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Bears mailbag: Free agency, draft strategy, Jordan Howard’s future and a potential top free agent addition still to come?

The first week of the 2019 NFL free agency period has come and gone. What can the Bears still do to improve their roster? All of this and more in this week’s mailbag.

Divisional Round - Indianapolis Colts v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Each year I somehow forget how quickly the first wave of NFL free agency comes and goes. It goes from millions of dollars flying around in a three-to-four day span, to everything slowing down in the blink of an eye. For the first time in a while, the Chicago Bears and general manager Ryan Pace weren’t in on the top end market. Yet, I think because of their disciplined spending, they are better off for it in the long run.

Make no mistake, there’s still plenty of work to be done. There are 26 open roster spots and still enough cap room to work with, should they come across a veteran that fits their price point. For more on that, let’s go ahead and dive right into this week’s mailbag, which will be mixed with free agency, overall roster construction and even some draft talk.

According to Over The Cap, the Bears are sitting right around $17.5 million below the cap. That does not count Patrick O’Donnell, Nick Williams, Marvin Hall or Tyler Bray. With that in mind and using the rule of 51, a safer cap projection is likely closer to $15.5 million.

Even so, that’s plenty of money to work with, considering where their roster is at.

The Rams gave Clay Matthews a two-year deal for a maximum of $16.5 million over those two years. Now, I know there was some thought that that may hurt the Bears in their quest for a third outside linebacker, but also keep in mind, those numbers include every possible incentive and bonus, which are not likely reachable. My guess is that Matthews’ overall money probably comes in closer to $12 million over those two years, with $6-7 million guaranteed.

Also with that in mind, I’m not sure that changes anything in terms of Justin Houston. At least as of Monday night, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network had reported that Houston’s market was down to three teams, but money wasn’t going to be a determining factor due to how much he has already made in his career. The situation will be more important, which could either help or hurt the Bears.

If he wants the best place to chase a ring, the Bears would likely fit perfectly, if the money makes sense. If he wants to be an unquestioned starter, the Bears may not be a good fit. The Bears still have cap flexibility, but don’t count on them spending anything more than $6-7 million per year for a guy like Houston, which may not be enough.

For many people, including myself, edge depth is my main point of focus right now. Aaron Lynch has visited with three different teams, including the Raiders, Seahawks and Colts, but it has been reported that the Bears want him back, maybe just at a certain price.

As many have asked, Houston could also be an option, but with a veteran like him in demand, he’ll have his choice of where he wants to go. Which makes it a little harder to predict.

There are other veterans like Nick Perry, who was cut from the Packers and could also be an option. Maybe even Shane Ray.

Either way, I find it hard to believe they will head into the draft with Isaiah Irving as their primary man off the bench at one of the most important positions on the field.

Both general managers have done a very good job building their rosters, but in some ways, they’ve done it differently.

Make no mistake, if Pace had the money and the need to spend on the open market, he would have. With Chris Ballard, we’ve seen a more calculated approach in free agency and I’m not sure we’ll see that change down the line. He’s done a good job building through the draft and rewarding his cheaper free agents with long-term contacts.

Overall, I think the situations are different and will continue to be that way, but both are seeing success. The Colts had well over $100 million in free space heading into the offseason, while the Bears have had to clear space and play things in a frugal manner.

I’d be shocked if Zach Miller ever plays football again. With that in mind, he is still currently under contract and on the Bears roster. I’m not overly sure on the specifics of it all, but I’m assuming it has something to do with the two-way contract he signed last week and him being moved to the PUP list shortly after.

Ultimately, I think the Bears will keep him around long-term in some capacity. Whether that’s as a coach or as some sort of ambassador for the team, we’ll find out sooner rather than later. For him, it’s a benefit to still be under contract because he can still work with the medical staff in his rehab and be around the team like he would as a player.

Either way, I’d be shocked if he ever plays again.

When looking to the draft and what they could do, I think it’s always worth keeping in mind that developmental depth is key at almost every position.

I think when looking at potential needs over the next year or two, defensive back (both Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Prince Amukamara aren’t long term options due to price tag), interior offensive line (Kyle Long), outside linebacker (because you can never have enough) and even receiver to a certain extent.

Once again, Pace has set them up very well in terms of starters and solid depth for 2019 already, but I’d imagine that to a certain extent, they are going to have the future in mind at certain positions when making their selections.

I would say defensive back and outside linebacker are going to be focuses, but don’t be surprised if they take a tight end somewhat high. It’s a deep class and tight end is becoming more and more valuable on the open market.

I still think odds are high that Jordan Howard will be dealt before or during the NFL draft next month.

It’s pretty evident that he’s not in the future plans and it does him very little good to be second or third on the depth chart in a contract year. At least from what I’ve gathered, the Bears haven’t had their price met, but they have suitors. Whether or not a team decides to meet those expectations or the team simply decides to “settle” has yet to be seen. I wouldn’t expect a great return, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see them package a pick with Howard in order to land a higher pick.

I know patience with situations like these are hard to find sometimes, but this is something that could be weeks from playing out. Regardless, I don’t see him on the roster for Week 1 in early September.

I have absolutely zero clue who the Bears Week 1 kicker will be, but I do know that this is a long way from being determined.

My guess is that they’ll spend a seven round pick on one. One thing to keep in mind- Since 2010, an average of two kickers have been taken each year. Usually one goes in the first six rounds, but there’s always one that goes in the seventh round.

With that information, I would assume the Bears will be looking at the second kicker taken. At least to my understanding there are three main draftable kickers: Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert, Utah’s Matt Gay and LSU’s Cole Tracy.

Evaluating kickers is hard and I’m not going to pretend to have this nailed down. But I do agree that Gay is my favorite kicker in this class. Yes, he kicked at altitude, but he’s got a big leg and seems to have everything Pace described he’s looking for at the combine.

Free agency always comes with a cautionary tale. Yes, you can improve talent, but at some point if you continue to spend big, it’ll burn you.

For the first time in a while, the Packers spend and at least according to recent reports, they may have spent a little too much. They sunk big (short-term) money into the defense by adding Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Adrian Amos. On paper, you can absolutely assume they got better, especially with a defensive coordinator like Mike Pettine. How much better remains to be seen, but as far as I’m concerned the Packers are the Bears’ main competition heading into the season because of Aaron Rodgers.

The Lions also spend big on the defensive side adding Trey Flowers and Justin Coleman. With their approach, I can help, but question how much they paid for two good, but not great players. Especially with Flowers, paying former Patriots rarely works out. I’m also not sure that Coleman is worth anywhere near what he got.

For the Vikings, I actually think they’ve gotten worse and have very little cap space to work with. On top of question Kirk Cousins, their offensive line is in shambles, even with the addition of Josh Kline. With them, I can’t help, but wonder why they paid so much to retain Anthony Barr, especially when they continue to keep him out of place as an off-the-ball linebacker, instead of a pass rusher that stays closer to the line of scrimmage.

All in all, it’s always easy to overreact in free agency, but as we’ve seen with the Bears over the years, spending big in free agency can produce mixed results. Let’s revisit after the draft.