Ryan Pace had been relatively quiet throughout the free agency period, with only two significant signings in Purnell McPhee and Antrell Rolle up until today. The Bears were finally able to sign a plethora of free agents, all to one-year deals. Pace has now signed six of the eight free agents brought in to one-year deals.
Ray McDonald, Jarvis Jenkins, and Mason Foster all signed on Tuesday solidifying a Bears front seven that needed to add extra depth. McDonald and Jenkins fill a direct need at 3-4 defensive end, a position the Bears didn't have filled on the current roster.
Ray McDonald, who was cut by the 49ers in December after sexual assault charges were filed against him, knows Fangio and the system he likes to run extremely well. McDonald started to excel in his play only after Fangio got to San Francisco as defensive coordinator in 2011. McDonald is considered a major risk with his number of arrest, not only in the past year, but over his eight year career. He could still face discipline from the league in the current sexual assault allegations.
The terms of the McDonald deal has not been reported yet, but signing him to a one-year ‘prove it’ type of deal already gives the Bears more control. Jarvis Jenkins, another 3-4 DE, signed a deal for the veteran minimum and will make around $666k if he makes the team in the fall.
Jenkins is entering his fifth season as a pro, and is only 26 years old. In a more limited role in Washington last season, Jenkins managed 28 combined tackles. If the Bears decide to move Lamaar Houston to five-tech, Jenkins could have difficulties making this team. His play in Washington shows he has good upside and could work his way into a starting spot if he plays his best football.
McDonald and Jenkins on one-year deals makes total sense considering both players have plenty of questions surrounding them entering next season. Mason Foster on the other hand has great upside and is only 26. He's improved almost every year in Tampa Bay and managed to make a difference in that defense. Foster will be competing for the starting job as one of the two ILB’s in the Bears new 3-4 defense.
Foster will also be playing next season on a one-year deal. Foster less of a risk than the other two, will get a chance to show that he is a long-term starter instead of just a short-term fill. He also fills a direct need, even with guys like Bostic and Jones looking to take one of the two open positions. It's Foster job to lose, but expect the Bears to bring in more competition as we move closer to camp.
The three one-year deals help bolster a front seven heavy on edge rushers, that lack depth in other areas. The middle of the defense is the weak spot, and the three moves add depth to that area. All three players have the potential to be effective starters under Fangio and Fox next season and could be candidates to re-up with the team next free agency period.
Pace has recognized the value of one-year deals, and is taking full advantage of it by signing lesser known guys with proven talent to one-year deals. Fangio and Fox, who are known for developing the type of players they brought in today, can work with these players and make them into starters next season. All the pieces are starting to come together and the defense is taking shape.