Chicago Bears General Manager Ryan Pace has been more careful than not when it comes to free agency, but one expenditure stands out above the rest, and for all the wrong reasons.
With the benefit of hindsight, ESPN’s Dan Graziano lists the best and worst NFL free agent signings of the 2017 offseason.
And at the top of the wrong list is Mike Glennon, the Bears quarterback who secured a three-year deal worth $45 million in the offseason … before throwing more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four), tacking on three fumbles, and losing one starting job to rookie Mitch Trubisky after a 1-3 start.
Other than that, things went pretty well for Glennon in his Bears debut.
There is no arguing Glennon’s signing was the worst of the offseason, but there is a silver lining. The Bears can rid themselves of Glennon and his remaining contract if he is cut in the offseason. As for the cost of doing business, it’s just a $4.5 million dead money hit that would leave the Bears on the hook for $2.5 million in guarantees. That might be a lot of money for you and me, but that’s pennies on the dollar for a billion dollar NFL franchise. Should the Bears choose to go that route, the team will have been saddled with only $18.5 million in total guarantees to Glennon (yay?).
But let’s talk about it a little deeper, before moving on from him (for now).
Glennon’s struggles under center were compounded with the signings the Bears made (and one they didn’t) to help the team’s middling group of pass catchers.
Markus Wheaton signed a two-year deal, but caught just three of the 17 passes thrown in his direction in the 11 games he played in 2017. The injury-ravaged receiver missed time for a variety of ailments including an emergency appendectomy, a broken finger, and a groin problem. Chicago could save $5 million by cutting him in the offseason and incurring a $750,000 cap hit.
Dion Sims was the 12th-lowest-graded tight end by Pro Football Focus’ grading standards and his 48.9 receiving grade was the 16th worst at his position. Traditional metrics weren’t kind to him either. He finished the season with 15 catches (29 targets), 180 receiving yards, and on touchdown reception. At least Sims earned PFF’s sixth-best pass-blocking grade among tight ends, but it came with the eighth-worst run-blocking grade.
Victor Cruz didn’t make the cut coming out of preseason, but he did catch Trubisky’s first professional touchdown pass and talked him up throughout the preseason and even in the media. Perhaps there is some value in that.
Things weren’t much better on the defensive side of the ball where the Bears spent a good chunk of change to improve the secondary and didn’t receive much of a return on their investment.
Safety Quintin Demps played just three games and 177 snaps after signing a multi-year deal in the offseason. He signed with the idea he could help the Bears defense create more takeaways. Instead, it was his replacement, Adrian Amos, who ended up posting the second best grade among safeties at Pro Football Focus. Demps, who earned a 43.4 grade in limited action, will turn 33 in June and still has two years remaining on his contract.
Cornerback Marcus Cooper also has two years remaining on his deal, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he played it out elsewhere. Cooper’s 42.5 grade from PFF would have been the 13th worst among NFL cornerbacks had he played enough snaps to qualify. Cooper played just 246 defensive snaps, or just 23.3 percent. In fact, Cooper played a higher percentage of playing time on special teams (35.1%) than he did at cornerback. Not quite what the Bears had in mind when he signed a three-year deal worth $16 million last offseason.
For what it’s worth, Pace entered the 2017 offseason vowing to fix the Bears’ quarterback situation. And you can make the case he did that by drafting Mitch Trubisky. But it’s the whiffs at four other starting positions that raise valid question about Pace moving forward.
Pace will get a chance to right some wrongs this offseason thanks to a ton of cap flexibility built in the fact that the mistakes he made aren’t crippling to the salary cap over the long haul. Still, Pace needs to be successful at a higher clip in free agency, or having the right idea in drafting Trubisky and hiring Matt Nagy to groom him could look like poor decisions down the road.