Every day that passes is a day closer to the start of free agency. It’s almost getting to the point when you’re playing the “are we there yet?” game in the car. Here’s hoping the end of the journey is as fulfilling as we all hope.
- ESPN’s Kevin Seifert ranks the NFL’s best free agents, and quarterbacks take up the top three spots. We’ll keep our eyes on on what happens to Kirk Cousins, Drew Brees, and Case Keenum – who rank first, second, and third among Seifert’s free agents – because where they land could impact who goes in the draft ahead of the Bears. After that, Panthers guard Andrew Norwell is the top-rated non-quarterback, Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham checks in as the highest-rated offensive skill position player, and defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson pops up as the No. 1 defensive player. Fittingly enough, each of those players fits something of a need on the Bears’ roster.
- Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson slides into the last spot in Seifert’s top 10 despite coming off a season-ending ACL injury. Robinson opened up about his concerns heading into free agency and how he remains focused on the rehabilitation process. Things sound good from his end, and as long as he progresses, I expect him to be rewarded with a quality payday.
- ChicagoBears.com Senior Writer Larry Mayer offers a small window into what the team might do in free agency. “The Bears are clearly getting younger on defense this offseason, but I don’t think they will make addressing the defense a greater priority than the offense in either free agency or the draft,” Mayer explains in his most recent Q&A mailbag. “General manager Ryan Pace has acknowledged that wide receiver and pass rusher are two positions of need, so I expect those spots to be bolstered this offseason.”
- Mayer also offered up the idea of the team’s top priority on the defensive side of the ball is to continue building through its young players already on the roster. The most notable names Mayer singles out happen to be players at positions where the Bears could make a change in the starting lineup. Defensive end Jonathan Bullard could slide into the starting role vacated by Mitch Unrein, who is entering free agency. Inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski projects to slide into the role once occupied by Jerrell Freeman, who has been released.
- If we’re reading the tea leaves accurately, it doesn’t look like the Bears will be spending a significant amount of cap space on signing players at positions where they have drafted and developed guys who they think can slide into bigger roles in 2018. If those players are as good as the front office believes, then Pace’s drafting will soon be regarded higher than it is now. If not, then the Bears could be in a situation where they’re throwing good money to patch up shoddy drafting.
- Over at Da Bears Brothers Blog, Nicholas Moreano believes the Bears must be aggressive in their free agency hunt. Pace has shelled out more than $100 million in guarantees over the course of three years as Chicago’s GM, but hasn’t been shopping for top-shelf items. Instead, the Bears have found a niche in the market signing serviceable players to modest, front-loaded deals to fill spots and keep the team’s cap situation in a tidy place. Now seems like a good time to strike with a more progressive plan of attack with an eye on possible impact players at the top of the market. Players like Robinson, Norwell, and Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson are players who could fit the bill at positions of need for the Bears who each happen to still be in their prime. Needless to say, Pace is in a must-win situation once free agency opens up.
- In short, the Bears need to be assertive, but not careless in free agency. That’s quite a tight-rope Pace and his staff will be walking in less than a week. Then again, that’s the price you pay by not hitting on the draft. Over at NFL.com, columnist Adam Schein dials up the league’s riskiest free agents who will hit the market, headlined by the Minnesota Vikings’ three starting quarterbacks. Players of note who could pique the Bears’ interest are Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, who has a Pro Bowl season under his belt but has been oft-injured since and Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who could end up signing with the Packers after visiting with the team, who was one a top-tier 3-4 defensive end before his production slid.
- Had Pace not done well in plucking Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen in each of the last two drafts, I’d be interested to know how the Bears view running back Doug Martin. When he’s on his game, he’s a dual threat back who was a star rookie in 2012, saw a drop-off in production, then became an All-Pro three years later. At 29, Schein is right to call Martin “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside of an enigma.” Not that we would want Martin to take over Howard’s load, but having depth and talent at running back is often important to having a successful offense.
- One of the Bears’ best offseason additions might not be someone who is signed as a free agent, acquired via a trade, or selected on draft day. Albert Breer of SI.com’s The MMQB absolutely gushes about the team’s hire of Harry Hiestand to coach the offensive line, which he calls the offseason’s most underrated hire. “We don’t talk much about position coaches here. But I’m going to give you one that I believe has a chance to be a big-time difference-maker for his first-time head coach,” Breer writes. “Matt Nagy did incredibly well to poach Hiestand, who’d been a target for a number of guys interviewing for jobs in January, from Notre Dame.” Hiestand returns to Chicago after working his magic developing offensive line prospects at the University of Tennessee, as well as Notre Dame.
- It’s interesting to note that the Bears were losing highly regarded assistant coaches to colleges and elsewhere at this time last year, which was something of a red flag for us as we saw it unfold.
- Not an unrestricted free agent because he was given the transition tag by the Bears, but Kyle Fuller was pretty good last year, eh:
Kyle Fuller allowed the lowest catch rate in his coverage among CBs last season! pic.twitter.com/ZJmdbWXjsS
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 8, 2018