Assuming everything goes according to plan, the 2017 season will be John Fox’s last as the head coach of the Chicago Bears.
That gives general manager Ryan Pace the opportunity to find a new coach that best fits the long-term outlook for the team. Up to this point, his job has been fairly secure. Sure, there hasn’t been much in the way of results, but the roster is much better than it was when he took over, and there’s actually a future in place for the Bears. His seat has never necessarily been considered hot.
That needs to change after the season.
Pace has done a very good job fixing the team, but he will be entering his fourth year as Chicago’s general manager next season, and there hasn’t been much improvement in the win-loss column. This coming offseason will prove to be huge for him. That starts with deciding which of your own players to bring back.
According to Over the Cap, the Bears are projected to have just over $41 million in cap space this offseason. If they were to cut Mike Glennon and Markus Wheaton, then they would end up having about $57.6 million in cap space. That number could increase even more if they choose to let go of any of Marcus Cooper, Jerrell Freeman, Josh Sitton, Pernell McPhee or Willie Young. This puts them in a good position heading into free agency to extend their own players while signing a few from other teams.
The Bears held onto their top upcoming free agent when they re-signed Akiem Hicks back in September. There are still a handful of solid players who will have expiring contracts at the end of this year, though. Let’s take a look at who’s projected to hit the open market this offseason, and who the Bears should bring back.
Note: This does not include restricted free agents like Cameron Meredith, Bryce Callahan, Patrick Scales and John Timu. Those players are likely to return to the team.
Fuller entered the 2017 preseason with his roster spot in doubt. After all, he had missed all of 2016 due to injury, there were rumors about the coaching staff’s unhappiness with him, and some believe that he hadn’t proven enough up to that point to warrant keeping him on the roster. Nevertheless, the Bears decided to keep him. That decision turned out to be a good one.
Fuller has been the Bears’ top cornerback this season. Sure, he’s had a few down games, but he has also looked like a true starting corner in several games this season. Considering that he will only be 26 years old in February, it’s best that the Bears lock him up long term.
Amukamara has been solid for the Bears so far this year. He hasn’t necessarily been great, but he hasn’t been awful, either. That may be enough for the team to re-sign him, but there are a lot of other factors that will play into his returning to Chicago.
The Bears will likely be bringing back at least one of Fuller or Amukamara. Considering that we’re already re-signing Fuller, that leaves the latter’s status in doubt. Can Chicago really afford to dish out big bucks to two average cornerbacks? It could happen, but they might be better off spending money on better players.
Miller did a great job as the Bears’ tight end since Martellus Bennett left. He broke out in a major way in 2015 and settled into a starting role for the following two seasons. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that he will ever play again due to the horrific leg injury he suffered back in Week 8.
Given the uncertainty of his playing days being over or not, his age (33 years old) and the fact that the Bears already have Adam Shaheen on the roster, Miller likely won’t be coming back to the team.
Inman has only been on the Bears for two games, but he has proven that he’s the best healthy wide receiver on the roster. He leads the team in both receptions and receiving yards over the past two weeks with nine and 131, respectively. He gives Chicago the big-bodied target that they currently lack.
Sure, the Bears are likely to sign a wide out or two and draft one in the first four rounds, at least. But out of the receivers that they currently have, healthy or not, Inman is one of the best.
Wright is in a somewhat different situation from his teammate, Inman. The latter has been impressive in the short time that he’s been with the team. The former has been good, too, but to a lesser extent.
Even though Inman has been more impressive as of late, Wright has been a serviceable option for the Bears. He would be a reliable and cheap option to keep around as depth next season.
Unrein is a “John Fox guy”, having played under him for seven seasons. If Fox leaves, then one can assume that Unrein will leave, too, right? Don’t be so sure of it.
Jonathan Bullard has been underwhelming in the limited playing time he’s seen, and Roy Robertson-Harris hasn’t proven much, either. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep Unrein around on a one-year deal with little money guaranteed. If neither of the aforementioned youngsters proves that they can start in the offseason or preseason, then the Bears will have Unrein around just in case. If one of them do, then they can cut the veteran. It’s a solid investment in a security blanket.
Megapunt is averaging the sixth-most yards per punt in the league with exactly 48. He also has the third-longest punt with 69 yards, and he’s tied for 13th in punts kicked inside the 20-yard line. That should be enough to warrant a re-signing.
We haven’t seen Santos kick in a Bears uniform yet, so it’s unfair to say whether they should re-sign him or not. If he does better than Connor Barth did, though, my guess is he stays.
With Jerrell Freeman out for the season and Danny Trevathan having missed some time, Jones has been a tackling machine for the Bears at inside linebacker. He’s only 26 (will be 27 this February) and would be great to keep around. However, he will have to fight for a spot in the starting lineup with Nick Kwiatkoski next season. If the Bears keep Freeman around, then Jones might be the fourth linebacker on the roster. Obviously, it would be good to keep him around, but other teams might want to pay him more than the Bears can afford to give to a backup linebacker.
Assuming the Bears cut Mike Glennon, Sanchez will be the only other quarterback on the roster not named Mitch Trubisky. The team is likely to find another signal-caller to add, whether that be a journeyman vet or a rookie. Regardless, though, Sanchez is worth keeping around for the sole purpose of having someone to further help Trubisky develop.
Acho has been a key special teams contributor since he joined the Bears in 2015. He has also seen time on about 43 percent of the team’s defensive snaps this year. With one of McPhee or Young possibly gone, he might be worth keeping around for special teams and depth purposes.
The Bears have a recent history of keeping backup (or starting, in some cases) offensive linemen on one-year deals and letting them go the following year. Mike Adams, Vladimir Ducasse, Patrick Omameh and Ted Larsen come to mind as recent examples. Chicago will have Eric Kush and Jordan Morgan healthy next season, which leaves guys like Compton without much of a role on the roster.
Cunningham has done a solid job at running back for the Bears this season. He hasn’t actually run with the ball that much this season, but he has played a decent role as a back on passing downs and as a special teams contributor. It might be smart to give him another short-term deal this offseason.
Has DePaola done enough to warrant staying on the roster in favor of injured long snapper Patrick Scales? Who knows? I sure don’t. This can go either way, but my guess is the Bears stick with Scales.
Jenkins has only been on the field for five defensive snaps so far this year. Odds are they don’t have big plans for the backup nose tackle.
The longest-tenured Bear on the roster, McManis has been phenomenal on special teams since he joined the team in 2012. For that alone, he’s worth bringing back.
This is a bit of a tough one. Bellamy has value on special teams, but he doesn’t do much on offense. Overall, though, I don’t see him sticking around. The Bears need an overhaul at wide receiver, and an influx of new talent might see the veteran on his way out.
You can pretty much copy and paste what I said about Compton and apply it to Sowell.