The goal of any good general manager should be to address as many needs as possible in free agency so he can select the best available players regardless of position in the NFL draft.
In PFW’s 2019 NFL Draft Guide, completed prior to the start of free agency on March 13, the Bears’ top five needs were listed as: Kicker, cornerback, running back, safety and offensive line.
Now that the dust has settled on free agency and the draft kicks off exactly three weeks from tonight, a review of Ryan Pace’s biggest signings includes: CB Buster Skrine (three years including $8.5 million guaranteed), RB Mike Davis (two years with $3 M GTD) and S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (one year with $500,000 GTD).
Pace also re-signed RT Bobby Massie to a four-year extension ($14.5 M GTD), bolstered his OL and OLB depth via the returns of Ted Larsen and Aaron Lynch and added a pair of kickers vying to replace Cody Parkey (Redford Jones and Chris Blewitt) and the NFL’s most lethal kick returner, Cordarrelle Patterson.
Pace made a few other bottom-of-the-roster tweaks, like signing WR Marvin Hall and bringing back special-teams stalwart DeAndre Houston-Carson, but that’s pretty much the gist of his first free-agent foray with a tight salary cap situation and an already-solid NFC North champion roster.
Now let’s recalibrate the Bears’ top five needs with free agency essentially complete and provide a brief overview of where those positions currently stand entering a draft in which Pace has only five selections — none before No. 87 overall — the second fewest in the NFL.
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RB: How much has the Bears’ outlook changed over the past 12 months? Their greatest need is considered the easiest to address in today’s NFL and comes at a position where Pace previously plucked on Day 3 a Pro Bowl bell cow (Jordan Howard 5th round) and All Pro punt returner (Tarik Cohen 4th round) who doubles as one of the game’s more formidable receiving backs.
But following the trade of Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Bears need to supplement their new by-committee backfield currently headed by Davis and Cohen with a big back like Howard but with more juice and natural receiving skills.
CB: They signed Skrine to replace Bryce Callahan, who followed Bears DC-turned-Broncos HC Vic Fangio to Denver. However, Skrine turns 30 in three weeks and lacks the instincts and playmaking ability of the 27-year-old Callahan. The nickel CB position has never been more important in the NFL, so it should surprise no one if Pace adds another competent slot option to develop behind Skrine with no apparent options on the current roster.
OLB: Earlier this week, they wisely re-signed Lynch, a relatively small investment with a potentially big payoff considering the money the Bears have invested in starters Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd and the fact Lynch is still only 26 years old and provided bright flashes in his first season in Chicago. Yet it’s a one-year deal for a player who’s frequently been nicked up, not unlike Floyd, whose 2020 team option is guaranteed for injury only.
Phase Two of Pace’s regime requires making shrewd decisions and exercising strong foresight. There arguably isn’t a more important non-QB position in the game, as evidenced by the cost of two first-rounders and more than $90 million to acquire Mack. In a draft loaded with pass rushers, the smart money is on the Bears looking to gain another edge, quite possibly the first time they’re on the clock.
S: Clinton-Dix has a stronger pedigree and a higher ceiling than the starter he succeeds, Adrian Amos. That very well could mean he’s a one-year rental with All Pro Eddie Jackson almost certain to be the position’s priority re-signing when he’s first eligible next offseason. New DC Chuck Pagano, a former safety who is credited with the development of future Hall of Famer Ed Reed, covets dynamic last-line defenders to help make his scheme go. Pace has enjoyed more success in the draft finding safeties than any other position.
PK: Now, for the kicker. Do we have so much confidence in either unknown quantity, Jones or Blewitt, to solely explain moving this from their top need to the bottom of the list? Hardly. But despite vowing to explore every avenue to solve his toughest riddle to date, Pace seems unlikely to invest much draft capital in a position as difficult as any to properly roster. Many of the NFL’s best kickers — yes, even Robbie Gould — took more circuitous routes than the draft to find success. After the costly misses on Parkey and four other relatively well-known vets since Gould’s unceremonious ouster, Pace could opt for college free agency, or use a late-Day 3 flier, if he covets one more leg for the Bears' biggest kicking battle perhaps ever.