The Bears are in a rare position. They don’t have to spend a boatload of money in free agency to improve its roster.
Head coach Matt Nagy enters Year 2 in charge of the sidelines and general manager Ryan Pace enters Year 5 in charge of the front office. The young duo have assembled a roster with very few holes and a lot of the credit goes to Pace’s hits in the mid-rounds of the last few drafts and some key signings in free agency alongside first-time coach Nagy last March.
The first coach since Lovie Smith (2005) and fifth in Bears franchise history, Nagy took home the Associated Press Coach of The Year award after guiding his new squad to a 12-4 record.
Despite a loss in the Wild Card Round to Philadelphia, 16-15, the arrow is pointing up quickly and as mentioned in the opening sentence of this story, the Bears have set themselves for up for success for wins. You don’t win the season by shelling out big deals in free agency, just ask any teams chasing wins year after year.
Here is a look at the Bears’ biggest moves this off-season and what they mean moving forward.
Swapping Clinton-Dix for Amos
The Bears got their money’s worth from Adrian Amos, a 2015 fifth round pick who started 56 of 60 games in the last four seasons. He was consistent on the back end and is fresh off his best season (73 tackles, two interceptions, nine pass breakups. However, the Bears were never going to give him the money rival Green Bay threw his way (four-year, $36 million, $12 million guaranteed).
Instead, a one-year, $3.5 million rental came the way of Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, a former Packers standout. The 2014 first round pick has 14 career interceptions including a career-best five in a Pro Bowl 2016 season and three in seven games last season before being shipped out to Washington. With Eddie Jackson set to be a free agent in 2020, the Bears are clearly more willing to give him a big payday and if his old Alabama teammate, Clinton-Dix can boost his play alongside him, then that is a win for both sides.
Versatility with Patterson
I’ll be the first person to admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of Cordarelle Patterson until last season. New England made him more than just a return man with the occasional big catch potential. The 28-year-old carried the ball 42 times as a defacto runner in the dynamic New England offense for 228 yards and a touchdown. He had only 43 carries in five previous seasons between Minnesota and Oakland. Speed kills and I fully expect Nagy to figure out how to use Patterson alongside the likes of Tarik Cohen, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and Anthony Miller. For two years, $10 million ($5 million guaranteed), the Bears got very good value in Patterson.
Exchanging Callahan for Skrine
Is Buster Skrine a downgrade from Bryce Callahan? Quite possibly, but the 29-year-old veteran has 85 career starts (nine interceptions, 77 pass breakups) and most importantly, he’s only missed five games in eight-year NFL career. For Skrine, a three-year, $16.6 million, $8.5 million guaranteed) versus Callahan’s three-year, $21 million ($10 million guaranteed) deal, the Bears saved some money and risk.
As good as Callahan has been in doses as a downhill tackler and pass deflector (four interceptions, 20 pass breakups), the 27-year-old has never made it through a full season in four years in the league, missing 19 possible games. The Bears took the safer route with this move and Callahan could certainly prove them wrong, but for a nickelback spot that isn’t a full-time position, Pace could always look to the draft for a future depth piece. Just an FYI, only $2 million of Skrine’s 2020 contract is guaranteed.
Bringing in Davis
The rumors have been all over the place that the Bears will trade Jordan Howard. The signing of Mike Davis (two-year, $6 million, $3 million guaranteed) doesn’t necessarily mean that Howard is indeed gone, but the addition doesn’t help his cause.
Howard is due just north of $2 million this season with a trip to free agency up next spring. He’s been the team’s leading rusher the last three seasons, averaging 1,123 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. But Howard isn’t a very effective receiver and has been viewed by many as a bad fit for Nagy’s versatile and creative offense.
As for Davis, the newcomer gets all of his guaranteed money this season carrying $1 million in dead cap next season if the Bears move on. He had 728 of his career 1,270 total yards with Seattle last season in 15 games, two starts while averaging 4.6 YPR and 6.3 YPC, totaling five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving). The Bears could be wise to keep Howard with Davis and Cohen to have three different backs to rotate around. Howard is a bruiser and a good goalline piece at 6’0″, while Davis (5’9″) and Cohen (5’6″) are not full-time backs but are multifaceted.
Restructuring current contracts
The Bears made three moves to create space with Khalil Mack, Eddie Goldman and Kyle Long.
Mack – Converted $13M of his 2019 base salary & roster bonus into signing bonus. clearing $10.4M of cap space.
Goldman – Converted his $3M roster bonus into a signing bonus, clearing $2.25M of cap space.
Long – Signed a 2 year, $12.2 million restructured contract.
Those trio of contract changes opened up space for possible contract extensions and moves that have been made in free agency. 29-year-old right tackle Bobby Massie earned a contract extension in late January (four-year, $30.8 million, $14 million guaranteed). His salary is no longer guaranteed after the 2020 season.
Tight end and offensive line depth
-Tight end Ben Braunecker was signed back to two-year, $2.7 million deal with $550,000 in guaranteed money. A blocker, he’ll compete for the third tight end spot behind starters Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen.
–Ted Larsen returns for his second stint with the Bears after starting 21 games at left guard in Miami. He made eight starts in 2016 under the John Fox led Bears and will now be a backup at both guard spots behind Long and James Daniels.
-Other moves of note are the re-signings of linebackers Isaiah Irving and Roy Robertson-Harris on 1-year, $645,000 restricted deals, guard Rashaad Coward, defensive tackle Nick Williams and the free agent addition of wide receiver Marvin Hall.
Positional needs moving forward
-Kicker, outside linebacker, punter, running back, safety, tight end, wide receiver
Weigh in with your thoughts on the latest Bears moves. Comment below.