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What on Earth are the Chicago Bears doing?

The Bears keep doing Bear things no matter who is in charge.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Commanders Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Although Green Bay Packers fans may not like the trade of Rasul Douglas — a good and popular player who was a key contributor in the secondary his entire Packer tenure — the move at least makes business sense. Douglas is 29 years old and is set to become a free agent after the 2024 season. The Packers are struggling, and it’s fair to say they are in a full-on rebuild, unsure of their quarterback for the first time in decades. 2025 is probably the very earliest they could contend, and by then, Douglas will be entering the phase where almost all corners break down, while also being able to sign with any team that’s interested. Getting value for him in this lost season is rational, if harsh.

“Rational but harsh” is exactly what I want out of my football front office. The NFL is a hard salary cap league, and generating surplus value under that cap requires some hard decisions...unless you’re the Chicago Bears? Because let me tell you, I have no earthly idea what the Bears are doing. Brian Gutekunst and the Packers’ front office are hardly above reproach, and may very well find themselves unemployed over the next year or two, but goodness gracious they’re absolute geniuses compared to the people running the Bears.

While the Packers were selling during the deadline, the Bears were sending a second-rounder to Washington for pass rusher Montez Sweat. I have nothing against Sweat, who is very good, but this has to rank among the worst moves the Bears have made, and they have made so very many. The Bears are 2-6 and are likely to have two extremely high first round picks in the 2024 draft based on their own record and the fact that they also own Carolina’s pick. They are every bit as uncertain about their quarterback as the Packers and should be vetting Justin Fields while preparing to move on from him. They still have an alarming lack of talent across the board, and to compete in the future they’ll need every pick or low-cost young player they can get.

Sweat is a horrible fit in Chicago. While they need pass rushers in a vacuum, this team is 2-5 and no threat whatsoever to contend this year. Sweat may make the Chicago defense marginally better, but it’s hard to see how that’s beneficial. There are currently 6 NFL teams with two or fewer wins, including Chicago, and picking up an additional random win or two could easily push the Bears’ pick out of the top two spots in the draft. While they have Carolina’s pick to fall back on, the Panthers have shown signs of pluckiness lately, picking up their first win on Sunday and improving defensively week by week under Ejiro Evero. If both Bears picks were to fall outside of the Caleb Williams-Drake Maye range, it would be hilariously tragic, and Sweat makes that more likely.

But it’s worse than that, because Sweat is also a free agent at the end of the season. And based on recent comments, there is no assurance that he will sign with the Bears:

If he does decide to move on after the season, the Bears will have throw away a second round draft pick for nothing. Even if he does re-sign with Chicago, it’s still a bad deal for the Bears. Winning in the NFL requires surplus value, and you generate surplus value from young players, who have their salaries artificially suppressed, and quarterbacks, who are so valuable that they generally cannot make true market rates under the cap. It can make sense for a team to sign a veteran to a market level contract to fill an obvious hole, but that team is not the Bears. They already made this mistake once, recently, when they traded for the right to give Khalil Mack a market rate contract. Mack is a great player, but surrendering draft capital while also paying Mack exactly what he was worth on the open market was a net negative for the Bears, and re-signing Sweat while sending a second rounder off the door is exactly the same thing.

This sort of Bear economic idiocy transcends front offices and almost has to be driven by the McCaskeys, the ownership at the top. There’s not really another logical explanation. If I had to guess, I’d wager the McCaskeys are not shy about putting some sort of performance-based ultimatum in place, which drives the front office to make short-sighted, damaging decisions. Of course, it’s also possible they’re just bad at hiring people.

I don’t want the Packers to lose games and I don’t think fans should cheer on purposeful, obvious tanking, but I also think that sound management often requires doing things that are unpopular with the fans. Taking a “future-looking” approach to strategic planning can be extremely difficult if the planners are under threat of job loss, and it is, perhaps, one of the most common dysfunctional parts of corporate America. It’s just unusual to see such decisions play out so publicly.

The Bears have plenty of additional problems, including a possible misplaced faith in backup quarterback Tyson Bagent, but almost every Bear failure has to be coming from on high. I love our rivals to the south and their Cobra Commander-level track record of organizational management, but man, sometimes I really do feel bad for them.