The NFL season is over and the remodeling of the Chicago Bears’ roster will start soon enough.
And while player development, trades, and the draft will all affect next year’s roster, some notable changes will begin in free agency (which opens up on March 14th), where the Bears have 25 players set to become free agents (including five restricted FAs) and a bunch of moves to make if they’re going to turn the ship around in 2018.
Let’s dig in.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Unrestricted free agents are players who have accrued at least four complete NFL seasons and can sign with any team without any draft pick compensation going to the Bears.
Linebacker Sam Acho
- Acho started 12 games at outside linebacker, a position that was in constant turnover because of injuries to Leonard Floyd, Willie Young, and Pernell McPhee. Acho was a steady presence as a run defender and has been a prominent contributor to the special teams unit, but the Bears could stand to get a little more pass rush from that position.
Cornerback Prince Amukamara
- Amukamara missed the first two games of the season and still found a way to play on more than 80 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. He was held without an interception for the second straight season, but still provided quality man-to-man coverage that forced quarterbacks to throw elsewhere.
Offensive Lineman Tom Compton
- Compton appeared in 11 games and made five starts last season, splitting time at both guard positions. The Bears signed Compton as a swing tackle in the offseason, a role that seems to suit him well enough.
Running Back Benny Cunningham
- Cunningham was the Bears’ most-used back on third-down passing plays and in the two-minute offense, a role that could be filled by Tarik Cohen in 2018. Still, there is value in depth at running back and on special teams, where Cunningham played nearly 55 percent of the snaps.
Long Snapper Andrew DePaola
- An unheralded pre-season signing, DePaola was brought in after Patrick Scales suffered a season-ending knee injury during the preseason. While the Bears’ kicking game (namely, Connor Barth) struggled, it wasn’t the long snapper’s fault.
Cornerback Kyle Fuller
- Fuller was a breakout star in 2017 and earned a spot among the NFL’s 10 best cornerbacks. He played the second-most defensive snaps (1,017), came away with two interceptions, and a team-best 22 passes defended. A well-timed career year should make him among the highest-paid cornerbacks in free agency and the Bears really aren’t in a position to let him go.
Linebacker Lamarr Houston
- Houston was cut by the Bears before the start of the regular season, only to return late in the year when the team’s crew of edge rushers was depleted by injuries. Surprisingly enough, Houston showed he still had some juice left in the tank and was the Bears’ most productive pass rusher down the stretch. He definitely made a case to return in 2018.
Wide Receiver Dontrelle Inman
- One of Mitch Trubisky’s most trusted targets, Inman caught 23 passes for 334 yards, and a touchdown. He was also the intended receiver on two of Trubisky’s seven interceptions. Inman isn’t The Answer at receiver, but could be part of a solution if used properly.
Nose Tackle John Jenkins
- Jenkins played sparingly, getting into eight games and making one start in place of an injured Eddie Goldman. Jenkins was the only other nose tackle on the active roster for most of the year until undrafted free agent Rashaad Coward was promoted from the practice squad.
Linebacker Christian Jones
- Jones is a shining example of what Vic Fangio can do to make the most out of a situation. Phil Emery signed Jones off the scrap heap, but it wasn’t until Fangio got his hands on him when the lightbulb seemed to go on. Jones can play inside and out (in a pinch), is a sure-handed tackler, and a special teams ace. He and Nick Kwiatkoski are the most valuable depth linebackers the Bears have.
Kicker Mike Nugent
- Nugent split time between the Bears and Cowboys in 2017, making 84.6 percent of his field goals – including all four of his tries with the Bears. Nugent turns 36 on March 2, but could find himself in a camp competition with another Bears free agent kicker if he doesn’t find a full-time gig elsewhere.
Cornerback Sherrick McManis
- A cornerback by trade, McManis is a special teams ace and the longest-tenured member of the Bears. It would come as a surprise if the Bears’ top special teams tackler didn’t return in 2018.
