Arkush: Are Bears better today than they were at the end of last season?
With the 2021 draft in our rearview mirrors and at least the heavy lifting done for now in free agency, let's get down to all that really matters.
Are the Bears improved over where they were when the final gun sounded Jan. 10 in New Orleans? Are they basically in the same place? Or have they taken a step backward?
Let's break it down in five key categories.
Andy Dalton, Damien Williams, Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Byrd and, of course, Justin Fields, Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom are all key additions.
Just as importantly, Allen Robinson is still here. As is Germain Ifedi, at least to compete, and noteworthy losses are limited to Mitch Trubisky and Charles Leno Jr.
A healthy James Daniels, Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars have shown themselves as legitimate NFL starters with high ceilings. Still ascending are Cole Kmet, Darnell Mooney and even David Montgomery so it's hard to argue the Bears aren't improved.
I would rather have Trubisky than Dalton, but the addition of Fields clearly upgrades the quarterback room.
There is no way to overstate the significance of the loss of Kyle Fuller at cornerback. I believe Fuller was the third-best player on last year's team behind Khalil Mack and Robinson.
But with the presence of Desmond Trufant, Artie Burns, Kindle Vildor, Michael Joseph and Tre Roberson -- all added or back to compete for Fuller's spot -- the damage can be controlled. With an improved pass rush, it can be significantly minimized.
Re-signing safety Tashaun Gipson was huge.
There is every reason to believe Robert Quinn can be far more productive as a pass rusher than he was last year. The swap out of Barkevious Mingo for Jeremiah Attaochu makes the rush better on paper, while there is also hope Trevis Gipson can be a factor.
The losses of defensive linemen Roy Robertson-Harris and Brent Urban hurt, but the return of Eddie Goldman more than offsets that.
The big question here is can Quinn and Eddie Jackson return to the players they were before last year? If so, the arrow is pointing up, but until then we will wait and see.
The return of kicker Cairo Santos, punter Patrick O'Donnell and long snapper Patrick Scales lessens the pain. But there's no way the Bears are as good with the loss of the game's best kick returner and All-Pro gunner, Cordarrelle Patterson. This can be fixed, but until then this is a clear step backward.
Former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and assistants Jay Rodgers and Dave Ragone are excellent football coaches and their losses will be felt but, don't have to be painful.
There is nothing we can say about new coordinator Sean Desai until he has a chance to do the job, although the addition to his staff of Mike Pettine is a definite plus. It's impossible to know which direction Mike Adams (defensive backs), Tom Herman (offensive assistant), Bill McGovern (inside linebackers), Michael Pitre (running backs) and Chris Rumph (defensive line) will take them until given the chance.
Clearly the loss of experience from Pagano to Desai can't help, but it could be overcome and outweighed by Matt Nagy's ability to use what appears to be a significantly improved ground game. We'll have to wait and see.
Ryan Pace has clearly added more team speed, the addition of Fields and Jenkins sends a spark through the locker room, which has to be a positive. On paper, it looks like Pace has navigated a treacherous salary cap position while improving the overall talent on his team on offense and staying close to even with the board on defense.
Is Desai up to the challenge? Can Dalton or Fields make them better under center? How high are the ceilings on Daniels, Kmet, Mooney, Montgomery, Bilal Nichols and Jaylon Johnson? Can Jackson, Quinn and the pass rush bounce back?
Those questions must be answered before we know if the Bears are better or not.
But there is little doubt to me the roster has been upgraded. As we move to the next phase, I'd have to say the talent on this team definitely has been improved, and I have to say it looks like the arrow is pointing up.
• Twitter: @Hub_Arkush