The first wave of NFL Free Agency has always been a fun time for people who crave big news being broken on a 24/7 basis.
Due to cap restrictions following a year of COVID-related issues the action this year just felt flat in comparison to some years, say… 2018. We all remember that year fondly in WCG, as that was the year we saw Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel signed in free agency. Then, of course later that year — on my birthday no less — we witnessed the Khalil Mack trade.
What if I told you the Chicago Bears’ master plan for 2021 was completely different from the actual trades, signings, and draft picks we witnessed in real life?
Halas Hall Swung Hard Enough to Generate a Hurricane
We all know the story by now. I, you as the fan(s) reading this article, all the writers on Windy City Gridiron and the Chicago-based media discussed a certain move more than any I can think of. Even our grandmas, and their great grandmas, and their ancestors witnessed the Russell Wilson-to-Chicago campaign.
A campaign bus that blew out it’s transmission shortly after departing Lake Forest.
Truly this was a pursuit made by the entire Bears organization to solve their nearly 100-year old problem at the world’s most iconic position in team sports. Desperation was never felt more to fix the QB position after a year of Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles failed to aspire any confidence. Out of nowhere the star QB for the Seattle Seahawks — Russell Wilson — reportedly got fed up and placed the Bears on his wish list.
Chicago Bears management took their shot. Bears GM Ryan Pace allegedly met with Seahawks GM John Schneider at Trey Lance’s Pro Day in Fargo, North Dakota, and made an offer of historic proportions. We’ll likely never know the full details, yet at a minimum the rumored proposal was:
- Three 1st round picks (2021, 2022, 2023)
- Multiple Day 2 picks between rounds 2 and 3 from 2021 and 2022, if not 2023 as well
- At least two of the Bears’ best players on their entire roster (most likely Kyle Fuller and Akiem Hicks)
An A+ effort in salesmanship fell on deaf ears. Pete Carroll and John Schneider told all parties in Lake Forest “no.” The quest for Russell Wilson ended that very day in Fargo.
Hours after that conclusion Halas Hall turned it’s focus to securing veteran QB Andy Dalton on a contract with implications he is “the guy” at QB. Until he’s not - more on that later.
The frenzy in Chicago went from being an endless party at Club Dub 24/7, to a funeral reception, in record time.
It has never been a question of whether GM Ryan Pace and his staff would be so willing to consider such bold moves aimed towards fixing their biggest issues. Heck, it was a must, Pace and Co. were squarely placed on the hot seat following yet another disappointing year of dismal QB play. They just did not have the assets on paper to generate a lot of realistic offers for big names.
Yet Halas Hall Still Kept Swinging
There were plenty of questions from the O-line to the receiving corps that needed adjustments as well. See, the Bears were not — and still are not — just focused on fixing the QB position. Their entire offense needs an overhaul.
Pictured above were the other two big fish Ryan Pace fought to reel in. San Francisco 49ers star LT Trent Williams, and now-New York Giants WR Kenny Golladay. These two attempts were made at the same time discussions began for Russell Wilson. There were also two completely different plans for each player.
- Trent Williams was eyed as the franchise LT and likely received a substantial offer from Chicago
- Kenny Golladay, meanwhile, was seen as the ultimate “1B” receiver to pair with Allen Robinson as “1A” and the rumored offer was just 1-year for $10 million
As if the Bears’ free agency period couldn’t possibly look worse on paper, after failing to land Russell Wilson, both Trent Williams and Kenny Golladay broke the line as they took their business elsewhere.
Chicago went after both players HARD. As Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune has suggested, Chicago didn’t simply “consider their possibilities.” The Bears made honest to god attempts at signing both Golladay and Williams. Golladay even visited the Bears, which also prompted Allen Robinson to sign his franchise tag on the same day. Even though the plan was to keep Robinson and Golladay together, not to replace one another.
The money revealed by these two targets is telling. Trent Williams opted to re-sign with the 49ers for a historic 6-year deal worth a total of $138,060,000 with a whopping $55.1 million guaranteed. Kenny Golladay then signed his 4-year $72 million deal with $40 million guaranteed. You really have to ask how much the final offer for Trent Williams was from Chicago.
Um, so about the Bears’ cap space...they had to cut Kyle Fuller just to free up enough cash for signing Andy Dalton. Looking at you, Ryan.
Yet how on Earth could Chicago even land all three to begin with? The cap requirements would simply be astronomical in their previous (and current) state. Then, we come to realize what the Bears actually gambled on happening.
