Chuck Pagano is officially the defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears replacing Vic Fangio who spent the last four years in that role. Pagano brings 33 years of coaching experience including the last 17 in the NFL. Most recently, he served as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts from 2012 to 2017.
While the defense he inherits is already fairly set, each coach has his own “guys” and Pagano is no different. He will want to bring in a couple of those guys who know his system with the goal of easing the transition for everyone involved.
Luckily, there are a couple of intriguing players who fit that bill who are available this offseason.
1. OLB John Simon
First on the list is someone who only spent one season with Pagano which coincidentally was his last in Indianapolis. Simon played in only nine games in 2017 for the Colts but has always been a player Pagano respected. Even before he signed, Pagano had this to say about the linebacker:
John Simon on the outside, I mean, this guy is a hard-charging, rugged, tough son of a gun who has sack production himself,” Pagano said. “I know they miss [Texans defensive end J.J. Watt], but everybody else has put it on themselves and on that unit to step up their game. They’re ranked fifth in the National Football League for a reason.”
It’s clear Pagano was the reason the Colts signed Simon and he could make the same request this offseason.
Simon registered 42 tackles, three sacks and an interception in only nine games with Pagano. He also posted his highest Pro Football Focus grade of 73.6 and had a passer rating against of only 53.3 when targeted.
While not flashy numbers, Simon does all the little things that make an impact for his team. He won’t replace Mack or Floyd anytime soon but if the Bears are looking for a cheap replacement for Aaron Lynch they could do a lot worse than Simon.
2. CB Rashaan Melvin
Melvin has a little more experience with Pagano than Simon spending two seasons in his scheme. However, those two years were the best of Melvin’s career.
He had his best season in 2017 recording 36 tackles and three interceptions. While not gaudy numbers, teams tended to shy away from attacking him as he was targeted 55 times and only surrendered a reception on 29 of them. His passer rating when targeted was a career-best 60.3.
Just like with Simon, Pagano had only good things to say about Melvin.
The guy has come a long way,” Pagano said of Melvin. “He works, he practices, he prepares, he grinds, he puts the time in. Then, he goes and competes his tail off. I mean he doesn’t say boo. He’s smart and he’s tough. He’s got all the athleticism and stuff like that, but the guy is a competitor – a top competitor. I’m really proud of that guy.”
In his two years with the Colts, Melvin played exclusively on the outside. So he would not be a viable replacement for Bryce Callahan should the Bears choose not to re-sign him. What he can do is provide a solid veteran backup to Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara while also serving on special teams.
3. DE Henry Anderson
Anderson has the most experience with Pagano of anyone on this list spending his first three seasons in the NFL with the Colts. There, Pagano was instantly impressed and had high praise after Anderson’s very first game.
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano is impressed with rookie Defensive End Henry Anderson so far as he lead the team in tackles in week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, and hopes the production continues as they play the Jets on Monday night.
Anderson was often injured in his three seasons under Pagano but when he was on the field he was a solid, run-stuffing defensive lineman. When Pagano was fired, the defensive scheme change prompted the Colts to trade Anderson to the Jets. He had his first fully healthy season and really thrived notching career highs in every statistical category including seven sacks.
The Bears can save around $700K in cap space by releasing Jonathan Bullard, and I expect that to happen when the league year starts. Anderson, who has more prototypical size for the position at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, could be brought in as a replacement.
Anderson has experience at nearly every position across the defensive line from nose tackle to outside linebacker. His versatility will serve him well as a rotational defensive lineman as he can back up multiple spots.
4. SS Matthias Farley
While the other players on this list were all unrestricted free agents, Farley is a restricted free agent. That means the Colts have four different tender options for him: 1st Round, 2nd Round, original round, and right of first refusal. He would be allowed to negotiate with other teams but the Colts would have the right to match any offer. If they choose not to match they would receive a draft pick based on the tender applied to him. In the case of right to first refusal, there is no compensation involved.
Since it is unlikely the Colts value him enough to put a first or second round tender on him, and he was originally an undrafted free agent, right of first refusal would be the logical tender. This means the Bears would not owe the Colts any compensation if they signed him.
With not of space in the salary cap to work with, Farley could be a cheap alternative to re-signing Adrian Amos. While not nearly as talented as Amos, they have similar styles preferring to play in the box. His last year with Pagano and only time starting a full season he finished with 95 tackles and two interceptions. He was Pro Football Focus’ 36th ranked safety under Pagano which would make him an average starter. He should only improve playing behind the Bears ferocious front seven.
Farley could be a buy-low candidate with some sneaky upside if reunited with Pagano. At the very least he could be a solid backup and valuable leader in the defensive backs room.
The Bears don’t have a ton of cap room so they will not be going after many (or any) big time free agents this offseason.
These four players could be cheap alternatives with the added benefit of already knowing the defensive system.
None of them are flashy players and will not get many headlines if signed, but all could have a huge impact from a schematic standpoint. At the very least, the Bears should do their due diligence.