A new era of Bears football begins in 2018 with Matt Nagy leading the way as the 16th head coach in franchise history. But for Nagy to succeed, he’ll need an injection of talent at various positions across the field – free agency is one such avenue for that improvement.
So let’s take a look at some of the more promising available free agents, to see if there might be a fit with the Chicago Bears.
Player, Age (in 2018), Position
Andrew Norwell, 27, Guard
Season stats: 16 games, 1,140 snaps
Pro Football Focus grades: 88.8 (overall), 90.9 (pass blocking), 83.4 (run blocking)
Norwell earned first-team All-Pro honors as his blocking solidified the interior of the Carolina Panthers’ offensive line, and the timing couldn’t have been better for the free agent-to-be. His blocking helped spring running back Christian McCaffery’s stellar rookie season and aided in keeping quarterback Cam Newton upright enough to throw for 22 touchdowns and score six more on the ground. Norwell did not allow a sack or QB hit in 2017 and was PFF’s third-highest-graded guard and seventh-highest-graded lineman.
Performance Before 2017
Stats: 39 games (38 starts)
Pro Football Focus grades: 84.2 (2016), 84.6 (2015), 82.8 (2014).
To be clear, Norwell is no one-year wonder. He’s graded out as an above average player or better in each of his four NFL seasons. He has been a full-time starter in each of the last three years and has missed just three games since the start of 2015. In short, Norwell has been reliable, durable, and productive throughout the course of his professional career. Hence, he projects to make a good chunk of money in free agency.
In The End …
The Bears created a need at guard when the team opted not to pick up Josh Sitton’s third-year option, a move that cleared nearly $8 million in salary cap space. If the Bears were willing to pay Sitton $8 million at one point, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that they might be willing to pay a younger, healthier version of the player a few million more.
If the Bears believe Cody Whitehair’s long-term future is at center, signing Norwell and inserting him as the team’s starting left guard would put an end to the experimental phase of sliding Whitehair around the line. There is no question Whitehair played better when he wasn’t being moved around due to injuries around him. Whitehair also has a bit of a rapport with Mitch Trubisky as the center and keeping that bit of continuity could be valuable.
Signing Norwell feels like a bit of a long shot. The Bears already have a significant amount of money tied into guard with Kyle Long’s contract and have needs elsewhere, so paying another big-money guard might not be in the cards for Chicago. But improving the offense around Mitch Trubisky shouldn’t be limited to pass-catching tight ends and wide receivers. The Bears would do well to improve the offensive line, too, and signing Norwell could accomplish just that.