In part one of my series, I detailed my thoughts on all the changes involved within the Chicago Bears’ coaching staff. For part two, we get to perhaps the most exciting phase, the actual construction of the Bears’ roster.
It is safe to assume that general manager Ryan Pace needed to re-shuffle his philosophies. His first three years yielded varying degrees of success between free agency, the trade market, and the draft. Year four has presented an unprecedented amount of change and excitement in Pace’s efforts to re-tool the 53-man roster.
Production and common sense takes over roster construction
Throughout his first three years in Chicago, Ryan Pace aimed to draft talent and sign players who may or may not have required some polishing to their game, yet presented athletic upside. He typically kept his hands in his pockets during free agency as well, rather than spend on well known and high profiled veterans. His tendencies led to him investing in an array of veterans who weren’t household names, yet were poised to have major roles in his strategic plans. The results, have been considered a mixed bag.
Signings considered to be “bargain bin” additions who have panned out, to varying degrees of success, include the likes of Akiem Hicks — by far his best free agent signing yet — Bobby Massie, Josh Sitton, Pernell McPhee, Zach Miller, and Prince Amukamara. Then, there are the tremendous failures: Mike Glennon, Markus Wheaton, and virtually the rest of the 2017 free agent class; Antrel Rolle, Alan Ball, Connor Barth, and many others.
His biggest problem with free agents has been finding adequate replacements for the veterans he would cut. For every Robbie Gould and Charles Tillman he would cut, every Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett he would trade, and Alshon Jeffery he would allow to walk, came with it a new hole. Its not that he made these moves without reason, each transaction has been tempered with some kind of logic. It’s just his conservative plans to patch those holes hadn’t produced consistent solutions.
That is all set to change.
On day one this off-season, he reeled in the white whale of this year’s veteran receiver market, Allen Robinson. To a fair and well-written deal, no less. Robinson stands to be the biggest free agent addition on their offense in many years, if not in the history of the franchise.
To this day, former Bear receiver Johnny Morris — and member of my historic fantasy team — is the Bears’ all-time leading receiver. His mark of 5,059 career receiving yards was set back in 1967 following his retirement. Allen Robinson already has 2,848 receiving yards in his career. The 2015 Pro Bowler is primed to absolutely smash that record. The hype is real in this addition.
The only move that is remotely comparable to this signing, is when Jerry Angelo signed Muhsin Muhammad to a multi-year deal in the 2005 off-season. Unlike Muhammad, Robinson isn’t just an instant upgrade to the receiving corps; he is a major piece for the long term puzzle. At the time of their respective signings, Robinson is 24 years old; Muhammad turned 32 prior to the start of the 2005 regular season. That is a huge difference in how each player was/is viewed within their general managers’s plans.
Pace didn’t stop with just Robinson at receiver. He pursued as many weapons as he could secure under contract. Players like Taylor Gabriel, Bennie Fowler, and Trey Burton were added to bolster the arsenal of weapons on Nagy’s offense. Don’t forget new kicker Cody Parkey, as we all know too well the difference a solid kicker is capable of making.
Hopefully, we’ll never have to witness such a disastrous fail moving forward.
On defense, key veterans in Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara were locked up together for at least the next three seasons, with a young developing tandem at safety in Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson. Fuller’s return is made even sweeter when considering that Ryan Pace stiff-armed the Packers’ attempt to land Fuller via the transition tag.
If you’re keeping track of the lineups, the return of both Fuller and Amukamara virtually guarantees that at least 8 of the 11 primary starters from last season are poised to return this season. The only changes expected at this point are at outside linebacker (McPhee was cut), defensive end (Mitch Unrein left for Tampa Bay), and “mike” linebacker (Jerrell Freeman was cut).
The only veteran addition that will likely have a meaningful role with the starters, is outside linebacker Aaron Lynch. His familiarity with Vic Fangio should prove to be useful, and has flashed his potential from time to time. For what it’s worth, in his lone appearance opportunity against the Packers, he registered two of his fifteen total sacks against Aaron Rodgers.
I am here for more sacks of Aaron Rodgers.
Otherwise, most of the improvements for this top ten ranked group, is to come from within. Fangio expressed his preference for self-improvement, and why wouldn’t he? Pace and Nagy are wise to keep as much continuity as possible on defense, while their offense is re-tooled.
Let us not forget about the draft, Pace’s preferred resource in building his roster.
