When it comes to managing a roster, the Chicago Bears are in a pretty good spot. The team returns all of its starters on an offense featuring six players who are 26 years old or younger. On the other side of the ball, the Bears are replacing the two starters they lost with experienced defenders on relative bargains. So with all those spots filled, Chicago enters the third wave of free agency without major needs to fill in the offseason. Which is great!
But still … the puzzle that is the 2019 Bears roster has missing pieces. Having high-quality starters has put the Bears in a position to capitalize on a competitive window and make a Super Bowl push. However, we shouldn’t underestimate the value of depth. The best teams always have the right amount of depth, which helps soften the blow of injuries that would otherwise derail a promising season.
So let’s explore the Bears’ most glaring depth needs and how the front office can go about putting the right pieces in place.
Who’s starting: Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd
Current depth: Isaiah Irving, Kylie Fitts, Josh Woods
Addressing the need: Unlike last year when the EDGE position was a top need, the Bears aren’t desperate to fill this spot. Instead, they are in search of a player who has experience and potential, but doesn’t necessarily need a starter’s share of snaps to make an impact.
Filling the void: Retaining Aaron Lynch makes sense, but it’s understandable if he seeks more than just being OLB3 on a great defense. The Bears tried their hand at unearthing a late-round gem by drafting Fitts last April, but it’s clear he still has work to do to reach his potential. With that in mind, I like the idea of adding a veteran who knows how to get it done more than rolling the dice with another late-round draft pick (unless the fit is right, of course).
Who’s starting: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen
Current depth: Mike Davis, Taquan Mizzell, Ryan Nall
Addressing the need: Chicago did well in signing Davis to be a do-it-all reserve who can carry the load in case Howard were to get injured and miss time, but it still feels like something is missing in the running backs room. The thunder-and-lightning combo of Howard and Cohen at the top of the depth chart gets things done, but there is a missing element I can’t put my finger on at this time.
Filling the void: The Bears were connected to a slew of mid-round running backs who have upside. And since none of the Bears’ top three backs are under contract for more than the next two seasons, finding one in the draft could knock off two birds with one stone by solving short-term (and big-picture) depth concerns.
Who’s starting: Eddie Jackson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Current depth: Deon Bush
Addressing the need: Having just three safeties under contract at the moment makes me itchy, even though it’s just March 25. There is plenty of time to round out that group with a player who has experience or upside. And since GM Ryan Pace has a history of finding value in late-round defensive backs, I’ll allow myself to take a breath and clear my mind of bad thoughts.
Filling the void: DeAndre Houston-Carson could re-sign and re-take his role as the safety who also happens to be a core special teams player. But with Jackson a year away from commanding a major pay-raise and extension, and Clinton-Dix and Bush on one-year contracts, the Bears need more than just a short-term stop-gap player. Using one of the team’s first two picks on a safety who can step in as a reserve immediately and start in Year 2 would be sensible.
Who’s starting: Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Buster Skrine
Current depth: Sherrick McManis, Kevin Toliver II, Jonathon Mincy, Michael Joseph, John Franklin III
Addressing the need: The Bears are set at the top with each of their three starters under contract for at least the next two seasons. Behind the starters sits a veteran special teams ace along with a wave of young players who are climbing their way up the organizational ladder. It would be nice if the next Cre’von LeBlanc or Bryce Callahan emerged from the group of youngsters.
Filling the void: After pushing their chips to the middle of the table with Fuller, Amukamara, and Skrine, spending on depth probably isn’t in the cards. Instead, look for the Bears to jump into the draft (or even post-draft free agency) to scoop up player(s) who could make a run during an open competition in camp. Though the best move here could be to draft a cornerback late who projects to fill a starting role that could be vacated by the departure of Amukamara or Skrine within the two years.
Who’s starting: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Current depth: Chris Blewitt, Redford Jones
Addressing the need: Bears kickers have been successful on less than 80 percent of their attempts since cutting Robbie Gould before the start of the 2016 season. Chicago’s playoff dreams ended when their kicker missed what would have been a game-winning field goal at the end of the fourth quarter on Wild-Card Weekend. Assessing the team’s need at this position doesn’t need to involve any sort of statistical deep dive.
Filling the void: The pool of free agents still features experienced veterans with a track record of success (Stephen Gostkowski, Matt Bryant) who will be on the pricier end of the spectrum, as well as experienced legs who could provide further camp competition (Kai Forbath, Phil Dawson, Sebastian Janikowski). It’s also possible that the Bears are waiting it out until the draft and the post-draft UDFA frenzy to add to the room.