NFL free agency is just around the corner, and fans of every team are excited to see which players their teams will target this year. For every great signing, though, comes a handful of bad ones, which is something that the Chicago Bears know all too well.
Over the past few seasons, the Bears have made a handful of bad decisions in free agency that have hindered the franchise and prevented them from getting better. Although there is quite a bit of excitement in the air, Bears fans should also be cautious.
To show the risks of free agency, let’s take a look at Chicago’s worst free agent signings over the past 10 years.
Before we get started, honorable mentions go to Quintin Demps, Marcus Cooper and Antrel Rolle.
Orlando Pace, OT, 2009
Contract: Three years, $15 million, $6.1 million guaranteed
Orlando Pace was one of the best offensive linemen of the 21st century. No part of that legacy was due to his tenure with the Bears.
Pace made it to the Pro Bowl seven times in his storied career, and had established himself as a legendary offensive tackle when he hit the open market in 2009. At the same time, though, he had missed 25 games in the previous three seasons, and he was 33 years old at the time. So, naturally, Chicago offered him a three-year deal.
Granted, the Bears really needed offensive line help at the time. Their starters that year were an aging Olin Kreutz, Roberto Garza, Kevin Shaffer and Frank Omiyale. On paper the signing made sense. Plus, Pace’s contract decreased greatly after his first season, but he wasn’t even able to stay with the Bears past then. He started the first 11 games of the 2009 season at left tackle before injuring his groin and missing the rest of the season. The Bears released him in March of 2010.
Although it’s not quite as bad as some of the other signings on this list, Pace will go down as a disappointing free agency signing.
Jared Allen, EDGE, 2014
Contract: Four years, $32 million, $15.5 million guaranteed
New regime, same penchant for overpaying aging veterans.
When Phil Emery took the position of general manager after Jerry Angelo was fired in 2012, he tried to turn the Bears from a fringe playoff team into a Super Bowl contender. To do so, he knew that he had to improve their defense, which was one of the worst in the league in 2013. He did do a good job of bringing in some new players. Problem is, not all of the moves he made were good decisions. Case in point, Jared Allen.
Allen was nearly 32 years old when the Bears signed him in 2014, so the idea of offering him a four-year deal was bizarre on the surface. Nevertheless, he had had 128.5 sacks in the 10 seasons he had played up to his signing - achieving double-digit sacks in all but two of those seasons - so he was a proven pass-rushing nightmare. However, Allen fell off upon signing with Chicago.
He ended up losing 18 pounds due to pneumonia in 2014, and his play as a whole dropped off. Whether or not his decline was due mostly due to the sickness is uncertain, but one could imagine that it played a role in it. Allen finished the season with a career-low 5.5 sacks in 15 games. Once Marc Trestman left and John Fox and Vic Fangio brought their 3-4 system to the Bears, Allen was put in a rough spot. He had never played as a 3-4 edge rusher before, and he had very little experience rushing off the edge in a stand-up position. He did have an interception in the 2015 season, but was ultimately traded to the Carolina Panthers three games into the year.
The Bears signed Allen to try to boost their lackluster pass-rushing attack. Unfortunately for them, though, the move didn’t pay off.
Lamarr Houston, EDGE, 2014
Contract: Five years, $35 million, $15 million guaranteed
Unlike the previous signings on this list, Lamarr Houston was just a victim of bad luck more than anything.
Houston tore his ACL during a sack celebration in his first season after playing just eight games, which was admittedly a bad move on Houston’s part, but it wasn’t one he could entirely control. He was able to come back, stay healthy for the 2015 season and record eight sacks, but he tore his ACL again in the second game of the 2016 season. He failed to make the 53-man roster in 2017. Although he came back later in the year and recorded four sacks in five games, that was on a different contract.
Houston was given big money and was expected to blossom into a dependable edge rusher. Although he showed signed of promise, his production wasn’t worth nearly as much as the Bears were paying him.
Eddie Royal, WR, 2015
Contract: Three years, $15 million, $10 million guaranteed
Eddie Royal was brought onto Chicago’s roster to give them that dynamic slot receiver that they had been missing for quite some time. A trio of Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White and Royal seemed like a promising group for Jay Cutler to throw to. That is, of course, until White missed the entire 2015 season and both Jeffery and Royal were plagued by injuries.
Royal, who had a relatively clean injury history prior to joining the Bears, only played in nine games in 2015 due to multiple injuries. He failed to stay healthy in 2016, too, as he only appeared in five games due to toe problems. His stat line in those 14 games wasn’t bad - 62 receptions, 522 receiving yards and three touchdowns - but he simply couldn’t stay on the field.
Royal was eventually let go in May of 2017, marking an end to his tenure with the Bears. He was let go after they added free agents Kendall Wright and the next entry on our list.
Markus Wheaton, WR, 2017
Contract: Two years, $11 million, $6 million guaranteed
In 11 games in 2017, Markus Wheaton had three receptions, 51 receiving yards and no touchdowns. Here’s a list of players who did better than that:
- Maurice Harris (Four receptions, 62 yards, one touchdown)
- James Hanna (Four receptions, 88 yards, one touchdown)
- Bryce Treggs (Five receptions, 79 yards)
- Freddie Martino (Five receptions, 96 yards)
Do you know who any of those players are? I know I don’t.
Combined, those players made $1,363,253 in 2017. Markus Wheaton made $6 million. I rest my case.
Mike Glennon, QB, 2017
Contract: Three years, $45 million with $19 million guaranteed
What more can be said about the Mike Glennon signing that hasn't already been said? The Bears paid big money to get him, and he started for four games and stunk up the joint. There isn’t much beating around the bush with this signing.
What makes this subjectively worse than all of the other signings on this list, though, is just how much money Chicago spent to get Glennon. That money could have been spent addressing other needs, and the Bears could have signed another bridge quarterback for much less money with similar results. Would they have been able to sign someone like A.J. Bouye or Stephon Gilmore? Maybe not, especially since the former confirmed that the Bears offered him more money than the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team he eventually signed with. Still, it would’ve given the Bears the opportunity to target some higher-quality talent.
Stay tuned for this article’s follow-up piece, in which I look at the best Bears free agency signings over the past 10 years.