Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and the NFL for WARR
With the embarking of the 2018 free agency period and the “legal tampering phrase” acting as an early start last Tuesday, the Chicago Bears made an encouraging splash and they were ready to hit the pool of players as if encouraged by a starter pistol.
Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and Cody Parkey headlined an initial haul of unrestricted free agents who jumped themselves at making Halas Hall their new home. Working concurrently while bringing in new guys, the Bears also resigned a couple key defensive players in Sam Acho and Prince Amukamara.
Then the Bears added a backup quarterback familiar with the new offensive system in Chase Daniel, a former Kansas City Chief just like new coach Matt Nagy, both familiar with an offense stemming from mastermind Andy Reid. In making the moves for these players, the Bears have been able to fill some much needed holes in their attack in addition to giving Mitch Trubisky an array of extra weapons. On defense, the Bears secured the continued services of deserving corners in Amukamara and Kyle Fuller, who was signed official on Friday after the Packers made a qualifying offer that was quickly matched by the Bears.
The Bears will likely add more names before they go into April’s draft but now we have a good idea of where the Bears still have question marks and where they might go in the draft. Let’s take a deeper look at what the Bears have done so far while looking ahead at what’s more to come.
First on the list…
The Bears have made it clear that they plan on building around Mitch Trubisky. What we saw last year was Trubisky needs a lot more help from the sideline and the field. Systematically, general manager Ryan Pace has addressed helping his quarterback. First, the Bears started with the coaches, now they have moved to players on the field.
At the combine Pace was quoted as saying the wide receiver position was something the team could address in free agency…clearly. Pace meant his words because he added a number one receiver in the extremely talented when healthy Allen Robinson. Pace then went for a Y tight end by picking up Trey Burton. Burton combined with Shaheen will be interesting, the potential of those two as pass catchers could be very exciting. Finally, Taylor Gabriel was added who can be the deep threat that can take the top off a defense.
All these moves make sense in what Matt Nagy wants to run and the receivers are either big and athletic or lighting quick, a good mix to have for receiving weapons. The receiver position is upgraded but the Bears should consider getting another receiver either through free agency or the draft.
If either Robinson or Meredith goes down, and both are coming back from ACL tears, then the often injured Kevin White would be up next on the outside. The Bears better learn from last season when a couple injuries early in the year made the Bears receiving core easily one of the worst in the league.
The offense no doubt looks better with the possibility of Robinson, Burton, Gabriel and Cohen (don’t forget about him) all being on the field together. One question that needs to be asked is who are the five guys upfront blocking for Trubisky to have the time to throw to all these weapons? Not an easy question to answer right now. Josh Sitton has yet to be replaced, it seems that the Bears need an upgrade at right tackle, and the status of Kyle Long remains unclear since he reacted poorly to offseason surgery last year and followed it up with two more surgeries this year.
The Bears may lean on O-line coach Harry Hiestand to find the best five from what they have but likely the Bears will be bringing in more help. The Bears drafted Jordan Morgan last year who was put on injured reserve before the season began, perhaps he is a potential answer.
As far as the draft, look for Quenton Nelson as a possibility at No. 8 for the Bears. Nelson at eight still seems very high for a guard but there are mock drafts that have Nelson going before the Bears even select. Outside of Nelson, there does not seem to be any other offensive lineman worthy of the number eight pick but this draft is considered deep for interior offensive lineman in later rounds.
The Bears will have options to draft some lineman as well as finding second and third tier lineman in free agency. Whoever the Bears target, hopefully they can be the missing piece to make the O-line more complete.
Defense Maintains Status Quo
The defense was one of the few inspirations from last season and it makes sense why Pace has wanted to keep all the continuity he can on the defensive side of the ball while getting rid of players that aren’t consistent contributors.
Welcome back coordinator Vic Fangio and staff and goodbye to players with any type of cap hit like Pernell McPhee, Willie Young, Marcus Cooper and Quintin Demps. The secondary started as the biggest need for the Bears defense when both Fuller and Amukamara were scheduled to be free agents.
The Bears secured their secondary by bringing back two corners that helped the Bears pass defense rank seventh last year. Chicago will now have to address its next biggest need, an edge rusher opposite of Leonard Floyd and rebuild their linebacking core. It seems likely the Bears will try to add a couple players via free agency to help with their linebacking depth and try to find a player that has flashed pass rushing traits. The draft sets up to look pretty defensive for the Bears after using so much cash capital on the offense. Tremaine Edmunds is a potential edge rusher that the Bears could draft at eight, it may not be a bad idea to draft Denzel Ward at cornerback either.
Cornerback isn’t as big of a need as pass rusher but with all the quarterbacks and weapons in the division, a playmaking corner would be huge. Also, consider the fact that both Fuller and Amukamara were good in coverage last year but not good at taking the ball away. The Bears were tied for the third lowest interceptions last season with eight, the type of player maker that intercepts the ball is still missing on this team.
No matter what, the Bears will have to spend a draft pick on a pass rusher with one of their early picks. It will be critical to get a quality high ceiling pass rusher before they are all gone. It is so important in today’s NFL to invest draft capital in pass rushers just like for quarterbacks.
If the Bears do not fill their biggest hole on defense by finding a capable pass rusher opposite Floyd, then the defense may take a step back from last year.
All in All…
The Bears have done a good job in free agency to put less pressure on the team going into the draft. It’s clear that Trubisky will have some weapons to throw too as long as that persistent injury bug at Halas Hall has been eradicated.
Defensively, the Bears have made smart decisions in who to bring back from last year and who to let go. Pace just can’t make the mistake he has routinely made in free agency and the draft. If there is anything Ryan Pace struggles with it is replacing guys that leave, specifically talented players that leave.
When Alshon Jeffery left the Bears never replaced him and tried to do it by committee, a plan that didn’t work at all. Martellus Bennett left and it took the Bears two years to replace him with Burton and hopefully the former Super Bowl hero can be the pass catcher Bennett was. McPhee and Freeman did not make a lot of impactful plays for the Bears, mainly due to being sidelined because of injuries or suspensions.
Losing both McPhee and Freeman takes away a player with pass rushing ability and a quality inside linebacker. It will be important to find replacements that can be consistent and push some of these starters because of injury guys on the depth chart back to being quality rotational backups.
So far so good from Pace, as long as he learns from his past mistakes in roster construction and then nails this draft — Pace might actually be building a legitimate foundation for the Bears future.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanbski; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio