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Bears mailbag: Combine madness, upcoming free agency and more

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Free agency is getting closer and the Bears will have a front row seat to draft prospects at the combine. How will this week impact their offseason? Find out here.

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s combine week and the rumors are already flying around. On top of that, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy both spoke to the media on Wednesday.

While there were a few questions answered, there was still plenty to read in to. Because of that, there’s still a great mystery surrounding their plans as the NFL is just under two weeks away until the start of the new league year, also know as free agency.

It’s a packed mailbag, so let’s dive right in.

During Pace’s press conference on Wednesday, he revealed that the team had already met with four-to-five running backs on night one of the combine. I think that in itself says a lot.

Couple that with Nagy going on about what he looks for in a running back (very little of which fit Jordan Howard’s skill set) and him saying that this isn’t an offensive system that calls for a bell cow running back and you have more smoke to the impending fire.

Wild Card Round - Philadelphia Eagles v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Don’t get me wrong, I think Howard is a good back. I also don’t believe that he is a good fit in Nagy’s offense, which clearly calls for a back with multiple skill sets, including pass catching out of the backfield and pass blocker. Which leads me to believe that they’ll add at least one running back if not multiple.

If that’s the case, I expect the Bears to look to deal Howard at some point in time, but it may not be until they feel they have found a suitable replacement or two. When that happens, I expect the Bears to get somewhere around a low fourth or fifth round pick. Keep in mind, he’s limited and on the last year of his rookie deal, so his value isn’t what some expect it to be.

I need to put a disclaimer at the start of this response and it’s this: I’m still early in my draft evaluations, even though it’s almost March.

With that being said, my two favorite prospects at the position right now are David Montgomery out of Iowa State and Devin Singletary from FAU. The problem? It’s possible that neither will be there when the Bears pick at 87 and I’m not sure it’s smart to trade up for a running back, in general.

Montgomery is someone who can do it all and I have an early and firm second round grade on. He’s got the size, breakaway speed, hands and overall profile for someone who fits perfectly into Nagy’s offense.

Singletary is another very good fit, but he’s smaller and ultimately doesn’t have a ton of production as a receiver, even though I fully believe the ability is there.

The good news? There are plenty of talented running backs that will be available in both the third and fourth rounds this year. A few names to keep an eye on: Darrell Henderson (Memphis), Miles Sanders (Penn State) and David Ozigbo (Nebraska).

With Dion Sims (cut), Kyle Long (restructure) and Mike Glennon’s $2.5 million cap credit from his 2018 offset language (not accounted for on any cap sites yet), the Bears are sitting at a little over $18 million. This, of course, is assuming a $190 million cap and going by Over The Cap’s current numbers.

As Brad Biggs pointed out in an article earlier Wednesday, the Bears could look to extend players like Chase Daniel to save a bit more as well. Assuming they converted his $4 million base into a signing bonus and extended him two years, they could save another $2.33 million in space that way.

There are other possible moves, like cutting veterans like Sam Acho ($2 million savings), Bradley Sowell ($1.5 million savings) and maybe even someone like Nick Kwiatkoski ($2 million savings) or a Howard trade ($2 million savings) that could be grouped together in some form to save some extra money as well. But the biggest cap savings would be converting Khalil Mack’s $11.3 million base salary into a signing bonus. It would save around $8.3 million in cap space, but would bring an extra $2 million or so in dead space for the next four years in prorated charges.

All in all, I think the Bears will still clear another $5-$10 million in space, it’s just how they’ll do it and when it’ll happen.

Listening to Pace talk, it sounds like they’re going to continue to be aggressive and know that they have options in their back pocket that they can use if they need to. They won’t have the flexibility they’ve had in the previous three years, but they’ll have enough to re-sign a few players and make a few improvements within the free agent market.

Speaking of cuts... Cody Parkey is gone, but he’s not going to save the team any money. In fact, he would have cost the team an extra $1.125 million if they took on his full dead money charge in 2019.

The difference between eating that money now and in 2020 comes down to a June 1st designation.

