The 2021 season was an unremarkable boondoggle for the Bears, and when new general manager Ryan Poles took over in January, he saw little worth clinging to from the 6-11 roster as he embarked on the rebuild.
It was a bizarre last-ditch effort by Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy to save their jobs: a team led by a castoff quarterback with no left tackle and a clearance rack secondary. Predictably, that got them nowhere.
The one redeeming quality of that team was that it sputtered so badly that chairman George McCaskey could no longer deny the necessity of change. It was time to clean house, and while the Bears sit near the bottom of the NFL at 3-10, there’s far more confidence that they’re headed the right direction.
Now that the Bears have moved on, here’s a look at how the top players that left have done this season:
Khalil Mack, OLB, Chargers
Poles couldn’t have been clearer about his rationale behind dealing Mack for a second-round pick a month and a half into his tenure: He was a great player the Bears simply couldn’t afford. While Mack is still very good, the salary-cap space and draft capital (Poles took safety Jaquan Brisker with the pick) made more sense in a rebuild.
Mack played just seven games for the Bears before needing season-ending foot surgery, but recovered well and hasn’t missed any time with the Chargers. He leads the team with seven sacks.
Roquan Smith, LB, Ravens
Smith seemed sure to be starring for the Bears into the next decade, but the bottom line was Poles and coach Matt Eberflus don’t value that position and were set against paying Smith the record-breaking contract he sought.
Poles dealt Smith to the Ravens on Oct. 31, and he has 31 tackles and a sack in four games with them. Meanwhile, his replacement, undrafted rookie Jack Sanborn, has 43 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery in five games since taking his starting spot.
Allen Robinson, WR, Rams
Robinson once aspired to be the greatest wide receiver in Bears history, but it has been a rough road since the team used the franchise tag on him in 2021 after fruitless contract negotiations.
He dropped to a career-low 410 yards while playing through injuries last season, then signed a three-year, $46.5 million deal with the Rams and suffered a season-ending foot injury 10 games into it. With his contract, he’s near-certain to be back with them next season.
Andy Dalton, QB, Saints
Of all the absurdities from last season, the notion that the Bears wanted to keep first-round pick Justin Fields on the bench for the entirety of it in favor of playing Dalton is high on the list. That plan never made sense, fell apart immediately, and now Fields is thriving in a functional situation.
Nonetheless, Dalton is hanging on admirably at 35 with the Saints. He stepped in as their starter when Jameis Winston got hurt and has the second-highest passer rating of his career at 96.2, which is almost 20 points above the career-worst 76.9 he posted for the Bears.
Robert Quinn, DE, Eagles
It was a wild ride for Quinn with the Bears after signing a five-year, $70 million deal in 2020. He bombed with just two sacks in his debut season, then set the franchise record with 18.5 sacks last season. He had one sack in seven games when Poles dealt him to the Eagles for a fourth-round pick in October.
Quinn, 32, never got going in Philadelphia. He played just five games — never getting more than 27% of the defensive snaps — before going on injured reserve Tuesday with a knee issue. He will not play when the Bears host the Eagles on Dec. 18
Akiem Hicks, DT, Buccaneers
Hicks undoubtedly is ring chasing at this point and joining the Bucs was logical in that pursuit, but it hasn’t gone like he hoped. Hicks, 33, has played just six games, and while the Bucs are in first place in the NFC South, no one views them as a contender at 6-6.
Jakeem Grant, WR, Browns
Grant was one of just two Pro Bowl players on the Bears’ 2021 roster, earning that accolade as a return man. He got a three-year, $10 million contract with the Browns, but tore his Achilles tendon in the preseason.
Jimmy Graham, TE, free agent
The Bears likely will go down as the last team to overpay for Jimmy Graham, failing to learn from the Packers’ error before them. They spent $16 million over two seasons for a total of 64 catches, 623 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Graham infringed on necessary snaps for up-and-comer Cole Kmet. Graham is 36 and essentially retired.
Tashaun Gipson, S, 49ers
Gipson, now 32, was one of the few bargains that was worthwhile in the Pace era. He was ultra-reliable for the Bears in 2020 and ’21 and found work quickly as a free agent this year. He has played 98% of the defensive snaps for the 49ers and has 41 tackles and an interception.
Nick Foles, QB, Colts
Foles was clear since 2021 that he wanted to go to the Colts and quickly signed a two-year, $6.2 million deal with them. However, even with all their upheaval, he has played just two snaps.