The Chicago Bears knew they had work to do in free agency, with holes at multiple positions. Since the 2016 NFL season began five days ago, the Bears have been active in addressing significant needs on the defensive and offensive sides of the ball.
To date, Chicago has signed four new players in free agency, with each of them having the abilities, experience and talent to help move the Bears in the right direction.
Here are my grades for each newly acquired free agent:
Danny Trevathan, ILB – Trevathan was a no-brainer for the Bears to pick up in free agency. The young, high-motored, playmaker was exactly what the Bears needed to address at the linebacker position. Last season, Bears inside linebackers Christian Jones and Shea McClellin, struggled in pass coverage and lacked the ability to make game-changing plays.
Trevathan, who played on the number one defense a season ago, was a huge impact player for the Broncos. He filled up the stat sheet with tackles and had a nose for the football. One of Trevathan’s biggest strengths is in his pass coverage. He drops back well and has great instincts when it comes to turning his hips to run with receivers. Here is a good example of him using those techniques when he picked off Jay Cutler in their meeting at Soldier Field. Trevathan is only 26-years-old, which means he has plenty of opportunities to grow and develop into the linebacker the Bears so desperately need. Under Fangio, he should progress nicely.
One weakness about Trevathan is his size. At 6’1, 240 pounds, he is undersized for an inside linebacker. If the Bears defensive line doesn’t do a good enough job at occupying the opposing offensive linemen, those offensive linemen will work their way to the linebacker level, and be able to block the undersized linebacker.
Moreano’s Grade: A
Bobby Massie, RT – At the end of last season, the Bears offensive line struggled to keep Cutler upright and drew the most holding penalties in the league (35). With the newly acquired tackle, the line should get a huge improvement in keeping the quarterback on his feet. Massie is a staggering 6’6 316 pounds, and will give defensive linemen all they can handle when it comes to rushing the quarterback. Massie will replace three-time pro bowler Kyle Long at right tackle, moving Long to his natural position at right guard.
With each player at their natural position, this will strengthen the offensive line as a whole. Massie’s biggest strength comes in the run game, where he will use his enormous size to move defensive linemen. Head coach John Fox loves to run the ball, so look for Fox to call plenty of runs to the right this season.
One area of concern for Massie is his ability to get off the line quick enough in pass protection. The left tackle has great size, but it can be a disadvantage when he has to go against speedy edge rushers. Watch as the season progresses how the left tackle uses his technique to make up for this lack of quickness when getting off the line of scrimmage.
Moreano’s Grade: B
Jerrell Freeman, ILB – The weakest position on the Bears defense a season ago was at the inside linebacker position. On the first day of free agency the Bears addressed that weakness by acquiring Trevathan, but they didn’t stop there. Three days later, they signed another inside linebacker in Freeman.
Freeman spent four seasons with the Colts. Before that spent three seasons in the Canadian Football League. In his time in Indianapolis, he racked up over 100 tackles in three of his four seasons. Freeman also has a knack for making plays with eight forced fumbles and four interceptions in his NFL career.
The Bears brought in two linebackers who know how to fill up the stat sheet and cause turnovers. Trevathan and Freeman make the Bears weakness a season ago into a strength. Kudos to Ryan Pace.
After watching film on Freeman, one area that the linebacker can improve on is pass coverage. He does a good job when it comes to covering running backs in the backfield, but when receivers cross his face in the middle of the field, Freeman tends to forget his assignments. As the season progresses, watch to see how Freeman does against multiple receiver packages that are designed to attack the middle of the field.
Moreano’s Grade: B-
Akiem Hicks, DL – Versatile, big and nasty are words that describe both the Monsters of the Midway and new defensive linemen Akiem Hicks.
At 6’5, 324, Hicks is a monster of a man to handle. Not only does Hicks require a double team on most downs, he is versatile as he can play both defensive end and tackle. This is what makes Hicks so dangerous and a player that offensive coordinators need to game plan for.
The former Patriot has a high motor and is good with using his hands to shed off blockers. Hicks won’t put up eye-popping numbers. Rather, he will fill up holes for opposing running backs; giving opportunities to Freeman and Trevathan to make tackles for loss. Hicks should also create more opportunities for Pernell McPhee to get to the quarterback.
The biggest concern with Hicks is that he wasn’t a every down guy when he played for the Patriots. He would be in on one defensive series, but then he’d be on the sidelines for the next one. With a Bears defensive line that doesn’t have a lot of depth, let’s see if Chicago can rely on its new lineman to be on the field when they need him most.
Moreano’s Grade: B
Each of these free agents will improve this Bears team in their own unique way, and with the draft not too far off, more help is on the way!