I’ve explained to my Packers-loving colleague that I’m happy to engage in friendly rivalry banter, and don’t even mind if it gets chippy, but only during the season. The offseason, however, is when I can still maintain hope. I stay out of the cry corner from February through August. And, while this is true for this offseason, it does feel a little different.

In 2018, there was a new regime, hired to wash the bitterness out of our mouths, post-Trestman, and deliver us some good feelings (BOOM!) and wins. And that is what happened—coach of the year and a 13-win season, but with some major caveats. Even with all that good, things felt unmoored and tentative. Sure enough, the following seasons were consecutive train wrecks, and true colors were on clear display.

This past year (2022/23 season), it was one of the worst records the Bears have produced in my recollection. However, where 2018 was fun but unconvincing, 2022 was a nice break from the pressure of trying to be competitive. I don’t believe any of the team or coaches were actively trying to tank, but the makeup of the team just wasn’t conducive to winning, and dropping some marquis talent mid-stream sealed the fate (in more ways than one).

And, while the team lost game after game, fans got to see a young QB develop important skills. All the conjecture about the risk inherent in a mobile quarterback were mostly allayed when his evasiveness saved him from being killed, week in and week out. A pure pocket passer would not have fared as well.

Then there were the moments of absolute greatness—the Bears have had great running backs over the years, but some of the runs by JF1 evoked roars from the crowd that I haven’t heard since Devin Hester turned corners and spotted lanes to the end zone.

It doesn’t feel like wallpaper over bad plaster for a change. Even with loss after loss, the coaching decisions and play calling made sense, game after game. There were some areas of strength, and some obvious areas that would need help in free agency and the draft, but that’s typical. What’s atypical is that the GM made some tough decisions to leverage the first round pick and stock-piled picks. He pulled in elite receiving help as part of that deal and, before the draft even happened, now has a top-10 (top-5) receiving core for his now-veteran QB. That move alone was exciting.

Then, he acquired two linebackers who should make up for anything lost last season, and left the possibility for the hometown surprise (Jack Sanborn) to stay in the mix and benefit from the effort he put in last year, regardless of conference standings. There was a point in February and March where it felt like the Bears were stockpiling free agents with the same vigor they had reaped draft picks. There will be a lot of new names to learn this year.

And so, as the season of hope continues just ahead of the draft, I look forward to seeing what the Bears do with this cache of picks, and discovering what they see as next steps to solidify the team. I can’t start thinking about how the implications of losing involve addition (top picks) and the implications of winning could involve subtraction (good OCs get poached) just yet—the overall feeling I have right now is a grounded, cautious excitement. I want to ride it until at least pre-season.