It’s the best time of year to be a window shopper in the NFL. The Chicago Bears don’t have a lot of room to work with, but they have a few options to free up cap space if need be.
However, it’s always good to distinguish between what is likely and what is a pipe dream before free agency officially starts this week. Here’s everything from the Bears’ likely free agent signings to the longshots.
The Sure BetsNothing is official until the pen is put to paper, but these are things you can expect to happen with relative certainty.
Bears Trade Jordan Howard
Did he have a great rookie campaign? Yes. Does that mean he deserves a spot on the team in 2019? No.
The Bears did their best in trying to get Howard rolling last season. Only five running backs in the NFL carried the ball more than Howard, yet he statistically struggled to get anything going.
We haven’t even addressed the fact that Howard provides next to nothing as a receiver, which greatly hamstrings Matt Nagy’s offense. At this point, Howard is best utilized as a short yardage back. While there’s not a single problem with having a short yardage back, there really isn’t a place for one in Nagy’s offense … especially if he keeps letting Akiem Hicks carry the ball. Add along the performance boost added to late round picks, and Howard will be getting paid north of two million dollars to come in on 3rd-4th and short situations.
It’s not fun to write about a runner who embodies Chicago football being obsolete in Nagy’s offense, but the results speak loud and clear.
Potential trade partners would be the Ravens, Eagles and Texans. Those teams like to run the ball and lack someone with Howard’s particular albeit short set of skills. The Bears should be able to get a mid-round pick in return.
Bears Allow Adrian Amos to Walk
Like Howard, Amos is another player who is good but replaceable. Consider Chicago’s defensive starters from this past season and rank them from best to worst. In all likelihood, Amos lands at eight or lower (Hicks, Mack, Jackson, Fuller, Trevathan, Callahan at the very least with Amukamara, Smith and Floyd having solid cases as well).
The fact of the matter is that the Bears can’t pay the eighth best player on their defense a ton of money. Additionally, the Bears can’t afford to be paying their safeties a combined $20 million per year which would likely be the case once Eddie Jackson comes due for a contract extension.
On the bright side, there are a number of available safeties on the market who can fill Amos’ spot. Even if the Bears waited till the draft to add a safety, Deon Bush provided some solid play in relief last season. Additionally, the Bears would net a compensatory pick in the 2020 draft for letting Amos sign elsewhere in FA.
Connecting the Dots
These signings make sense, but the Bears only have a slight connection with these players, or they will face a ton of competition trying to sign these players.
Bears Make a Splash at Safety
I don’t like leaving this so vague, but there are simply too many safeties available to gauge which direction Pace would like to go.
Earl Thomas is the last big ticket safety on the market, but there’s no way the Bears can afford his rumored price tag of $15 million a year
I consider players like Tashaun Gipson and Adrian Phillips to be potential targets for Ryan Pace.
Of these players, I find Phillips the most realistic target for the Bears. He plays as well in the box as Amos, but creates a few more big plays in the pass game. He’s also flown under the radar to this point which could allow for the Bears to snag him at a good price.
That said, Gipson is more of a specialist in pass defense which could make him a candidate to flex out into nickel packages. Even with the addition of Buster Skrine in free agency, having flexibility and versatility on defense is never a bad thing, and Gipson would be a great way to add that for a cheap price.
Bears Restructure Khalil Mack’s Contract
Editor’s Note: Chicago did restructure Mack’s contract on Tuesday and opened up $11 million in cap space in the process.
If the Bears truly want to make a splash this week, they probably need some more space. One way they can create that space is converting Mack’s salary this year into a signing bonus. This would give the Bears some more room to work with, but it would also clog up cap space further into Mack’s contract.
It’s a move the Bears can keep in their back pocket in case they need a few extra million dollars to pull in a player, but unless that happens, expect Pace to keep the cap flexible in the future.
Bears Add a Rotational Pass Rusher
This player looked to be Terrell Suggs heading into free agency, but the former Sun Devil opted to return to where he played his college ball.
Unfortunately, the options get slim in a hurry. Justin Houston is the obvious first choice, but his price tag is unknown to this point. It doesn’t help that the Detroit Lions set a very high value of edge rushers this offseason by signing former Patriot Trey Flowers to a deal supposedly worth around $17 million a year. Ultimately, this will all depend on what Houston wants in regards to playing time, money, and a shot at a Super Bowl ring, none of which are explicitly known.
After Houston, there aren’t many great fits. Shane Ray is a name a few people have kicked around, but Chicago will have to value his upside over his inconsistent play and injuries.
A name that is a bit out of left field from an edge rushing standpoint is Jamie Collins. He primarily functions as a linebacker who is an above average rusher at his position. Defensive coordinator/interim head coach Gregg Williams sent him off the edge numerous times last season to a decent amount of success. After a lackluster year in Cleveland, Collins could be a cheap add.
Lastly, the Bears could bring Aaron Lynch back in. He played well when called upon, but injuries continued to be a problem as he missed the latter part of last season. There is also a large contingent who believe that Lynch will travel to Denver in an attempt to reunite with Vic Fangio.
Bears Bring in More Help at Running Back
Like safety, there are a number of options here. Unlike safety, none of them will fit either the Bears needs or their budget.
The Bears took a minor stride here by signing Mike Davis on Monday, but he likely figures into Benny Cunningham’s role as a third-down back who can also contribute on special teams. Even though Davis is a solid pickup, the Bears will likely make another move while it’s in free agency or the draft.
Tevin Coleman would be the best fit of all the available free agents, but he will likely score the biggest contract this offseason, likely coming in around $7 million per year. The Bears aren’t anywhere near that desperate to add a back like Coleman.
TJ Yeldon and Mark Ingram would be solid additions, but Yeldon and Cohen share similar skill sets, and Ingram is essentially a better Howard who in turn will cost a decent amount more than Howard.
The safe option here is Spencer Ware. He is familiar with Nagy’s system and will likely fit Chicago’s tight budget. Unfortunately, Ware has some injury issues that the Bears will have to consider unless …
The Long Shot
Bears Trade For and Sign Le’Veon Bell
Imagine defenses needing to key on both Bell and Cohen motioning around the backfield together.
Sounds unfair right?
Of course, this is far easier said than done. The Bears would have to pry Bell away from Pittsburgh, and give him a contract that satisfies him.
This move would also create some strife down the road with Trubisky, Jackson, Whitehair, Floyd and Cohen coming up for extensions over the next few seasons.
That said, even if the Bears only can maintain this core for two years with Bell, it’s hard to imagine this team not making a serious run at a title if not winning it all over that time.
Pace has certainly never shied away from making big moves to put his team into contention. He doesn’t have nearly as many cards in his deck as years past, but sometimes it’s all about who’s playing those cards.