Each year, teams get (up to) two players that they can designate as June 1st cuts. In order to do this, they must wait until the start of the new league year (March 13th), which is exactly what the Bears are doing. When a player is cut with either the designation or after the actual date of June 1st, their dead money is broken up into two years. In some cases, that dead figure is cut in half between the two years. In the case of Parkey, he still had $3.5 million in guaranteed salary due to him, on top of an extra $1.7 million in prorated bonuses that came from his signing bonus in 2018.

Long story short, Pace using a June 1st designation with Parkey is simply to push that extra $1.125 million in dead money into 2020, so that they’ll have more cap flexibility in the coming weeks. Yet, another move that won’t hurt them much down the road.

Oh, man... This is a tough one.

In some ways, I think that Long will come into the year as the healthiest he’s been in four years and perform at a high level for all of it. On the other hand, it’s hard to assume that a 30-year-old that has found himself on Injured Reserve three years in a row, will somehow finish the season.

Looking at the amount of games he’s played the last three years, he’s averaged (8.67) games per season. I’ll be “optimistic” and set the over/under at 12 games. That’s simply speaking for the regular season, to be clear.

Hitting the reset button is likely not an option, but adding another high upside player to the mix isn’t out of the question.

In 2019, Trey Burton still carries $11.95 million in dead money. That means that they would actually lose an extra $3.45 million by cutting Burton, rather than keeping him on the roster. They could save $5 million if they part ways with him in 2020, though.

As far as Adam Shaheen goes, health is a big factor with him. He looked pretty dang good in camp and preseason last year, but we know the rest of the story. This is a big year for him, but there’s still some reason for optimism.

Don’t be surprised if they spend a mid round pick on a tight end, especially in such a deep class.

Robbie Gould without question.

That’s not to say he’s the best player, but he’s also the best fit for one of their biggest needs. I doubt it happens, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Gould was tagged and somehow up for grabs, for the right price.

Even so, I would imagine the cost would be around a fifth round pick and a contract for three-to-four years for over $4 million per year. So not only would they have to give up one of their top draft picks, they’d be spending over $8 million per year on the kicking position in 2019.

Pace was actually asked about that on Wednesday and did say they haven’t reached a point of choosing between the two.

With that being said, it’s hard to see them investing an extra $15 million (or more) per year into their defense. That makes me believe that only one of them will likely get re-signing, but it’s still possible that both of them walk, as well. I expect to see both at least hit the market.

My choice is still Bryce Callahan and that’s for a couple reasons.

  1. Cornerback, even nickel is still of a higher positional value than safety.
  2. (Due to health), Callahan’s price is likely going to be cheaper than Adrian Amos.

Obviously this isn’t a black and white issue, but I do think that positional value and overall price will play a big part in this, which is why I think Callahan sticks around over Amos.

It will all depend on the size of contract Amos signs for, but my educated guess would be more in line with a fourth round comp pick, assuming the Bears don’t make any moves that would cancel that out.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the NFL’s formula for comp picks isn’t public knowledge, but it is based on contract size and caliber of player.

Aaron Lynch is an interesting player for me. Health was an obvious issue for him and it’s no secret that he has performed better under (now) Broncos head coach Vic Fangio, than he has with any other defensive mind.

I do agree that the Bears shouldn’t feel remotely good or even safe with Isaiah Irving, Kylie Fitts or Acho as their first line of defense off the bench. I also don’t know that Lynch is worth another one-year gamble, especially with Fangio gone.

If it was me, I’d be looking for a veteran that can play a role. Someone like Justin Houston (if cut) or Terrell Suggs (if he hits the market) could make a lot of sense on a short-term deal. Age isn’t a big factor here. I’d also think seriously about drafting another young pass rusher. You can never have too many.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been hoping the Bears would spend a worthwhile pick on a developmental corner. The problem? They haven’t. I get it, they have plenty of money sunk into the position, but like you’ve pointed out, Amukamara probably isn’t a long-term solution.

Due to his contract, he’s here for 2019, but 2020 is the last year of his deal and carries little dead money, which could make him a casualty, if they are looking to clear money again next year.

Kevin Toliver II played well in spurts, but it’s a sizable risk to put faith in an undrafted player like that, even after two years. I’m not sure they can afford to spend a high pick on a corner this year, but new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano also has put a high value on defensive backs in the past, so I wouldn’t rule it out.