With marked improvement over the second half of the season, coupled with stability and continuity, plus ample salary cap space and the No. 1 pick in the draft, the Bears are primed to take the next step in 2024.
That was the consensus during a 90-minute press conference Wednesday at Halas Hall that featured team president and CEO Kevin Warren, general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus.
"We're making strong progress," Poles said. "We're doing it the right way. It's built on a solid foundation. It's not a house of cards. It's going to continue to go up as we continue to have continuity with our roster. That's what makes the future really bright for us.
"We have flexibility with our cap space. We have a really unique draft situation that is going to allow us to continue to get better. And most importantly, the continuity part is going to be critical. When you bring all those things together, we're just going to keep climbing."
After finishing 3-14 in 2022, the Bears more than doubled their win total in posting a 7-10 record in 2023. They rebounded from a 2-7 start to win five of seven games before losing the season finale to the Packers.
Poles told reporters that he was disappointed the Bears were unable to finish some games but was pleased with the strides the team made.
"I'm really proud of where we are and where we're going," he said. "We came up a little bit short of our goals this year, but I have no doubt where this team is going."
Poles and Eberflus lauded the performances of Pro Bowlers Montez Sweat and Jaylon Johnson as well as additional key players such as Justin Fields, DJ Moore, Cole Kmet, T.J. Edwards, Tremaine Edmunds, Kyler Gordon, Jaquan Brisker, Eddie Jackson and Cairo Santos, among others.
"They put everything they have into this season," Eberflus said. "We came out, the last part, really starting to play really good football. That was because of their hard work, the investment they had. They improved and they grew as individual players, and we grew as a football team. And you could certainly feel that during the year."
Poles praised Eberflus for "his leadership through hard times," which included an 0-4 start and off-the-field issues.
"We had some adversity early in the season, in the middle of the season," Poles said. "His ability to stand strong and keep the team together was incredible, his ability to adapt and adjust as we went along.
"I really think that the head coach needs to be able to captain the ship when the seas are stormy and really keep everything settled. When you go through hard times and he can keep everyone together, to me, that's the critical piece. In a big market like this, you have to be strong. I mean, if he's jumping off the boat and everyone else starts jumping off the boat, it's a hot mess. The stability was a big piece of it.
"The details that he coaches with, taking some of the mistakes from the game, bringing them to practice and making sure that we're doing things the right way, I saw a lot of progress in that.
"There's a reason why we went from three to seven wins. There are. The player aspect of it is important, but also the detail and bringing a team together. Sticking through those hard times allowed us to push through, and you saw a lot of those wins happening towards the back end of the season. If it's not for him, I really don't think that's the case."
While there were questions about Eberflus' future with the Bears, Poles finalized his decision to retain the coach in the last few days.
"All of our jobs are to collect information throughout the entire season," Poles said. "That's on players, staff, support staff, everybody. But what I pride myself on and really pride our whole organization on is we take the step after the season to let the dust settle, let the emotions get out and make the most sound decision that you can possibly make. That's what we did over the last few days is just making sure we settled down, look at the big picture and make sure we're going in the right direction."
Warren, meanwhile, has seen firsthand how stability and continuity have benefited two NFL teams he's worked for. The Rams went 5-11 in 1997 and 4-12 in 1998 in Dick Vermeil's first two seasons as coach before winning the Super Bowl in 1999. The Vikings were 6-10 in 2006 and 8-8 in 2007 in Brad Childress' first two years as coach before winning back-to-back NFC North titles with records of 10-6 in 2008 and 12-4 in 2009.
"The key is having the right people in the right places, doing the right things at the right time for the right reasons," Warren said.
"This is reminiscent of the process that we went through in St. Louis. It's reminiscent of the process we went through in Minnesota. There were many times that we were in meetings and we would say, 'we're not making enough progress too quickly,' and we would have to take a step back and say: 'But are we on the right track and are we focused on the right things?' And as I sit here today, unequivocally, I believe that we have the right set of individuals …
"It just seems like that third year is a critical year for having things start to meld. I'm extremely confident because I've lived this before. I understand how it galvanizes an organization, a football team, a city, a fanbase when you're able to go through very difficult times and be deliberate, be fair, make good decisions, be forward-thinking, have innovation and bring in the right people who can help you be a champion not only in the community, on the field, but also in this business."