As mentioned earlier, free agency has been a mixed bag for the Bears prior to this year. The draft, on the other hand, has yielded some solid results. Yes, the 2015 draft hasn’t exactly yielded favorable results, outside of Eddie Goldman. It remains to be seen if Kevin White can become a meaningful contributor this season.
The hauls brought in during the 2016 and 2017 drafts are noticeably better, though. Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, Eddie Jackson, and of course Mitchell Trubisky have been combined to form a pretty talented core of players to build around. The 2018 draft takes this young team to the next level.
Because of such a strong free agency period, the Bears were truly prepared to take the best available players on the board. Again, this year’s class is different in the case that these rookies are largely considered plug-and-play additions, and not projects. Their current draft class has been praised heavily by fans and analysts alike. Most of the excitement revolves around their first three picks: linebacker Roquan Smith, offensive lineman James Daniels, and wide receiver Anthony Miller.
Roquan Smith in particular projects as the best inside linebacker in this, and likely the past few drafts. He compares favorably to former Vic Fangio desciples like Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, and to a hall of fame linebacker in Ray Lewis. Yes, I said it. Smith, physically and productively speaking, compares closely to Lewis almost as well as he compares to Willis and Bowman. His instincts, range, and physicality will fit perfectly at the “mike” position. A position of which Smith is poised to become the next great player on defense.
Two more potential starters were drafted in left guard James Daniels, and at receiver in Anthony Miller. Daniels comes from a program in Iowa that has produced plenty of quality linemen, and his development will be closely monitored by a legendary offensive lineman coach in Harry Hiestand. Where he spent most of his collegiate career at Center, the plan as of now is for him to play at guard, where he’ll likely assume the vacancy left by Josh Sitton’s departure. He already has a hefty endorsement from his head coach at Iowa, a respected guru of offensive lineman in Kirk Ferentz.
Meanwhile, Miller arrives into this receiver corps with a huge chip on his shoulder, and a hunger to be the best player in the league. His production and absurd highlight films — like this one — will make any fan excited to watch a new #17 take the league by storm. He compares himself to Steve Smith, and penned a personal letter to GMs across the league prior to the draft.
What that letter displayed, is a young man with an exceptionally professional and mature mentality honed in on his personal mission. He doesn’t care for any comparisons with former Bear and current Super Bowl champion Alshon Jeffery, either. Instead, he is hellbent in creating a legacy of his own. This speaks for the type of character and energy both Nagy along with Pace aim to fill their roster with. Fans should be ecstatic about Miller’s arrival, and the league better take notice.
As a whole, the raw amount of young talent on this year’s roster, is arguably better than any we have seen in nearly a decade. Both the offense and defense of this team are built to last for the foreseeable future. Its taken quite a while, but Pace has succeeded in creating a team with plenty of youth.
Purely based on age, the Ryan Pace has taken a starting roster of 27.73 years old with 10 of 26 players of 30+ age in 2015, to an average age of 25.35 with 1 player on this list at 30 years old.— Aaron Leming (@AaronLemingNFL) May 2, 2018
It's been a long process but it's still impressive to see the overhaul. #Bears https://t.co/0nvLHj9PnV
Specifically, their offensive line is pretty much set at four of the five positions for the next couple of seasons. Only Bobby Massie has his contract up following the 2018 league year. The receiving corps, led by the trio of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Anthony Miller; brings in a ton of versatility and speed to stretch the field vertically. We can’t forget about running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, as each player is the perfect compliment for one another. Oh, and the tight end core of Adam Shaheen, Trey Burton, and Dion Sims should be competent at the least. Safe to say, Mitchell Trubisky is being set up rather nicely at quarterback. Expect a couple of pro bowlers to emerge in the near future.
Defensively, they too are largely set for the next few years. It remains to be seen when defensive tackle Eddie Goldman will be extended, and who emerges at end opposite of Akiem Hicks. Outside of that, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan should be a fun pair to watch at inside linebacker. Leonard Floyd, once healthy, should wreck havoc off the edge with Aaron Lynch primed for a re-emergence. The secondary is ready to roll for the near future, with Adrian Amos being a possible candidate for a contract extension. I would expect for more takeaways to happen now that opposing teams will need to take the Bears’ offense seriously.
Of course, now that the roster has been overhauled, comes the all important task of assembling those pieces together. My third and final part of this series will detail the new game plans to be expected on both offense and defense.