The first week of the 2019 NFL offseason is in the books. As we’ve been accustomed to each year, many names were on the move, including a bevy of moves for general manager Ryan Pace and the Chicago Bears.
Normally, we see crazy money fly around. This year was no different and quite possibly even more lucrative for free agents than it has been at any point in the past. The difference this year is that the Bears weren’t involved with the big names on the market for what feels like the first time in forever. That’s not to say the team didn’t make their fair share of moves, but it wasn’t to the same caliber as we’ve come to expect from this franchise.
Even so, I wouldn’t exactly call that a bad thing for Pace and the Bears. As we’ve learned many times in the past, “winning” the offseason doesn’t always translate to winning consistently on the field. Which is why fans should be A-O.K. with the Bears approach so far in March.
With all of this mind, how exactly did Pace grade out in his first week of the 2019 new league year? Let’s find out.
Primary Free Agent Additions
As I detailed at the top, this hasn’t be a very active start for the Bears. At least in terms of the top end market. But that’s completely alright, given the status of their roster heading into this acquisition period.
One thing to remember as we proceed is that the Bears had 20 of their 22 starters under contract for the upcoming season. Of course this does not count specialists, but my assumption is that we’ll see that play out more over the next month and a half.
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (One year, $3.5 million)
One of the two starting spots in question heading into March 13th was the safety spot opposite of Eddie Jackson. We saw Adrian Amos head to the Packers early in the process on Tuesday morning and had two days to wonder what they would do at the position. It didn’t take long for Pace to identify his replacement, at least in the short-term.
In essence, the Bears and Packers swapped 2018 week 1 starting safeties. Amos has been nothing short of durable and a steady producer, but grading his replacement requires two elements:
- Overall Skill set
- Contract Value
From a skill set standpoint, Clinton-Dix may be an downgrade when you’re looking at an overall skill set. Consistency lacks with the former Alabama safety at times, but the talent is there and so is his playmaking ability. His knack for interceptions is what could end up making this a wash when all is said and done.
From a contract view, this is an absolute steal. Given the amount of money we saw thrown around on the safety market, $3.5 million seems like one of the better values of the first week. Especially when you compare it to Amos’ deal (Four years, $37 million with $12 million guaranteed). All in all, this move makes complete sense and give Clinton-Dix the opportunity to recoup his value and possibly chase a ring.
WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson (Two years, $10 million with $5 million guaranteed)
In typical Patriots fashion, they turned a lost player into one with value. Whether or not Patterson plays a big role in Matt Nagy’s offense has yet to be determined, but he adds a lot of speed, versatility and most importantly in the later months of the season, return ability.
Some may look at this move and wonder why they would give Patterson $5 million per year. To a certain extent it’s understandable, but yet again, this is not a long-term move and it was a bigger need than some may think. He currently ranks second in NFL history with an average of 30 yards-per-return throughout his career. For anyone who saw the Bears return game last year, you can admit that it needed a serious push in the right direction.
Speed, versatility and explosive kick return ability is what makes this deal a very nice move for the Bears and one that is going to help them more than some imagine.
CB Buster Skrine (Three years, $16.5 million with $8.5 million guaranteed)
Monday was somewhat of a surprising open for the Bears. The morning opened with a flurry of activity around the league, but it wasn’t until that night when the Bears made their first two moves. This one may have been the most surprising, though.
With Bryce Callahan still on the market, the Bears stuck quickly and nailed down their nickel corner for at least the next two years in Skrine. The eight-year veteran has never been an elite talent, but he’s versatile and more importantly for the Bears, durable. He’s missed just five games in eight years.
From a production stand point, Callahan is the better and younger player. His market was also much more competitive, which resulted in the team making an executive decision to secure his replacement due to that market. Some may question it in hindsight, but make no mistake, Callahan had multiple teams in on him with a price tag reaching $10 million. Obviously that did not materialize, but it’s hard to blame the Bears for moving on in the manner that they did.
As far Skrine, he’s a well versed defensive back that can play multiple positions and brings plenty of experience. He plays a more aggressive style, which may have been a selling point for defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano as well. He’s more of a boom or bust type of player, versus Callahan who was a steady producer when he was on the field.
RB Mike Davis (Two years, $6 million with $3 million guaranteed)
Davis may have been the biggest head scratcher for me on this list. At least until I watched some film on him and reminded myself that replacing Jordan Howard is more about scheme fit than anything else.
Let’s be clear, Davis has never been a featured back or had a 1,000 yard season, but from a traits standpoint, he fits well. He doesn’t have a lot of top end speed, but his vision and feet make him a potential steal of an upside signing. He somehow managed 514 rushing yards on a team where they had three backs that touched the ball consistently.
On top of that, he has the needed ability to catch the ball and get downfield. He had 34 catches and five total touchdowns for the Seahawks in 2018.
This is the first of two (assumed) steps to replacing Howard. One thing I will say is that the Bears love him a lot more than most people do. That could either be a very pleasant surprise or a head scratcher, pending how it all plays out.
Of the non-major signings, I’m not sure anyone really stands out as an excellent move, but here’s four other moves they made this past week:
- Re-signed TE Ben Braunecker (Two years, $2.7 million)
- Re-signed DL Nick Williams (One year, terms not disclosed)
- Signed OL Ted Larsen (One year, $930,000)
- Signed WR Marvin Hall (One year, terms not disclosed)
Getting back Braunecker and Williams makes total sense from a depth perspective and more importantly, it takes tight end depth away from a big need, to a manageable one.
Bringing back Larsen was a bit of a surprise, but after seeing Eric Kush more than double his deal, it makes total sense. He also has the versatility to play all three interior positions.
The one move that somewhat intrigues me is Hall. For the second year in a row, the Bears grab a speedy receiver from the Falcons. Hall is not nearly as accomplished as Gabriel was, but he’s a vertical threat and brings value as a returner as well. He’s someone to watch come training camp.
Overall Grade: B-
When looking at overall needs heading into the draft, there are still some needs for the team to address in the coming weeks. But when I look at where the Bears were before the start of free agency and where they are now, they are certainly better in some areas and slightly worse in others. All in all, I’d say they are slightly better than a wash right now, but there’s also still around $16.5 million in cap space to work with and a surprising amount of talent still left on the market.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Bears are currently in line for the first compensatory pick in a long, long time. Obviously that is always subject to change pending the rest of their offseason, but it’s hard to see any move washing out the Amos’ deal, that would currently be good for a fourth rounder.
When looking ahead to the next few weeks, here are a few needs to keep in mind:
- Outside linebacker depth
- Defensive back depth
- Running Back
- Specialists (Punter and long snapper)
- Another offensive skill position weapon (receiver or tight end)
- Offensive line depth