in his first year, imagine what he could do to help Fields make the leap as a solid starter in the NFL.
Be Aggressive in Free Agency
I already highlighted a couple of offensive linemen for the team to target. We then gave some trade scenarios to land a WR. But after implementing new systems on both offense and defense, don’t be surprised if the Bears target players in free agency that have some familiarity with these systems.
The first player that makes a ton of sense is Packers’ WR Allen Lazard. OC Luke Getsy was the QB coach in Green Bay before becoming the OC in Chicago. Lazard isn’t a number 1 in the league, but he can be a reliable target at 6’5″, 227 pounds. He can play both on the outside and the “big” slot in this offense. This allows Getsy to move him around and create some mismatches. He’s also scored 14 TDs over the last two years. That’s something that could be helpful for Justin Fields when they get into the red zone.
If the Bears want to spend on defense, look for an anchor up front. There will be some quality Edge rushers available, and I’m sure the Bears will bring in at least one, but I’d be looking for a splash. And that splash is Commanders’ DT Da’Ron Payne.
Payne is one of like 50 1st round picks that have been featured on the Commanders’ defensive line the last few years. And this year, he was an absolute force for opposing offensive lines to handle, finishing with 12 sacks (4th among interior linemen), 10 QB hits, and 27 Pressures. You put a player like that next to either Jalen Carter or Will Anderson Jr. (potential first-round picks), and your defense is on the fast track to respectability.
Trade the First Overall Pick
And now for the draft.
There’s going to be some temptation to take the best defensive player, Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr., or Georgia’s Jalen Carter. However, trading back gives them a chance to still land an impact defender AND get additional draft picks to continue building the depth of their team to create a winner. A prime trade partner is Indianapolis, a team desperate for a young franchise QB. The Colts currently sit at the fourth overall pick and would love to jump over their division rivals, the Houston Texans, to ensure they get the quarterback of their choice.
I’m not going to sit here and try to imagine how many picks and/or players it will take to pry the pick away from the Bears. However, I’m certain the Colts can make it happen if they want to. (The 1.04, a mid-round pick, a ’24 1st, and Pittman for the 1.01 doesn’t sound too bad, honestly.) The Colts get their QB, and the Texans will likely take a QB. That leaves one of the top two defenders at 4 for the Bears.
It’d be a win-win scenario for the Bears and Colts. Would trading back with the Raiders at 7, the Falcons at 8, or the Panthers at 9 be as beneficial? There are a lot of talented defensive players in this draft, but I’m hard-pressed to assume any will be as impactful as Anderson or Carter. On the other hand, they could also potentially grab one of the top offensive linemen. This is also a position of need, and they can stockpile even more draft capital for moving that far back. The extra capital could be more enticing.
Moral of the Story: BRING IN TALENT
The Bears currently have eight draft picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. They have moved most of the veterans and expensive contracts off their roster. So, now it’s time to make the moves to return to relevancy. With a defensive-minded head coach, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them go after some of the top available defensive players in free agency. Then, they would address the offense at the draft. Personally, I would do the exact opposite. Build the defense through the draft and give their young QB some veterans around him on offense.
I’m not a front-office executive for good reason, but a young quarterback needs some veterans around him to grow.
Fields had the most time of any quarterback to throw (3.45 seconds). His 318 pass attempts are the third-lowest attempts in a season in the last 20 years for a QB who started 13 or more games, per Stathead. He also led the league in scrambles (70), and I’m sure those two are linked. However, he also had the 2nd-lowest dropback percentage from a clean pocket. This is a potential sign that his offensive line was hindering his ability to pass the ball.
Get this man a receiver or two (or three), a new lead running back, and a few new linemen. With these new pieces, Fields is primed for a big jump in passing. This will only lead to more fantasy points spread across the offense.
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