The Bears undoubtedly are a better football team than they were when this week began, particularly both at the game's most important position and opposite their most expensive player. These are positive developments, not made possible without general manager Ryan Pace being willing to admit and address in earnest two huge misses after trading into the top 10 of the NFL draft.
Can any other teams in the NFC North make the same claim of improvement for 2020 as we sit here early on Day 4 of free agency? (We're done pretending free agency didn't star at noont Monday, ya dig?) No, they cannot.
The Minnesota Vikings appear to have taken the biggest step backward thus far, trading their most dynamic receiver, Stefon Diggs, albeit for a really nice haul, losing three of their top four corners and also preparing to trade their up-and-coming star safety. Lest we forget, they recommitted to Kirk Cousins for two more years, and career 2019 season or not, he's winless against Matt Nagy's Bears.
In between importing everyone who ever was at one time associated with the New England Patriots, the Lions have sent away their best defensive player, Darius Slay, to the Eagles and lost their steadiest interior offensive lineman, Graham Glasgow, who now calls Vic Fangio his head coach in Denver. Sure, they paid Desmond Trufant and (over)paid "Big V" to likely keep their No. 1 cornerback spot warm for Jeffery Okudah and replace Rick Wagner, whom they cut, only to watch him re-sign with their big brother Packers.
Speaking of the Packers, they haven't downgraded as much as Minnesota and Detroit, but there's simply no way Wagner is as good as Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay's best blocker last season. Moreover, for all of the Jimmy Graham jokes – and his new contract here absolutely is an albatross – the Packers currently are banking on unproven Jace Sternberger and 36-year-old blocking tight end Marcedes Lewis to replace Graham's 38 receptions, 448 yards and three touchdowns. And they've yet to address arguably their biggest hole on offense entering the week, a No. 2 wide receiver opposite Davante Adams.
It's important to note that the Lions and Vikings are now flush with capital in a draft that appears favorable for addressing their specific new needs. But we're now at the point where it's more than fair to wonder how much teams can realistically expect rookies to provide in this strange and scary coronavirus world we're all living in, where the offseason already is gone and training camps quite possibly will be next.
And in addition to finally patching their perpetual hole at inside linebacker on the cheap in free agency, the Packers, as are Detroit and Minnesota, are setting themselves up well for 2021 and beyond. The same cannot be said for Pace's Bears.
Indeed, if we're talking 2021 and beyond, the Bears would be bringing in the rear of this conversation right now. That's what happens when Pace is forced to revisit positions that were supposed to be strengths based on major investments and expected development gone awry There's no question the Bears are in win-now mode after taking on $21 million guaranteed and unloading a fourth-round pick for Nick Foles after the ransom they gave up for Mitch Trubisky. Robert Quinn wasn't an awful overpay, but like newly minted Danny Trevathan, he'll be 30 by Week 1, when Jimmy Graham turns 34.
Getting older in free agency is far from perfect, and the Bears now have promised a combined $74 million to 30-somethings with back-loaded deals. But Pace's first-round draft history and repeated mismanagement on offense is anything but perfect, requiring more aggressive overcorrections that can keep a title window open. That's the reality of where the Bears are right now. Yet if their aggressive moves focused very much on a make-or-break season ahead haven't already returned the Bears to NFC North favorites, they've made Pace and Co. the clear choice as the division's most improved. And that sounds a bit like the 2018 offseason, doesn't it?
• Arthur Arkush is Shaw Media's Bears editor. Write to him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter @ArthurArkush.