Ryan Pace’s heavy lifting (re: roster building) is mostly finished.
We say mostly because, as Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune points out, there is still one more opportunity for the Bears’ GM to make improvements to the team he’s already assembled – and he may do just that. Stick with me.
Each of the NFL’s 32 teams have until 3 p.m. CT on Saturday to trim their rosters down from 90 to 53 players. In prior years, there were multiple cut-down dates as teams went from 90, to 75, and, finally, to 53. But under a newly implemented rule, there’s now just one. And by that final date, Biggs estimates that teams will have parted ways with 1,184 players – which puts a ton of players on the market at roughly the same time. Biggs also adds that most teams know in advance which players are staying or going, and that the Bears could find “treasure” in another man’s “trash.”
To be clear, it isn’t likely the Bears will snag any game-breakers at this stage of the game. But the team could round out its roster with solid contributors who will help solidify the team’s overall depth. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time.
For example, the Bears picked up cornerback Cre’von LeBlanc after he performed admirably for the New England Patriots last summer. LeBlanc played in 13 games, came up with a pair of interceptions, had the game of his life against Matthew Stafford (who is now the NFL’s highest-paid player), and was viewed as one of the better slot cornerbacks last year. Not a bad rookie season for an undrafted free agent from Florida Atlantic who narrowly missed making a Super Bowl winning roster.
The Bears plucked LeBlanc when they had the ninth position on the waiver wire in 2016, and stand to be in an even better position this year with the third waiver spot overall – a minor consolation prize for what was a dreadful 3-13 season.
Additionally, some more experienced players will hit the free agent market because of cost concerns or potentially-lingering health issues. The Bears would have to be extra aggressive in pursuing these types of players, who might be looking for one more big contract (depending on where they are in their career) or simply a bona fide Super Bowl contender.
The Bears did do just that last summer, though, when they scooped up guard Josh Sitton as a free agent after the Green Bay Packers let him go after the team’s third preseason game. The Bears paid Sitton handsomely, giving the Pro Bowl lineman a three-year deal worth $21.75 million and included $10 million in guarantees.
Similarly, cornerback Joe Haden signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday, hours after being let go by the Cleveland Browns as they turn over their roster. Haden, 28, is a two-time Pro Bowl corner, but injuries have caused him to miss 14 games over the last two seasons.
Of course, there’s a risk-reward balance teams must strike when making these types of moves. But it’s situations like these – where potential diamonds in the rough are both scattered and available – in which scouts and player-personnel decision-makers will earn their paychecks.
Ryan Pace and his staff, it seems, have a bit more work to do.