While waiting to get to meet and talk with new Bears general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus, I went back through all my recent correspondence looking for the most popular questions I’ve been asked about what comes next?
Who will be Eberflus’ first offensive coordinator? All we can do is wait having given you the lists of the hot names on the market and likely suspects with prior ties to him.
Next up comes two questions. Will Eberflus switch the Bears to a 4-3 base defense? And with a brand new management team in place, is there any chance Allen Robinson and/or Akiem Hicks will be re-signed?
On the latter, anything is possible, but is it the right thing to do? And are either player willing?
Hicks wanted his contract redone or extended last season and apparently misread his lack of leverage.
At 32 years old with injuries a mounting question, Hicks was already one of the highest paid players on the team with a salary cap going backwards for the first time in its history and a front office under fire.
Hicks admittedly came away unhappy.
I asked him point blank toward the end of the season if he had ruled out the possibility of returning to Chicago and he said he really didn’t know, he’d reconsider it after the season.
Hicks is one of my all-time favorite Bears for a number of reasons. I’d love to see him back, but it does seems unlikely.
One more thought, however, on that in a moment.
Robinson could be a different story. He has professed “Mad love for Chicago,” and his consolation prize for not getting a new deal last year was being one of the five highest paid receivers in the league under the franchise tag.
Whether or not he has come to realize it yet, Robinson didn’t get a long-term deal primarily because he and his agent also misread the market.
But he has to know the Bears’ disastrous offense last year, his hamstring injury and the pandemic have severely reduced his market value now.
The problem with answering this question is not having met Poles yet no one can get inside his head and have any sense of what he thinks about Robinson, but everyone knows the team has a screaming need at the position.
I’m sure this will be one of the first questions Poles is asked when we get the chance.
As for the switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense, I will get very comfortable on the limb and say, yes, of course.
Tigers don’t change their stripes and Eberflus’ path to this job was paved with the 4-3.
Equally relevant when you look at the remaining Bears defenders under contract, they are as well suited to play the 4-3, perhaps even more so.
Khalil Mack has been an All Pro both with a hand on the ground as a 40-front defensive end in Oakland and as a 3-4 outside rush linebacker here. Robert Quinn is a 4-3 right end, the Bears just switched him to a 3-4 edge rusher. And Trevis Gipson is a converted down lineman, too.
Roquan Smith will be one of the best young linebackers in football regardless of whether he plays the Will or the Mike in a 4-3 or stays in a 3-4, and the switch has little impact on Jaylon Johnson or Eddie Jackson in the secondary, although it could actually lessen Jackson’s responsibilities against the run.
The other consideration is if you study free agent defensive tackle Bilal Nichols, it seems likely a chance for him to play the three-technique in a 4-3 could raise his ceiling quite a bit. He’s built for it and has flashed special traits.
Here is where Hicks becomes interesting again. While he is a classic five-technique built to play the 3-4, he could also be a monster inside as the anchor tackle next to Nichols, and a front of Mack, Nichols, Hicks and Quinn just might be the best defensive line in the league. I doubt that has escaped Eberflus’ attention?
Of course, all of that depends on whether Poles will be buying and building, or selling, but either way the 4-3 is coming.