In 2016, the Chicago Bears placed 19 players on Injured Reserve, the most of any team in the NFL. The club's $66 million on IR was by far the largest in the league, by nearly $20 million.
A number of factors played into the team's 3-13 record but few were bigger than the injury bug, which spread like wildfire.
The defensive front seven missed a combined 52 games last year, while on offense, the team's top three quarterbacks -- Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Connor Shaw -- were all done for the season by Week 12.
And the best player on the team, three-time Pro Bowl OL Kyle Long, played just 8 games and will undergo two significant surgeries this off-season, one to his ankle and one to his shoulder.
In essence, nearly ever single top-end performer on Chicago's 2016 roster missed substantial time due to injury, or suspension.
"I’ve been thinking about that constantly. It was a significant thing for us," GM Ryan Pace said. "I think the wrong thing to do is to put our heads in the sand and say, ‘Oh, man, it was bad luck. Maybe better luck next year.’ We’re not going to do that."
Instead, Pace is going to address the issue from every angle.
"We’re going to research and analyze. We have meetings set up. We’re going to look at other teams, other sports, everything — from the training room to the strength-and-conditioning room, to what we do on the field, the practice schedules — everything is going to be analyzed."
Notable in Pace's comments was his mention of the strength and conditioning staff, which currently consists of Jason George (head strength and conditioning), Rick Perry (assistant strength) and Pierre Ngo (assistant strength).
George is a carryover from head coach John Fox's days in Denver. From 2012-2014, George was the assistant strength and conditioning coach of the Broncos. He has 24 years of experience at both the collegiate and NFL levels but he's never before had the role of head strength and conditioning coach for an NFL team.
Perry is in his first role in the NFL, after 20 years in strength and conditioning at the collegiate level, while Ngo is relatively new to the industry and began his S&T career as an intern with the Jets in 2012.
Injuries can often be unavoidable but the sheer number of players who have suffered season-ending injuries since Pace, and ergo George, took over cannot be ignored.
"Whenever you lead the league in something, or you’re close to leading the league, I mean jeez, you better pay close attention," said Pace. "And there’s a lot of valuable assets that were on IR. I don’t want to make excuses for that, but I also want to understand the importance of getting that right."
Getting it right might mean a few tweaks here and there, or it might mean an overhaul in the training staff, which would appease many Bears fans.
Unfortunately, Pace and Fox are loyal to a fault. After a 3-13 season, no one was held accountable and no one has officially been fired, from top to bottom, so why should we assume the training staff will be any different?
To be clear, I'm not advocating for George and the staff to be fired, but like Pace said, something needs to change.
It will only benefit the team to alter the course in terms of how they are managing player safety, as well as injury preparedness and treatment. It remains to be seen in what form those changes will come, if any.
But if nothing is changed, and the Bears fumble away another season due to injuries, then both Pace and Fox could be looking for new jobs next year.null