Tight End Zach Miller
- Miller caught Trubisky’s first regular season touchdown pass and could have been a security blanket for the rookie quarterback had it not been for a devastating season-ending knee injury. The veteran tight end hasn’t ruled out a return to the NFL, but knows the uphill battle he climbs.
Punter Pat O’Donnell
- One of the handful of holdovers from the Phil Emery era, O’Donnell has been a steady, but unspectacular. He did throw a touchdown pass on Monday Night Football, so he has that going for him.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez
- Sanchez is equal parts hype man and quarterback soothsayer. While he hasn’t necessarily lived up to his first-round pedigree, Sanchez has found other ways to be useful to a team as a strong locker-room presence and a beloved teammate. Trubisky seems to have taken a liking to him, too. As far as we’re concerned, it’s not a coincidence Dak Prescott took a step back in his development without being able to lean on Sanchez’s wise offerings.
Kicker Cairo Santos
- Santos might have a leg up (!) on the kicking competition, seeing that his head coach (Matt Nagy) and special teams assistant (Brock Olivo) are both familiar with him from his time with the Chiefs. Before Kansas City sent Santos packing after an early season injury, he had made 84.8 percent of his field goal attempts. The Bears would certainly welcome that kind of accuracy.
Offensive Lineman Bradley Sowell
- Like Compton, Sowell did a little bit of everything along the Bears offensive line as he played guard and tackle because the front-five was as injured as it was in 2017. If you’ll recall, he also played the role of long snapper in the preseason when Patrick Scales was injured. I can see where Compton or Sowell return to the team in 2018, but likely not both.
Defensive End Mitch Unrein
- Unrein had a career year in 2017 and proved to be one of the NFL’s best run defenders on the defensive line. The Bears proved have youthful depth at defensive end in Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who filled in admirably when Unrein went on injured reserve.
Wide Receiver Kendall Wright
- Wright led the Bears in targets (91), receptions (59), and receiving yards (614) in 2017, earning Trubisky’s trust along the way. The 28-year-old receiver works best in the slot, where he is steady and reliable, but not irreplaceable.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Restricted free agents are players who have accrued three complete seasons and can sign offer sheets with other NFL teams, but the Bears would have the right to match the deal. If they choose not to, they are eligible to receive draft pick compensation.
Wide Receiver Joshua Bellamy
- Bears pass-catchers dropped 21 passes in 2017, which was tied for the ninth most in the NFL last year. You probably remember one or two that went off Bellamy’s hands in 2017. He was also the recipient of this beautiful touchdown toss from Trubisky against the Packers.
Tight End Daniel Brown
- Brown has transitioned from college receiver to NFL tight end, so go figure he was used more as a wide receiver with as often as he lined up in the slot than as a traditional tight end in 2017. He runs good routes and has reliable hands, but is still a work in progress as a tight end.
Cornerback Bryce Callahan
- There was a point early in the season when Callahan was the Bears’ highest-graded defensive player, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading scale. Callahan was solid as a slot corner once again, but missed four games due to injuries. His durability might be a factor in whether or not the Bears bring him back in 2018.
Wide Receiver Cameron Meredith
- Meredith was expected to be the Bears’ WR1 in 2017, but he suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the third preseason game. He did receive some good news during the season and is expected to be back in time for training camp. That’s excellent news for Trubisky and the Bears offense.
Linebacker John Timu
- Timu has started games for the Bears in each of the last three seasons. The undrafted free agent from Washington has played 22 games in the last two seasons and is a nice piece of depth to have at a position that suffered its share of injuries the last two years.
EXCLUSIVE FREE AGENT
Exclusive free agents have completed fewer than three accrued seasons and can only negotiate with their current team.
Long Snapper Patrick Scales
- Scales has three years of NFL experience and was the Bears’ long snapper the entire 2016 season and for the last five games of 2015. As an exclusive free agent, Scales can only negotiate a contract with the Bears because he has accrued fewer than three seasons.