Apathy turned into anger over draft weekend in Chicago. Those are two very different emotions. Say what you want about Ryan Pace’s 2017 draft class -- and the truth is no one knows how good it will be -- but the Bears shot back into the national spotlight when Pace took Mitchell Trubisky second overall, followed by three of four players from below the FBS level. Good or bad, people care about the Bears, which is in stark contrast to what we witnessed last season at Soldier Field, when thousands of fans boycotted the final few home games.
But are the Bears any closer to making the playoffs? That’s the question we tackle in Friday’s mailbag.
@DickersonESPN Realistically, when can Bears fans be optimistic about a playoff contending team? 2-3 years?— Ted Starkey (@TedStarkey327) May 2, 2017
Jeff Dickerson: I wish I knew, Ted. The past three years have been particularly tough. At least under Lovie Smith -- and even in Marc Trestman’s first season -- the Bears were in the postseason hunt. There’s been no hope in Chicago for three consecutive seasons. And that’s too bad, because the nation’s third-largest market deserves better. I know I sound like a broken record, but the Bears have qualified for the playoffs only five times since Mike Ditka was fired in 1992.
That’s awful. And it speaks to deep, chronic problems inside Halas Hall.
But forget about the past, which Ditka famously said is for cowards and losers.
Let’s focus on the present. A lot has to happen for the Bears to reach the playoffs in 2017.
First of all, Mike Glennon has to have an above-average year at quarterback. That’s entirely possible, if the Bears protect him adequately (Kyle Long’s health is key), offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains calls good plays and a couple of Chicago’s skill position players exceed expectations: Kevin White, Zach Miller, Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, etc. Can that happen? Sure. Is it likely? That’s debatable. The Bears feel pretty good about Jordan Howard (he does need to be in better shape in 2017) and receiver Cameron Meredith, both of whom had breakout years in 2016. However, Miller, Wheaton, White and veteran wideout Eddie Royal are all coming off of injuries.
So, in other words, no one knows what to expect at the skill positons, outside of Howard and likely Meredith.
On defense, the Bears need inside linebacker Danny Trevathan to return from a torn patellar tendon, a particularly nasty injury. Outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Willie Young also have to stay healthy, as does nose tackle Eddie Goldman. Additionally, the Bears are counting on 2016 first-rounder Leonard Floyd to take another step after posting seven sacks as a rookie. And the three defensive backs signed in free agency -- Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper and Quintin Demps -- have to pay big dividends in the secondary. That’s not everything that must happen on defense, but it’s a good start.
On special teams, maybe fourth-round pick Eddie Jackson, who broke his leg at Alabama last year, can improve the return game.
And again, the Bears can’t suffer a ton of injuries, a staple so far of the John Fox era.
Look, the NFL is fluky. Crazy and unexpected stuff occurs all the time. But you don’t miss the postseason nine of 10 years by accident. The Bears have to earn the benefit of the doubt, which they haven’t done in a long, long time. So while I don’t entirely rule out a postseason return in 2-3 years, I certainly can’t guarantee it.