It’s the best time of year to be a window shopper in the NFL. The Chicago Bears have a number of roster holes and a ton of money to fill them with quality players. Essentially everyone is on the table for Ryan Pace.
However, which players actually get signed, and which names are more of a pipe dream than anything else is left to be seen? Here’s everything from the Bears’ likely free agent signings to the long-shots.
The sure bets
Nothing is official until the pen is put to paper (just ask Chris Ballard), but these are things you can expect to happen with relative certainty.
Bears sign Albert Wilson
Wilson has been linked to Chicago ever since Matt Nagy was named head coach. However, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach made Wilson’s departure from the Kansas City seem like a near certainty when his first words regarding Wilson’s free agent status were, “Well Matt’s in Chicago.”
Wilson’s familiarity with Nagy’s offense will come at a premium considering Chicago’s lack of wide receivers. Wilson experienced a career year under Nagy and the Chiefs with 42 grabs for 554 yards and three touchdowns. Wilson brings versatility to an offense as he is quick from the slot, but strong enough to remain productive on the outside.
Some may say this makes Jarvis Landry an irrelevant option considering Wilson’s superior versatility and ability to make plays after the catch (7.5 YAC/comp compared to 4.7 YAC/comp). Better yet, the Bears will be signing Wilson for the prime of his career as he will only be 26 by the start of the 2018 season.
Expect Pace to give Wilson a three-to-four-year deal worth $6 million a year on average.
Bears sign Trey Burton
Burton is another player who has been linked to Chicago since the end of the regular season. While Adam Shaheen showed some promise in his rookie year, the Bears still need help at tight end. This is especially true with Zach Miller’s future being spotty at best and Dion Sims grossly underperforming in 2017.
Aside from being a clear fit in Chicago, Mitch Trubisky recently followed Trey Burton on Instagram.
Sure, this sounds like a weak connection on the surface, but Trubisky isn’t overly active on social media making this more than just basic coincidence. Additionally, Jordan Howard said on Good Morning Football that Trubisky will be the guy who goes out and recruits free agents to Chicago. This is just a small example of recruiting that everyone was able to witness.
Burton has mainly functioned as Philadelphia’s backup tight end behind Zach Ertz for the last few seasons. However, he’s proven more than capable of punishing defenses when given the opportunity. He proved his athleticism and crisp route running against the Rams when he put up 71 yards on five catches to go along with two scores.
Pace will have to buy high on a Super Bowl champion with little to show in regards to numbers, but like Wilson, Burton will be signing his prime years to the Bears. Expect Pace to shell out approximately $7 million a year for Burton’s services.
Bears trade Jordan Howard
Yes, it looks bad to trade your most productive and consistent offensive player, but there are plenty of reasons for Pace to be proactive in the matter of shopping Howard.
First, his value as a player will never be higher than it is now. Howard has proven his outstanding rookie year wasn’t a fluke despite teams consistently throwing eight-man boxes at the Bears. Better yet, Howard has two extremely cheap years left on his contract. He offers the perfect blend of production and control to a team that is searching for a running back. Howard’s salary doesn’t top one million in either of the next two seasons.
So Howard is a sell high candidate, but why sell him if he’s producing for the Bears. To put it bluntly, he doesn’t fit in Nagy’s offense.
Howard is a great zone runner, but he sorely lacks the receiving aspect that made Kareem Hunt such a force to be reckoned with in Kansas City this year. Switching between Howard and Tarik Cohen is a solution, but it’s also a dead giveaway as to what type of running plays the Bears will call. Playing them together is another option, but this takes away from the other personnel on the field.
When running backs like Howard and Cohen are consistently available in late rounds, why hold on to a player that doesn’t hold nearly as much value to your team, especially when he has good trade value?
As for Howard’s potential destination, the Seattle Seahawks look like an excellent landing spot. They have desperately been trying to recreate what they had with Marshawn Lynch, and Howard is their best shot of doing just that. The Bears could net a third or two fourth-round picks from the deal.
