Where do the Bears go from here? They’re 1-5. Justin Fields is recovering from a dislocated right thumb on his throwing hand. And the NFL trade deadline is less than two weeks away.
The optimists can argue that Fields has shown enough development this season — that his numbers have improved — to warrant staying the course. There are 11 games remaining.
But an impressive win in Week 7 last season against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium didn’t prevent the Bears from trading defensive end Robert Quinn two days later or linebacker Roquan Smith less than a week after that.
At some point, the Bears have to stop parting with their best players. They have to retain talent. But with one victory, an injured quarterback, an old, ineffective pass rush and other concerns, it wouldn’t be surprising if general manager Ryan Poles and his staff took this week and next to seriously consider the future.
Part of Poles’ job is balancing the short term against the long term. The future can be hard to ignore when Chicago currently has the first and second picks in the 2024 NFL Draft. The best course of action could be sticking with the rebuild.
Difficult conversations must be had at Halas Hall with the trade deadline on Oct. 31. It could be time to part with more starters — more holdovers from the Ryan Pace era.
CB Jaylon Johnson
When Johnson is healthy, he’s one of the Bears’ best players — and he’s likely the most appealing player for other teams, especially ones with concerns on defense. It’s a pass-happy league. You can never have enough help in the secondary. Johnson could be a potential difference-maker for a contender.
According to Pro Football Reference, Johnson has allowed nine receptions on 17 targets over four games this season for only 89 yards (5.2 yards per attempt). He hasn’t allowed a touchdown this season. Opposing quarterbacks have a 68.0 passer rating when throwing in his direction.
Those numbers make Johnson a keeper, too. The Bears shouldn’t want to trade him. But he’s still out of contract after this season. If there’s a sense that a deal can’t be reached with Johnson, then it’s best to move him.
And Johnson may want to move on, too. His next contract could be worth more if he plays well for a better team. Johnson has only one interception in his career but he’s played behind the worst pass-rushing defensive line in the league over the past two seasons.
The Bears have replacements already in place for Johnson. Under Poles, the Bears have drafted three cornerbacks in the past two years: Kyler Gordon (2022, No. 39), Tyrique Stevenson (2023, No. 56) and Terell Smith (2023, No. 165). Smith is out with mononucleosis but the Bears have spoken glowingly about him and his potential since training camp.
G/C Cody Whitehair
The Athletic released a list of 32 trade candidates for all 32 teams on Friday. The only offensive linemen included was Joe Noteboom of the Rams. On Sunday, Whitehair was essentially benched in favor of Lucas Patrick after several bad snaps at center against the Vikings.
Brian Burns, Jerry Jeudy and potential trade candidates for every NFL team
Regardless of what coach Matt Eberflus said about the move on Sunday or what the Bears say about Whitehair this week, it’s a move that suggests it’s probably best to move on. At this point, Whitehair might want to move on himself.
Since being drafted in the second round in 2016, Whitehair has been a solid, reliable starter and a leader for the Bears who is probably best as a guard but was moved back to center this season.
Whitehair has played for coaches John Fox, Matt Nagy and Eberflus and even more offensive line coaches. He has protected quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, Mitch Trubisky, Mike Glennon, Chase Daniel, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton and Justin Fields.
That’s a lot of change.
Too much, really.
Whitehair has been part of only one winning season with the Bears. A change of scenery could do him some good. He’s earned his chance to play for a winner. He has one year remaining on his contract after this season.
S Eddie Jackson
Similar to Whitehair, Jackson’s contract — the one that he signed with the Bears when Pace was in charge — expires after the 2024 season.
Last year, Jackson’s playmaking, ballhawking skills returned to the defense. He made four interceptions and forced two fumbles. It’s the type of ball production that the best teams need for their playoff runs.
The issue is that Jackson is hurt again. He left the Bears’ loss against the Vikings with a foot injury and didn’t return. His lingering injury problems could make him un-tradeable. He would need to pass a physical to make a deal official.
But all it takes is one contending team with its own injuries and holes in the secondary to make a deal.
WR Darnell Mooney
Trading Mooney would signal a bigger story: Are the Bears done with Fields? QBs get traded in the NFL. It’s not unusual.
But that’s for another day.
The Bears offense is short on playmakers. Mooney trails only DJ Moore and Cole Kmet in production. But long-term decisions tend to be difficult ones.
Mooney, the 173rd pick in the 2020 draft, was the first Bears holdover from the Pace/Nagy era to be praised by Poles. It happened at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. But on the field, Mooney hasn’t built off his 1,000-yard season in 2021.
Mooney and Fields are friends but they’re connection hasn’t produced in coordinator Luke Getsy’s offense. Instead, the film features misses and miscues.
That could be on Getsy. It could be on Fields handling his own adjustments in his second NFL system. Or it could be past time to look at Mooney, whose own career could benefit from some offensive stability and consistency.
Similar to Johnson, Mooney’s rookie contract ends after this season. If there’s a feeling that he can’t be re-signed, then it’s OK to listen to offers for him. He’s a deep threat and a polished route runner. Teams are always looking for pass-catchers like him.
(Top photo of Jaylon Johnson: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)