Given the grim outlook of the Bears’ roster and the balance of salary among its returning veterans, general manager Ryan Pace was in no position to throw around large amounts of cash at some of the top players on the free agency market.
As much as Bears fans wanted him to come out of his corner at the sound of the bell and start swinging, Pace had to be smart with his choices and find players at affordable cost who could contribute in the short term to bring this Bears team out of football hell, but also position the Bears for better financial help for the long haul.
The Bears needed to get younger on defense and find pieces to fit their new 3-4 defense, so they brought in emerging outside linebacker Pernell McPhee. Then they agreed to terms with veteran safety Antrel Rolle, who doesn’t fit their goal of getting younger, but certainly helps with leadership and changing the country club atmosphere and lack of accountability of the past two seasons. Finally, the Bears signed wide receiver Eddie Royal, who fills a long-standing need of a slot wide receiver and third option who can stretch the field and open up room for Alshon Jeffery and the yet-to-be-named No. 1 option.
None of these players are the “sexy” options for whom Bears fans were craving. Ndamukong Suh bolted Detroit and signed the richest defensive contract in the league with the Miami Dolphins. Terrance Knighton, who played nose tackle for John Fox in Denver, signed with the Redskins. Randall Cobb, the solid Packers receiver, re-upped with the team with the best quarterback in the league. The Bears were never going to land any of these players, along with many others.
The Bears may not be done yet filling in the cracks of their roster with affordable pieces, but I don’t expect them to make any major splashes.
Now that they’ve brought in some players for the back seven of the defense — or eight, given that they’re now in a 3-4 — what do they do about the defensive line, specifically the all-important nose tackle position?
One of the big names of the 2015 draft class is Danny Shelton, who is 6-2, 339 pounds, and is a major space eater, exactly what a 3-4 defense needs out of its nose tackle. But he’s likely a two-down player, and the seventh pick overall is a little high to be selecting one of those types. It’s my belief that the Bears are looking at another edge rusher or possibly one of the stud receivers available like Alabama’s Amari Cooper.
So where does that leave them at nose tackle? Both Pace and Fox mentioned veteran Jeremiah Ratliff as a player who has played the nose tackle position before, as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. While Ratliff played the position so well that he was picked to four Pro Bowls, he’s also 33 years old and doesn’t figure in to the long-term plans.
Finding a nose tackle is not the most difficult job in the world. It requires identifying a player with a large frame who can blow up plays in the backfield and clog multiple running lanes. It’s more difficult to get pass rushers who are consistent and defensive backs who have both the playmaking skills and football intelligence to diagnose plays.
It’s for this reason that I believe they’ll hold off on a defensive tackle early in the draft unless a good value presents itself, and instead they’ll rely on Ratliff and the younger players — at least until the team gets “on the grass” as Fox mentioned and they’re able to identify who can cut the mustard and who can’t.