The Chicago Bears entered Day 1 of the new league year with a list of needs and ample cap space to lure free agents.
After Day 1 of the new league year, the Chicago Bears … have a list of needs and ample cap space to lure, well, remaining free agents.
Yesterday, as big-ticket free agents were flying off the board, the Bears were unable to take advantage of their generous cap situation, and missed out on many of their reported targets. This isn’t to say all of the free agents who spurned the Bears to sign with other teams will pan out, but the Bears had a clear need to make multiple upgrades in the secondary, in particular, targeted the highest rated free agents, and failed to land any of them.
Instead, the Bears added their preferred quarterback target in Mike Glennon, as well as some interesting pieces in Markus Wheaton, Dion Sims, and Quintin Demps. Useful players, to be sure, but none from the deep end of free agency where the Bears were thought to be swimming. And some of the most obvious needs remain.
Now, the team is still carrying various needs and fewer options to choose from on the free agent market, all while failing to use its fortunate cap situation to improve on a 3-13 team. The Bears will likely use the draft to fill these holes, but that still leaves significant vacancies in other areas on the roster because the team whiffed on Day 1 of free agency.
Over at the Chicago Tribune, Brad Biggs explores what went wrong this week. The Bears missed out on each of the top free agent defensive backs, offensive tackles, and a few receivers – including Alshon Jeffery, who made it clear with his actions he would rather play elsewhere for one year than return to the Bears for multiple seasons. It’s an all-too-familiar refrain for an organization starved for talent.
Last year, the Bears missed out on cornerback Janoris Jenkins and defensive lineman Malik Jackson in free agency, but were able to scoop up linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman to give the team solid role players and significant upgrades at the linebacker position. That may not be the case again in 2017, as free agents chose to decline offers to come to a Bears team that was coming off a 13-loss season, and had a mass exodus of assistant coaches in the offseason before head coach John Fox entered the third year of his four-year contract. As if the Bears needed more reasons to knock it out of the park in the upcoming draft.
Now, you could make the argument that, if the Bears do not realistically expect to be competitive in 2017, what would be the good in committing significant dollars to one or two top-tier free agents who were probably not going to be the difference for the Bears in 2017? And maybe that was the Bears’ approach: try to get a guy or two on a great deal, but if they decide to go elsewhere, so be it, and move on to value signings. It’s not as if Stephon Gilmore or A.J. Bouye accepted bargain offers from the Patriots and Jaguars. So, you roll over more cap space into 2018, hopefully with more useful draft additions and development from young players, and take your swing then.
But you can only sign players when they are available, and there are no guarantees that next year’s class will be any better situated to address the Bears’ needs. The draft is obviously the most critical component to building an annually successful franchise, but thoughtful free agent additions are nearly as important. Right now, then, it’s hard not to feel like the Bears lost out on a clear opportunity to improve the team for 2017, and possibly beyond.
Maybe, when the fall rolls around and we look back, we’ll see that the Bears avoided some bad deals, and picked up some savvy bargains. It’s not as if GM Ryan Pace not signaled his intent to be disciplined in free agency, noting just last week that, “You can always recover from the player you didn’t sign. You can’t recover from the player that you signed at the wrong price.”
Hopefully, with a successful draft and more value signings, the Bears can recover from a quiet open to free agency.
Luis Medina contributed to this post.