Why Bears' best-case 2022 scenario might include landing No. 1 pick

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Why Bears' best-case 2022 scenario might include landing No. 1 pick originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Hope springs eternal every offseason in the NFL. With the Bears' relatively easy 2022 schedule, it's not impossible to conjure up a scenario in which Matt Eberflus, Justin Fields and Co. find a way to nine wins and a surprising playoff berth.

But would that be what's best for the Bears' long-term outlook? Any 9-8 or 10-7 run through a schedule slated with bad teams would likely be an outcome filled with fool's gold. One that could lead the Bears' new regime down the wrong path, believing it's closer to Super Bowl contention than reality suggests.

Getting a young core early playoff experience can be beneficial. But the best way for the Bears to become long-term winners might be to take a lot of Ls this season.

Let me explain.

General manager Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus walked into what amounts to a house on fire. They were given a roster that needed to be stripped down to the studs. Deconstructing Ryan Pace's roster means the Bears have to eat a lot of dead cap money this season in order to be able to start building the roster Poles and Eberflus want next offseason.

Let's be clear: Long-term rebuilding plans aren't a thing in the NFL. This isn't baseball where you can come in with a seven-year plan to get a franchise back to contention. The best recent rebuilds (49ers, Eagles, Bills, Bengals) involve good drafting, savvy trades, big free-agent swings, and take only a few years to complete.

This is why the best thing for the Bears might be a 2022 season that accomplishes three things: Proves Matt Eberflus is a good head coach, shows Justin Fields is a franchise quarterback, and has them finish with a top-three pick in the draft.

You might think that the third is unlikely if the first two points hit. However, given the state of the Bears' lines and wide receiving corps, it's more than possible that both Eberflus and Fields have good 2022 campaigns, and the wins don't materialize.

The praise has been flowing for Fields this offseason. But the Bears need to take a show-me approach with the second-year quarterback and not put all their eggs in his basket until he earns it. Fields has immense talent, and there's reason to believe a big leap is coming in Luke Getsy's offense.

This is where points two and three work in conjunction. If Fields shows he's the guy and the Bears still land a top-three pick, they'll have an asset that will have teams climbing over each other to acquire.

Think back two years to the 2021 NFL Draft. The 49ers owned the No. 12 pick while the Dolphins, who had just drafted Tua Tagovailoa a year earlier, were at No. 3. Miami did not need to draft a quarterback, while the 49ers saw an opportunity to get the signal-caller of Kyle Shanahan's dreams. So the Dolphins leveraged their position and got that No. 12 pick and two future first-round picks from the 49ers for the No. 3 selection.

That deal helped Miami acquire Tyreek Hill this offseason, and the Dolphins still have two first-round picks in 2023.

With Ohio State's C.J. Stroud and Alabama's Bryce Young expected to be top-three picks next season, the Bears could benefit from other teams' desperation if they finish toward the bottom of the NFL. The Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans (sorry, Davis Mills), New Orleans Saints, and Detroit Lions, among others, are all expected to be looking for a franchise quarterback. The Bears could be in a prime position to extract a maximum price from a quarterback-needy team to move down a few spots and still get a blue-chip player at a position of need (wide receiver, defensive end).

With around $100 million in projected cap space next offseason, Poles and the Bears could set the franchise up for long-term success with a move like the one the Dolphins pulled in 2021.

Even if Fields doesn't completely cement himself as "the guy" this fall, the Bears' best course of action might be kicking that can down the road, trading back, and building up the rest of the roster around the young quarterback before making their final decision.

A 2023 offseason that includes $100 million in cap space, a top-10 pick, and multiple future first-round picks after a trade down would have the Poles-Eberflus regime off and running.

There's no tanking in the NFL. The Bears have a schedule full of "winnable" games. But the best way for the Bears to build a stable winning machine along the shores of Lake Michigan might be to have the definition of a building-block season. One that sees them exit with a head coach, a quarterback, some tough-luck losses, and a highly coveted draft pick that can be the catalyst for a successful rebuild.

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