The NFL is a copycat league. Teams that win, and win consistently, generally lay the blueprint for present-day success. For a club amid a massive rebuild like the Chicago Bears, taking notice of what’s made the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles so successful is a worthwhile endeavor.
The Bears can go from last place in the NFC North in 2022 to a competitive, if not a playoff-worthy team, in 2023. They’re loaded with offseason assets in free agency and the 2023 NFL draft to level up the talent on the roster around quarterback Justin Fields and make a legitimate push for the NFC North next season.
General manager Ryan Poles must be careful not to become reckless in his second year on the job. It’s his first offseason that will focus on roster building; last year was more about deconstructing the team his predecessor left him.
Here are a few key lessons he can take from the Chiefs and Eagles’ success as the 2023 offseason quickly approaches.
Remain patient with Justin Fields
One thing the Chiefs and Eagles have displayed over the last few seasons is their patience with their quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts.
Mahomes was given a redshirt season during his first year in the league. He learned behind veteran Alex Smith and earned a master’s degree in football before being thrust into the starting lineup. And while Mahomes’ incredible natural gifts probably could’ve been unleashed during the 2017 season, the fact he had that extra year to adjust to the NFL game was critical to his success.
Now six years into his career, the Chiefs are still seeing year-over-year improvements from the league’s most talented quarterback. Patrick Mahomes won the 2022 NFL MVP and set a career-high in passing yards this season. Kansas City’s unwavering commitment to him has been a big part of why his career has been so successful. More traditional offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches may have tried to change Mahomes’ gunslinger and trick-shot approach. The Chiefs didn’t. The result is a player who has a chance to shatter NFL records and whose bust is already being prepared for Canton.
The Eagles have had a similar approach to Jalen Hurts, who, unlike Mahomes, didn’t light the NFL on fire when he took over for Carson Wentz as Philadelphia’s starter. His running talent was evident right away, but his ability as a passer has been a work in progress over the last three years. In 2022, Hurts set career highs in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and passer rating, all because the Eagles stuck with him and added talent around him.
Hurts wasn’t a first-round quarterback. The Eagles selected him in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft. It would’ve been easy to give up on him after the 2020 season when he completed just 52% of his passes over a four-game sample size as a starter. His future as Philadelphia’s quarterback was unstable, at best, but the Eagles organization stayed faithful to him. Hurts is rewarding Philadelphia’s patience and commitment by playing MVP-caliber football while leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl.
The Bears must take notice of this critical element in a quarterback’s success. Young players need to know they have the support and confidence of their team. Justin Fields is no different. His 2022 season showed flashes of incredible upside, even as a passer. And as long as Chicago stays the course with his development, he, too, can reward the Bears with a Super Bowl berth in the not-too-distant future. He’s that good.
Prioritize the offensive line
It’s no coincidence that Super Bowl LVII will be a showcase of two of the NFL’s top offensive lines. The Philadelphia Eagles have the best offensive line in the entire league, and the Chiefs feature several standout starters who’ve kept Patrick Mahomes upright for a long time.
Jalen Hurts’ escapability certainly helps the Eagles’ pass-protection analytics, but even if he were a stationary quarterback, Philadelphia’s offensive line would provide him with more time than an NFL quarterback needs to throw the ball. All five of the Eagles’ starting offensive linemen have a 70.0-plus pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus this season. They’re remarkable.
The Kansas City Chiefs finished fourth in Pro Football Focus’ year-end offensive line rankings.
If the Chicago Bears want to take that next step in becoming a competitive football team, it starts up front. Ryan Poles can’t go into the 2023 season with players like Sam Mustipher and Larry Borom as starting offensive linemen. With more than $98 million to spend in free agency, adding significant upgrades at right tackle and center must be the priority.
The 2023 NFL draft will also offer Poles an opportunity to enhance the offensive line. Perhaps a new starter at left guard can be found in the second round, assuming the Bears move on from Cody Whitehair. Insurance for Teven Jenkins is required as well. Jenkins flashed All-Pro upside during his time as a starter at right guard in 2022, but questions about his durability are very real. The Bears must have a backup plan if Jenkins’s career continues to be derailed by injuries.
Justin Fields will only be as good as his supporting cast moving forward. The 2022 season proved how lethal he could be, even playing essentially by himself. Giving him a fighter’s chance with a quality offensive line is paramount. Hurts and Mahomes have that, which is a huge reason they’re as successful as they are.
Whether it’s a wide receiver or playmaking tight end, the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles proved in 2022 that no matter how talented a quarterback is, he still needs players at the other end of his passes to make things happen.
The Chiefs showcase what an elite tight end can do for an offense, while the Eagles’ commitment to building a dynamic 1-2 punch at wide receiver has been the biggest variable in their offensive output.
It’s unfair to expect the Chicago Bears to find a Travis Kelce this offseason, but settling for Cole Kmet’s quality but uninspiring skill set would be a disservice to Justin Fields. And while the trade for Chase Claypool was a good start at wide receiver, the Bears must find a way to enhance their wide receiver room as the Eagles did with the first-round pick of Devonta Smith and trade for A.J. Brown in back-to-back offseasons.
The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft probably won’t give the Bears a chance to add that guy. They pick too high; unless they trade down, they’ll likely select an edge rusher like Will Anderson Jr. or a defensive lineman like Jalen Carter. But the second round could still produce a starter, or the pick can be used to trade for a veteran like Brandon Aiyuk (49ers) or Tee Higgins (Bengals).
Free agency doesn’t have an elite wideout in the 2023 class, but it doesn’t mean Poles should sit back and not sign any. Even adding a WR3 helps. The Chicago Bears should never field a starting wide receiver on the level of Dante Pettis again.
Get after the quarterback
The Eagles and Chiefs led the NFL in team sacks in 2022. Philadelphia finished first with 70; Kansas City was second with 55.
The Bears, meanwhile, were last with only 18 sacks as a team on the year.
As important as it is for Chicago to level up their offensive line and the talent around Justin Fields, it’s equally essential to ensure the defense has the kind of disruptive playmakers to frustrate opposing quarterbacks. They were miserable in their effort to generate sacks last season, and no matter how many points an improved Bears offense generates next year, the defense has to be enhanced to playoff standards.
Will Anderson Jr. is the no-brainer solution if edge is the priority. Jalen Carter is that guy if interior pressure is preferred.
The Chicago Bears will have plenty of opportunities this offseason to build a roster in the image of the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. It’s up to Ryan Poles and the front office to read and execute that blueprint. Otherwise, Bears fans will be within their rights to question how an offseason with so much promise was wasted.