We are though the first week of NFL free agency, and what most teams do now is attempt to determine whether they are better now than they were a week ago, when the negotiation period began. In the case of the Bears, I feel they are just a tad bit better but not by much.
In a perfect world, the Bears would hold on to most of their free agents, but with limited cap space, that was never going to happen. In fact, I felt the Bears would do little in the free agent market because of their lack of funds. One thing we didn’t see is the Bears signing a big-ticket free agent, but we did see them replace players they felt they would lose.
As clubs prepare for free agency, they always have a budget and they also put a price on players that they would like to keep. Such was the case with nickel CB Bryce Callahan and SS Adrian Amos. With the funds they had available, the Bears felt there was a certain figure they could pay in order to retain those players. They weren’t about to pay more than they thought the players were worth.
In the case of Callahan, I feel the Bears found out early they would not be able to retain him, as they had a deal with former Jets slot corner Buster Skrine shortly after the beginning of the negotiation period. The contract the Bears gave Skrine is probably the maximum they would have used to retain Callahan.
As good as Callahan was for the Bears last year, he was not irreplaceable. He was a very good cover guy who was also fairly good in run support. The negative side was durability, as Callahan missed games due to injury in each of his four years in the league. In Skrine, the Bears are getting a player who isn’t quite as good as Callahan in coverage, but he is a bigger, stronger, more physical and durable player. With the players the Bears have on defense, it’s not inconceivable that Skrine plays as well as Callahan did.
Personally, I never felt the Bears were going to be able to retain Amos. He is a very solid player who has shown improvement every year and he’s a physical force when he is on the field. That said, he isn’t the greatest cover safety but certainly good enough.
Last year’s safety market was very soft, and I don’t think anyone foresaw the money the safeties would get this year. Early last week, when safeties began getting huge money, it became a foregone conclusion that Amos would be among the ones awarded. He ended up in Green Bay with a deal that was in the area of $9M a year, way more than the Bears would pay.
To take care of their need at safety, the Bears went out and signed former Packer Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a first round draft choice in 2014, who played at a very high level early in his career. Last year, when Mike Pettine became the defensive coordinator in Green Bay and changed the scheme, Clinton-Dix was no longer a “fit”. Near the trade deadline, the Pack traded Clinton-Dix to Washington for a draft choice, knowing that he would become a free agent following the season.
Though Clinton-Dix, like Eddie Jackson, has been mainly a free safety for his NFL career, he is a better fit in the Bears scheme, where the safeties are interchangeable and must be good in coverage. That means the Bears now have a little better coverage unit with Clinton-Dix at safety rather than Amos. With Clinton-Dix costing the Bears $3.5M this year, the “trade” of safeties is an advantage for Chicago both in terms of salary cap and personnel.
Matt Nagy was not totally happy with the Bears run game in 2018. Lead back Jordan Howard is a very good NFL running back, but he isn’t a good fit for Nagy's offense. Recently there has been reports that Howard is on the trade block, but as of now nothing has been consummated. Last Monday, the Bears signed former Seattle Seahawk Mike Davis. Davis hasn’t put up close to the numbers that Howard has, but he fits the scheme better. Even with the acquisition, I feel the Bears will add more to the position either in the draft or with another veteran signing. Still, Davis’ skill set allows the Bears to do a little more with the RB position than they could with Howard.
The additions of Cordarrelle Patterson and Marvin Hall bring the Bears more speed. Patterson is a “gadget" player — he can play wide receiver, running back and return kickoffs. As a kickoff returner, he is the best in the business right now, and his addition really helps the Bears in that area. While he will only be a role player on offense, I look for him to get about 10 offensive touches a game and, with his big-play skills, that can mean points.
Hall is still a developmental player. He was never a starter in college and only started a few games as a pro. What he has is speed, with a reported 4.29 time at the Washington pro day in 2016. He has proven to be a good cover guy on special teams, also making some big plays on offense with Atlanta last year. He is basically the replacement for Josh Bellamy, and with his speed, could be an upgrade.
The final Bears signing is offensive lineman Ted Larsen, who was with the team in 2016 and can play all three of the interior OL positions. His versatility means he is an upgrade for the Bears and can give them a bit more production if a starter goes down.
All the players the Bears lost were good guys who fit in well with their teammates and in the locker room. They will be missed, and it’s up to the newcomers to become just as valuable to this team. On paper, the Bears are a little better than they were a week ago, but until we see them all on the field, we won’t know for sure.