On March 8th, the Bears found themselves armed with $51 million in cap space, and with glaring weaknesses all across the roster, many fans were rubbing their hands in anticipation, waiting to read headline after headline of one big Bears acquisition after another. Pace’s own words fueled the fire:
“We’re going to be aggressive and calculated. We’re in a position to do so. We’ll have a clear understanding of our roster and where our needs are and where we want to add to each position.” – Ryan Pace, January 2017
By the time March 9th was over, those same fans held out those same hands in baffled confusion.
Stephon Gilmore, formerly of Buffalo, appeared to be a lock. Reports of him in Chicago sounded positive initially, but then word leaked that the Bears were in pursuit of other cornerbacks. Gilmore later signed an enormous contract with the New England Patriots.
Other names fell off the board with little to no Bears involvement. AJ Bouye went to Jacksonville. Trumaine Johnson stayed in Los Angeles. Logan Ryan signed with the Titans.
Safety, a long-crippled position that’s plagued the Bears with inconsistency since the days of Mike Brown & Tony Parrish, similarly came up empty. Eric Berry was rewarded by the Chiefs with a long contract. John Cyprien went to Tennessee. Tony Jefferson became a Raven. The Bears had talks with DJ Swearinger, but he ended up going to Washington.
Wideout fared no better. Alshon Jeffery spurned multiple other contract offers to sign a modest 1-year deal with the Eagles, almost entirely spiting the franchise that drafted him. Terrelle Pryor seemed almost to fall into the Bears laps until Washington snatched him up. Kenny Britt went to the Browns. Cordarelle Patterson inked with the Raiders.
Even when Ricky Wagner, the biggest Right Tackle name in the market, was in the Bears’ sights, he signed later with division rival Detroit.
Virtually every major name that was at some point associated with the Bears ended up signing somewhere else; some for deals that were way below market value, alarmingly short-term, or both. So, the question lingers: Why were so many players walking away from negotiations with Ryan Pace & the Chicago Bears?
Ryan Pace, John Fox, & George McCaskey have all answered several times in several ways, but all essentially repeating the same mantra: This team is rebuilding through the draft, and that’s final.
“I’ve told Ryan, you should be criticized every spring for not being more aggressive in free agency. Because that means we are sticking to the plan of developing our own players, focusing primarily on the draft. If there is a special guy out there, do you do what it takes to go get him? Yeah. But I think he’s taken a very measured approach to free agency thus far and I expect that to continue this offseason.” – George McCaskey, January 2017
“You try to balance [draft possibilities] out a little bit. Obviously, we say we’re taking best player available, but when you know that there’s a position in the draft that’s extremely deep, I think you can think, ‘Hey, there might be a chance to address that there,’ especially if something gets way out of whack, price-wise in free agency.” – Ryan Pace, January 2017
“The two years we’ve been here, we’ve done a lot of erasing. Part of that has been a little bit to get more youthful and a little bit to get better. And so, as I mentioned earlier, we’re in good position from a monetary standpoint, not that we’re going to build through free agency, because we believe the right way to build is through the draft.” – John Fox, January 2017
“I said this before: you can recover from the player you didn’t sign. You can’t recover from the player you signed at the wrong price. We have to recognize that. I think if you look at most good teams around the league, they’re usually built through the draft. There are a couple exceptions here or there, but we have to be mindful of that. and it’s easy, guys, in these moments to say, ‘let’s do this extreme thing here.’ I think a lot of times when you do that you’re paying a player that amount of money, it’s almost impossible for that player to reach those expectations. I think the best thing about free agency is if we can address some of our needs again. it opens up the draft for ‘best player available. Then when we do that, it’s just increasing our odds.” – Ryan Pace, March 2017
It definitely seems that Pace is sticking to his creed, and once again used the Free Agency period in a very conservative fashion to bolster the roster without breaking the bank. Let’s review some of these new faces:
- CB Prince Amukamara: Still young at 27, Amukamara’s not an interception machine, but when healthy has proven to be a solid NFL corner and is instantly the best corner on the Bears roster. Betting on himself after a good year in Jacksonville, Amukamara could earn a payday if this 1 year audition is stellar.
- S Quintin Demps: Demps appears set to serve in the role of mentor, presumably to a young flock of corners & safeties, and in the interim of their development hopefully pick off a few balls in the process. His contract too is a glorified 1 year deal that requires playing time to really pay off, so don’t let the three year headline put you off.
- WR Kendall Wright: Another young-ish player at 27, Wright comes into Chicago familiar with Dowell Loggains’ offense and should bring some burn to the gameplan. Another 1-year contract, Wright needs to prove his petulance and dismal work ethic as a Titan won’t be repeated.
- WR Markus Wheaton: Coming off of a disappointing final year in Pittsburgh, Wheaton is a versatile talent whose primary concern for 2017 is to stay healthy. His two year deal (with only 2017 guaranteed) will be a limited opportunity for him to showcase whether or not he’s cut out to be a primary receiver.
- CB Marcus Cooper: After a dismal start to his career, Cooper bloomed in the desert as a Cardinal, making 69 tackles and 4 picks. The Bears rewarded him with a three-year deal, and hopefully his momentum continues in the navy and orange. Cooper himself is very excited and proud to be a Chicago Bear.
- TE Dion Sims: At 6’4″ 270-ish lbs, Sims is a stalwart blocker who needs to work on being part of the passing game to really blossom. A backup most of his young career, look for Sims to get a lot of looks in 2017.
- OT Tom Compton: A true behemoth, the 6’5″ 300+ pound Compton should be just the versatile talent that Ryan Pace seems to covet. He will likely threaten for Bobby Massie’s right tackle spot, but more realistically will be a super backup to both tackle positions and potentially an emergency substitute at guard.
- QB Mike Glennon: Read my thoughts about Glennon here…
To some fans this may be an extremely frustrating offseason, where our patience is being tried as fans as this team continues its youth movement. All we can do now is look forward to the draft and hope that things fall into place and that Pace knows what he’s doing.
Maybe George McCaskey, paragon of brilliance and wisdom, can offer some soothing advice:
“It’s been very challenging. I’ve said many times, our entire family is huge fans. And we live and die with our Bears, just like everyone else does. And it has been very difficult. And that’s where I think the important responsibility for me is to show the same kind of discipline with myself that Ryan is demonstrating in the draft and in free agency. You know, sometimes the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut.” – George McCaskey, January 2017