Ryan Bukowiecki is a student at the Illinois Media School and a contributor to The D & Davis Show; Check WARR Tuesday for part 2 of his Bears off-season breakdown featuring a look ahead to the draft
As a promising but still very rebuilding NFL franchise, the Chicago Bears have been busy this off-season, it started with the hiring of a new head coach, Matt Nagy, and an appropriate staff around the former Kansas City offensive coordinator.
The staff is a mix of returning experienced coaches and coaches being in positions they have never filled before but their success will all come down to the ability of Nagy to run the show. Any change to an NFL head coaching position or general manager means that there will be some roster purging.
The Bears have already been busy at that, getting rid of a few notable names from the past few years, mostly failed or inconsistent attempts at adding to the team in free agency, including Quintin Demps and linebackers Pernell McPhee and Willie Young.
Soon after those announcements came the most cheerful release if you ask Bears fans, that of failed 2017 starting quarterback Mike Glennon. No longer will Bears nation have to complain about his inflated salary or worry about the nightmare scenario of Glennon having to play again because of a Mitch Trubisky injury.
According to Robert Mays of The Ringer in the wake of the Glennon release:
The information provided by Mays can be looked at as an exciting possibility, or sobering evidence that the Bears are yet again in a multi-year rebuild. And if this is a multi-year rebuild, it will be helmed by a guy in GM Ryan Pace that arguably failed in an initial multi-year rebuild. The Bears are no doubt at an interesting crossroad when it comes to free agency and the draft this season, whatever direction they take is murky and unclear.
One thing that is clear — the roster needs major improvements overall and top tier blue chip type players need to be acquired if the Bears are going to compete in a tough NFC North division, let alone a tough NFC with the reigning Super Bowl champs and tough younger teams in each division.
Cap Space and Free Agency
As mentioned earlier, the Bears have been busy purging their roster with mind on redesigning a roster to go with a new system and philosophy under a new head coach. Big name free agents from the John Fox era have been released or announced as low priorities as free agents.
Pernell McPhee, Mike Glennon, Quintin Demps, Jerrell Freeman and Willie Young are among those big names and more will be out the door soon as Bears beat reporters Jeff Dickerson and Brad Briggs have written about Markus Wheaton and Dion Sims having small chances of returning to Chicago. None of these players will be sorely missed but a trio of departing linebackers — McPhee, Young and Freeman — hold important positions on the team.
Right now the Bears have one edge rusher in Leonard Floyd, 2017 rookie Nick Kwiatkoski can step in for Freeman at inside linebacker but he is among a group of top inside LBs from a season ago that missed significant time to injury. It also has to be pointed out that currently top cornerback Kyle Fuller is scheduled to become a free agent. Reports by Hub Arkush have surfaced saying that Fuller wants to stay with the Bears so hopefully a deal can be reached because the Bears will have a gaping hole at cornerback without him.
By my count, that means the Bears will have major holes at arguably the two most important positions on defense, pass rusher and cornerback. Perhaps the only good sign of the defensive purge is that the Bears have found a safety combo in breakthrough rookie Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos that made Demps expendable. Once again the question has to be asked by Bears fans, does it sound like the defense will have an opportunity to get better or will regress from a year ago?
On offense, the Bears have the quarterback situation figured out for now but outside question marks remain for the rest of the position groups. Sure the running back position seems solved but Matt Nagy and his mentor Andy Reid love pass catching backs, Jordan Howard is not the type of receiver that can be relied upon consistently and Tarik Cohen is too small to be an every down back.
More than likely, Nagy will find a way to use Howard and Cohen to their strengths to get enough run/pass options from his running back position. John Mullin reported over the weekend that the Bears may try to trade Howard for Jarvis Laundry of the Dolphins but that trade either fell apart or it was never seriously thought of to begin with. Keep in mind that one of the strengths of this draft is the running back position (more on that in part 2 of the off-season breakdown), so Howard could still maybe be used to gain another pick in it or some other type of quality established player.
We already know the wide receiving core needs to be completely overhauled, especially when the top two receivers on the depth chart are either completely unproven (Kevin White) or coming off significant injuries (Cam Meredith). The tight end position consists primarily of Adam Shaheen and if Sims gets cut then there will be a big need to fill as Zach Miller has a long road to go before even thinking about getting back on a football field.
A popular name floated around for a tight end is Trey Burton from the Eagles but he is yet another player with potential and not a proven track record. The offensive line has multiple holes and question marks — Josh Sitton was released and will need to be replaced, the tackles could use an upgrade, especially right tackle and important questions exist such as where is Cody Whitehair going to play and what is the status of Kyle Long? These are difficult questions to be having when offensive line was considered a strength not too long ago.
The good news is that there will be options available in both the draft and free agency to upgrade the line, the bad news is that it might come at a great price both financially and in the draft. One positive is that the offense should be better just from the coaching staff alone and it would be very difficult for the Bears to regress on that side of the ball.
The free agent class of 2018 isn’t quite set but remember these things when evaluating the Bears free agency signings as the open period begins March 14th. According to Rotoworld, the Bears have a total of 51 players on their roster with likely more releases coming. The Bears also currently have seven draft picks and they need way more than seven players.
It will be hard for the Bears to convince some of the top free agents in the League to come here because of how bad the team has been, but its also tough to commit a lot of financial resources to free agents. Free agents are rarely let go by a team if they are a top transcendent talent, there is some sort of question mark around a player if he is released whether it is age, injuries or doesn’t fit.
Exceptions happen and if the Bears can find a few guys like Akiem Hicks or Danny Travathan then they will be much better off, but the overall goal has to be providing functional depth. The key word is functional because too many guys brought in by Ryan Pace just can’t do anything. Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Marcus Cooper and many more didn’t contribute at all when healthy.
Some of the blame deserved to be laid on the previous coaching staff but don’t be surprised if a lot of the guys the Bears have released as of lae will go on to do nothing notable anywhere else. The Bears and the rest of the league deal with injuries to top players all the time, having functional depth is the only way to survive in the NFL.
Pace has to find a few really good players in free agency but he also has to find players that have real ability that can be developed. So far Pace has mostly failed at finding players with upside as the GM but at least financial resources will not be an issue.
The rule is to build your team through the draft because the most important and controllable pieces for any NFL team cannot be found anywhere else besides the draft. We know the Bears need many of those pieces, this brings us to a very important draft for GM Pace.
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