The Chicago Bears’ adventures in free agency haven’t been pleasant. There have been more misses than hits, which has helped lead the team to a 14-34 record since Ryan Pace was hired as the team’s general manager back in 2015.
But despite Pace’s free agent misfires, contracts have been successfully structured to limit potential salary cap damage. That has left the Bears well-positioned to attack free agency again in 2018 without being burdened by declining talents on long-term deals.
A handful of those deals were signed in 2017 in what turned out to be John Fox’s last hurrah as head coach. But with Matt Nagy taking over, 2018 presents an ideal opportunity to clean house and inject some fresh blood into a roster that certainly needs it.
Possible Cuts from the FA Class of ’17
Quarterback Mike Glennon ($11.5 million)
Glennon was the quintessential teammate and professional after being benched in favor of Mitch Trubisky after a 1-3 start, but the clock is ticking on the Bears’ Week 1 starter. So while the Bears will miss his coin-flip calling skills, Glennon’s deal was always going to be a one-year pact.
Tight end Dion Sims ($5.7 million)
The Bears signed Sims hoping to tap into his potential as a pass catcher. That never came to fruition as the Michigan State product was targeted only 29 times and caught just 15 passes in 2017. Sims might have been the Bears’ best pass-blocking tight end (his 71.6 grade from Pro Football Focus was the sixth-best among players at the position) but was otherwise a non-factor on offense.
Wide receiver Markus Wheaton ($5 million)
While the Bears will be looking to add to the receivers room, Wheaton doesn’t figure to be a part of the long-term future. No Bears player had worse injury luck than Wheaton, who missed time with an appendectomy, broken finger, and groin injury. The injuries did their part in preventing Wheaton from making his mark on the Bears offense and keeping the receiver from building a rapport with Glennon and Trubisky, but the Bears could use the cash saved to upgrade to a better fit in 2018.
Cornerback Marcus Cooper ($4.5 million)
Cooper’s first (and possibly only) season in Chicago was nothing short of disastrous. After playing on all 130 snaps in the first two games of the season, Cooper’s playing time started to take a dip in Week 3 and was pretty-much a non-factor on defense for the rest of the season. In his final 12 games, Cooper played more snaps on special teams (125) than he did on defense (76). Cooper appeared on fewer than 10 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in nine of his final 11 games.
Safety Quintin Demps ($3.3 million)
Even though he lost his starting job to Adrian Amos after suffering a season-ending injury, Demps might be the free agent who signed in 2017 most likely to play for the Bears in 2018. The Bears were woefully thin at safety, which showed when Amos missed a handful of games in the middle of the season. Saving $3 million in cap space probably isn’t worth losing quality depth.
Estimated Cap Savings: $30 million
Others in Limbo
Guard Josh Sitton ($7.9 million)
The Bears hold the option on Sitton, who was on the fringes of Pro Football Focus’ list of 101 best players in 2017. Sitton has been productive since joining the Bears in 2016, but after proving to be a durable inside force with the Packers, injuries have kept him from playing a full season since signing with the Bears.
Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee ($7.1 million)
McPhee was the first big fish the new-look Bears front office reeled in, but hasn’t been healthy enough to show off his pass-rushing skills. He picked up five sacks in his first seven games with the Bears, but has just nine in his last 29 appearances. McPhee was one of four Bears outside linebackers who finished the season on injured reserve in 2017 and his cap hit might be too expensive to take for a player with his injury history.
Right tackle Bobby Massie ($5.6 million)
Massie has been available, serviceable, and (mostly) durable in his first two years with the Bears. The 28-year-old tackle has missed just two games since signing with the team in 2016, but still leaves something to be desired. It’s possible that a new offensive line coach could get the most out of a player who hasn’t quite lived up to his potential, but also didn’t perform as poorly as we might recall.
Outside linebacker/defensive end Willie Young ($4.5 million)
Young has been one of the most pleasant surprises since GM Phil Emery signed him as a free agent in 2014. A defensive end by trade, Young has performed admirably on the line and as a stand-up rush linebacker. His versatility tends to be underrated, but he finished 2017 on IR and will play 2018 at age 33. The Bears could stand to get younger at this important position.
Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman ($3.5 million)
Freeman has missed 19 games in two seasons since signing with the Bears as a free agent due to injuries and a pair of PED-related suspensions. His 10-game hit for a second bust in as many seasons was a tough loss, but the Bears made it work on the inside with Christian Jones and the emergence of Nick Kwiatkoski. Pro Football Focus graded Freeman as one of the league’s elite inside linebackers in 2016, but he’ll be 32 in 2018 and coming off two seasons marred by missed time.
Estimated Cap Savings: $28.6 million
In the End …
Back in December, OverTheCap.com estimated the Bears would have some of the most cap flexibility in the offseason to come, and $58.6 million in possible cuts coming off the books will only help matters. Tack on the seven selections the Bears have to work with in the upcoming NFL Draft and there are plenty of avenues in which Pace can travel to rebuild a roster that projects to look much different than it did when 2017 came to a close.