In regards to replacing Howard, the Bears could look to the recently released DeMarco Murray or look at drafting a player like Kalen Ballage in the fifth or sixth round.
Connecting the dots …
These signings make sense, but there is either a thin connection or a ton of competition involved with signing these players.
Bears upgrade at CB2
Prince Amukamara performed admirably last year, but it seems that his return to the Windy City is suspect at best. The Bears seemingly want to upgrade opposite of Fuller, even if it means they have to splurge a little.
The best available free agent corner on the market is Trumaine Johnson, but the Bears would have to fight tooth and nail to get him away from San Francisco. Even if the Bears did jump in the Johnson sweepstakes against the 49ers, they are outgunned when it comes to cap space.
The next big name corner that would fit well in Fangio’s defense is Richard Sherman. Now available, Chicago has the advantage of Fangio coaching Sherman at Stanford, but they will still have to outbid many other suitors as well, but is paying extra worth it to secure a corner who has proven to play well in press coverage?
If the Bears opt to go for a younger player, Washington’s Bashaud Breeland might be their target. In four seasons, Breeland has snagged eight interceptions and broken up 60 passes.
He functions as a more proficient ballhawk than Amukamara and will be in the middle of his prime at age 26. He would also likely be the cheapest of the three corners listed here.
If these three fail, the Bears might be forced to fall back on Amukamara, but expect him back only in an act of desperation.
Bears sign Allen Robinson
This may be the very signing that Pace’s free agent class is judged by. The Bears desperately need some help at wide receiver, and Robinson is the very best available. He managed to log exceptional numbers despite playing with a less than exceptional Blake Bortles. I’ll put it this way, Robinson has 16 fewer receiving yards by himself in his 2015 campaign than the entirety of the Chicago Bears receiving corps had this season (1,400 vs 1,416).
So why isn’t this signing a certainty? Well, the Bears aren’t the only team that needs a wide receiver. The Colts, Ravens, Panthers, Redskins, and 49ers will likely all be in on the Robinson sweepstakes. There is no question that this bidding war will get pricey in a hurry. Like $15 million a year pricey.
Is a 24-year-old coming off an ACL tear worth that kind of money? I personally think the better question is whether the Bears have the luxury to ask those type of questions with this opportunity on the table.
Sammy Watkins and Landry are very pricey for consolation prizes, but they are about all that’s left on the market when it comes to true number one receivers.
The long shot
Bears snag Ndamukong Suh
The Miami Dolphins are not in a good spot when it comes to the salary cap. After franchising Landry and trading for Robert Quinn, the Dolphins find themselves at nearly $20 million over the cap. A chunk of that will be alleviated by trading off Landry, but Miami still has plenty of work to do if they want to get under the cap, let alone create any type of space to make moves.
One way Miami could do this is by cutting Suh. They would eat the vast majority of his contract, but Miami would free up approximately $4 million in cap space this season and it would allow them to get out from the remaining $37 million on Suh’s contract.
Should the Dolphins decide to eat Suh’s contract, the Bears should be meeting him at the airport. The lack of outside linebackers in this year’s free agency can’t be helped, but the Bears can supplement that pass rush by adding a player like Suh to the fold. The combination of Suh and Hicks would make life for Chicago’s outside linebackers much easier in regards to getting a true pass rush.
The problems with this scenario is that Miami will have to make the painful decision of eating a lot of dead cap before this even becomes a possibility. Should Suh hit the open market, the Bears will not only have to outbid other suitors, but also rely on a 31-year-old Suh playing at the five tech (which he has proven capable of doing in the past). Expect Suh to cost a pretty penny, anywhere between $13-$16 million on likely a two-year deal with an out after one year.
This proposed free agency plan costs $57 million on the high end which would still allow for depth signings and potential extensions to players like Eddie Goldman and Adrian Amos.
Wide receiver, tight end, cornerback, and pass rush are heavily addressed here while leaving the offensive line and outside linebacker to the draft. Additionally, this proposed plan brings in draft picks while helping the offense become more dynamic at running back.
Like this free agency plan? Who do you want to sign? Leave your ideas in the comments below!