Say what you want about the quality of players the Bears have brought in through free agency thus far — and there have been some fairly harsh criticisms to date.
But one thing you cannot take away from the moves that general manager Ryan Pace has made is that they will create competition at the positions that were weak spots a year ago, or those that were deemed a need heading into the 2017 season.
The Bears put to rest the Jay Cutler era in Chicago, something many fans have been clamoring about for the past few years and yet something the front office could not do for both financial and competitive reasons.
While Mike Glennon was not the name at the top of most Bears fans’ wish lists, Pace identified a player that he felt would upgrade the position and move the Bears in a positive direction.
At wide receiver, the Bears were in need of depth even before the departure of Alshon Jeffery. Kevin White has played in just four games since being drafted seventh overall in the 2015 Draft. And with injuries to Jeffery, White, and Eddie Royal last season, the erratic play of the reserves showed how perilous the position really is.
So Pace went out and signed former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton and former Tennessee Titans wideout Kendall Wright, both of whom have dabbled in some success in their short careers.
Tight end has been another position of need with oft-injured Zach Miller at the top of the depth chart and unproven Daniel Brown backing him up. Both Miller and Brown are known more for their pass-catching abilities so Pace brought in former Miami Dolphins tight end Dion Sims to come help the run game.
Finally, perhaps the biggest position of need — outside the ever-important quarterback — is the secondary. The Bears spent a lot of guaranteed money to bring in cornerbacks Prince Amukamara, formerly of the New York Giants, and Marcus Cooper, last with the Arizona Cardinals. They also re-signed Johnthan Banks. The trio was added to a depth chart already featuring players such as Bryce Callahan, Kyle Fuller, Jacoby Glenn, Tracy Porter, and promising rookie Deiondre’ Hall. The Bears also brought in veteran safety Quintin Demps to help with that position group.
I know what a lot of Bears fans might be thinking … none of these guys inspire visions of championships. And I’m not going to argue that and try to tell you these were the final missing pieces to vault the Bears into the Super Bowl window.
But the important fact to remember is that free agency is hardly ever a vehicle to drastically improving one’s team. It’s never the cure-all to remedy a team’s ills.
The great teams in the league are built through the draft.
Sure, you’ll see a big signing here or there — such as the Patriots signing Stephen Gilmore or the Packers adding Martellus Bennett. But those rare occurrences aside, you almost never see the Patriots and Packers making big splashes in free agency.
This is also why Pace properly identified the draft as the fertile ground from which he hopes to harvest talent when he took over his position two years ago, and why he has constantly reiterated that stance ever since.
Competition brings out the best in athletes, and that’s what Pace was seeking to do with the free agent signings he has made so far. By filling holes and making sure each position has competition, this allows Pace and the organization to enter the draft without handcuffs binding them to a certain position of need. They can choose the best player available with each pick and add difference makers they hope can be with the organization for years to come.
Identifying problems and enacting solutions is just one part of the battle, and for that reason alone Bears fans should be encouraged by what the Bears have done so far.
Whether or not those solutions pan out is the other half of the battle, and it’s perfectly reasonable for fans to have skepticism. But we won’t know whether Pace’s plan is a good one or not until we see it unfold on the field in 2017.