When the Bears hired Ryan Pace and John Fox to turn the Bears around they had arguably one of the worst rosters in the NFL. In less than 20 months on the job they have almost completely overturned the roster. The Bears have only 12 players and six starters remaining from the Emery/Trestman regime.
The Bears hired Pace two weeks after a season ending 13-9 loss to Minnesota follwing the 2014 season. Fox followed eight days later and the rebuild began in earnest. The Bears finished the 2014 season 5-11 under Marc Trestman in his year.
The Bears most recent moves cutting all-time leading scorer Robbie Gould and signing three-time Pro-bowl guard Josh Sitton surprised many. Sitton was signed to a three-year $21 million contract after he was cut by the Packers.
In the past two seasons, the Bears have gotten rid of a bevy of high profile players.Yesterday can almost be viewed as a microcosm of the Pace-Fox era. Quickly moving when a player they want is available.
— Robbie Gould (@RobbieGould09) September 5, 2016
Pace's discussion on the Bears moving to get Gould's replacement Connor Barth can be applied to the general philosophy of the Pace-Fox regime.
We’ve signed Connor Barth. So, for us, it was just (a situation) where if a specific player becomes available and we know that we’re able to acquire that player, then this is something we need to entertain or discuss. So that’s kind of how it played out. When we knew this guy would be available for us, it made the switch a possibility."
Pace made several notable moves in his first off-season. Their first big move was trading troubled wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall was the Bears most productive receiver, but his off-field distractions and his want to continue being a panelist on Showtime's Inside the NFL led Pace and Fox to trade him.
Welcome to the NY JETS Brandon Marshall.
Great trade for a 5th round pick. No brainer of the year. Great start for the new regime. J-E-T-S!
— Wayne Chrebet (@waynechrebet) March 6, 2015
After Marshall was moved, the next splash was made in free agency almost immediately. They signed outside linebacker Pernell McPhee from the Ravens, safety Antrel Rolle from the Cardinals and wide receiver Eddie Royal from San Diego.
The Bears had nearly a dozen more moves that seemed to bring in name players, players that could have an impact or both. Among their signings that spring and summer were Sam Acho, Ray McDonald, Sherrick McManis, Vladimir Ducasse, Alan Ball, Jacquizz Rodgers, Will Montgomery and Tracy Porter. These were names familiar to Chicago and/or had performed well for other teams.
Acho was supposed to give the Bears another pass rusher, McDonald had been a four year starter on a 49ers team that had gone to three straight NFC Championship games, Ball and McManis, who was a star at Northwestern gave the Bears depth secondary,
Porter started for two years in New Orleans and one in Oakland, he returned an interception for a touchdown that clinched the Saints Superbowl XLIV victory over the Colts. Ducasse and Montgomery provided depth on the offensive line and Rodgers was all-purpose threat brought in to return kickoffs and backup Matt Forte.
Most of those signings have not worked out. McDonald never played for the Bears. His tenure lasted just 62 days after he was arrested for a second time in May 2015. He was released by the Bears following his second arrest for domestic violence in nine months. Of the players signed during the 2015 off-season in free agency, only Royal, McManis, and Porter remain on the active roster. McPhee is on the physically unable to perform list as he continues to recover from off-season knee surgery.
The turnover of the Bears roster continued into the 2015 season. High profile moves, especially trades do not usually happen in the NFL during the season. Fox and Pace seemed determined to turn the roster over every chance they a good opportunity.
Defensive End/Outside linebacker Jared Allen was traded to Carolina for what turned out to be a sixth round pick. Allen lasted just over a season with the Bears. He became expendable when the Bears switched to a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Allen had been a defensive end in a 4-3 his entire career. The Bears signed Allen to a four year contract with $15.5 million guaranteed in free agency in March 2014.
The next day the Bears shipped linebacker Jonathan Bostic to New England for a sixth round pick. He missed the first three games of 2015 with an ankle injury. Bostic was a 2013 second round draft pick from Florida. He didn't last long in New England as the Patriots moved him to Detroit in May for a seventh round pick.
Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff was suspended by the NFL for three games at the beginning of the 2015 season after pleading guilty that spring to a DUI that occurred in Texas in 2013. Less than two months later Ratliff was released. The situation with Ratliff became so heated that the Bears had to call the Lake Forest police after Ratliff left Halas Hall.
This past off-season brought more changes. They signed linebacker Danny Trevathan away from the NFL's best defense in Denver and offensive tackle Bobbie Massie from Arizona. Massie was a three year starter for the Cardinals. Trevathan was a key player in the Broncos Superbowl run, but has had injury problems. His played in only three games in 2014 because of a fractured knee cap.
Were Kyle Long and Josh Sitton foreshadowing?
And you thought this would never happen in real life... pic.twitter.com/85srSsvTma
— McDonald's (@McDonalds) January 22, 2015
Two days later the Bears signed linebacker Jerrell Freeman from the Colts. Freeman had started 57 games over the last four seasons with Indianapolis, every game he played in. He was the Colts leading tackler in his first two seasons in the NFL and second to D'Qwell Jackson the last two years.
Freeman and Trevathan are the Bears starting inside linebackers on the depth chart.
Later in March, the Bears rid themselves of another locker room disrupter when they sent tight end Martellus Bennett to New England with a sixth round draft pick for a fourth round pick. The final notable move in the 2016 off-season was to sign veteran Quarterback Brian Hoyer in May. Hoyer gives the Bears a huge upgrade over Jimmy Clausen to backup Jay Cutler.
With Gould's departure, Jay Cutler is far-and-away the longest-tenured Chicago Bear. Next is...Alshon Jeffery. Total roster turnover.
— Alex Quigley (@alexquigley) September 5, 2016
Jay Cutler is now the longest-tenured Chicago Bear.
With no end in sight.
— Jimmy Greenfield (@jcgreenx) September 5, 2016
The roster moves over the were the latest moves that created to turnover on the roster in the Pace/Fox regime. The moves included waiving 2014 second round draft pick Ego Ferguson and cutting Rodgers and backup wide receiver and key special teams performer Marc Mariani.
The most surprising moves were Gould and Sitton. Gould is the Bears all-time leading scorer, was the players union rep and had been the team's longest tenured player. He also holds the Bears record for most made field goals. If he had stayed with the Bears, he likely would have broken Kevin Butler's team records for PAT's attempted and made and field goals attempted.
Three time pro-bowlers rarely if ever become available this time of year. Sitton is a three-time pro bowler that was a second team all-pro two of the last three seasons. The Packers tried to trade him before Sunday's 3:00pm et deadline. He was owed $5.9 million which might have scared some teams away.
Josh Sitton All-Pro Teams
|2010||1st Team||All-NFL||Pro Football Focus|
|2011||2nd Team||All-NFL||Pro Football Focus|
|2013||2nd Team||All-NFL||Associated Press|
|2013||2nd Team||All-NFL||Pro Football Focus|
|2014||2nd Team||All-NFL||Associated Press|
|2014||1st Team||All-NFL||Pro Football Writers|
|2015||2nd Team||All-NFL||Associated Press|
|2015||2nd Team||All-NFL||Pro Football Focus|
The Bears knew they had to act quickly to significantly upgrade their offensive line. Pace said:
"When he became available...we need to act quick on this. He’s right up the road. There are a lot of teams interested in him. Let’s just have him drive down and get on this right now and be aggressive and be decisive."
Pace and Fox have been aggressive in their 20 months on the job. The prevailing opinion is that they still have a ways to go with upgrading the roster before they can compete for a playoff spot and championship.
In-season moves as big as last year seem unlikely. Fox and Pace are committed to continually doing whatever it takes to make this team a contender. If that means making a move to upgrade the roster, they have shown they will do it without regards to the timing.
If you enjoy this post please put in your email to subscribe and not miss a post of the Chicago Sportist. You can also send an email to AMRubenstein@gmail.com and I can add it in for you.