An NFL Equivalent to a “Big Three” Signing
We witnessed just how much draw power landing one star QB can have in free agency several times this past decade. Two notable events were when Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos, and Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Free agents lined up for miles and accepted bargain deals with each team to get a chance of winning a ring.
That’s precisely what Chicago betted on achieving. At least, once all the dots are connected. Get Russell Wilson, and allow everything else to fall into place. I’m sure Trent Williams and Kenny Golladay would have mulled over Russ’s arrival, to say the least. It could have been a big part of the sales pitch as well.
Still, Chicago would need money, if not half of the Federal Depository to afford all those players. Sacrifices needed to make that Big Three signing happen would have been significant. How much money? Let’s do some simple math.
- Russell Wilson’s current contract
- Trent Williams’s current contract
- Kenny Golladay’s current contract
If we’re using the rumored offer of 1-year and $10 for Golladay, we’ll assume it was fully guaranteed. Trent Williams’s cap hit for 2021 is nearly $8.19 million. There’s $18.19 million between Williams and Golladay. The big one - Russell Wilson. He alone accounts for roughly $26.29 million. It would also cost Seattle over $30 million in dead cap against 2021 just to trade him. Without any financial assistance from the Bears, that is.
Granted, I’m not a capologist here... yet the easy numbers crunching here results in just under $44.5 million of cap required to land all three of these players. It’s worth repeating the Bears started the 2021 free agency period over the cap. Even with Andy Dalton’s deal, it’s $28.19 million the Bears just did not have available. The Kyle Fuller release would look amicable compared to what else could have been on the table.
If I had to guess, we’d see almost half of the Bears’ defense gutted to make room for Wilson, Williams, and Golladay. The Bears weren’t planning on rescinding the tag on Allen Robinson, rather, perhaps they could have reached an extension to save cap thanks to Russ’s arrival? That would, still, not be enough. Players like Eddie Jackson, Akiem Hicks, maybe Roquan Smith could have been placed on the trade block.
There would have been no easy answers. Only bitter pills left on a countertop alongside a glass of plain room temperature tap water. It almost could have negated the improvement made on offense, depending on who (else) got let go. And, Chicago would be without premium draft picks for at least three years, unless some incredible trades were pulled for what’s left of the Bears’ hypothetical roster. It wasn’t realistic without a real miracle.
Sometimes, it’s the deals that aren’t planned which saves a franchise their offseason.
And Then “The Draft” Happened
I was boarding my flight for travel on official business during the same day the 2021 NFL Draft started. Provided that we had to self-quarantine for several days upon arrival, I happily went to my hotel room and parked myself on the couch in front of one very large TV. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling something big was about to happen later that night.
This entire offseason I predicted the Bears would trade up in the first round for a QB if they failed to get their real answer in free agency. Andy Dalton, with all due respect, has never been their real answer. Of course I stood to take a basket of eggs to my face if I was wrong.
The whole NFL world would be shocked hours later.
Not only did the Bears trade up. They traded up... for Ohio State QB Justin Fields, a player I had ranked as high as #2 overall player headed into the 2020 regular season in college football. How he fell outside the top ten is a mystery we may never solve. At least, until the games are live.
Chicago didn’t stop with their massive dinger in the first round. In the second round Chicago traded up again to get Oklahoma State OT Teven Jenkins. An OT who was routinely mocked to Chicago at 20th overall. In two days time Chicago went from having no answers to either QB or OT, to securing two blue chipped prospects who can play right away. And all this was done without mortgaging their next three seasons.
No more needing to sell myself on a QB prospect and beg the great Football Gods for mercy. Justin Fields is the real deal. Teven Jenkins is the real deal at OT, too. It still remains to be seen what else Chicago will do for their O-Line - they recently met with OT Morgan Moses who just signed with the New York Jets. I have a reasonable expectation a veteran will be added soon to pair with Teven Jenkins (Russell Okung, come on down).
Could Chicago still look to add more receivers and weapons on offense? Sure, there are still plenty of pieces available, although I admit Marquise Goodwin has looked good from the limited action we’ve seen from OTAs.
Make no mistake. Had the Bears somehow pulled off the Big Three signing, they would be squarely in the discussion for winning the Super Bowl right away. It would also guarantee everyone residing in Lake Forest would be fired if expectations fell even one conference championship game short of said Super Bowl. The risk, financially and strategically, was incredible.
So much so, that when in comparison to what wound up happening in reality, are they actually better off without this Big Three? This could have been one hell of a free agency period. The draft, as we all witnessed, may have trumped that from a long-term perspective. Time will tell.
You tell me. Would this Big Three signing been your biggest dream worth taking a shot on? Or, does this draft do it for you?