The 2018 NFL free agency period kicked off on March 14 with a flurry of moves, the most prominent of which were not unexpected given the leaked verbal agreements in the three days prior to its inception.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace had a plan of attack to fix the needs of a team suffering three straight losing seasons under his watch and he proactively enacted his agenda.
Bring in that coveted No. 1 receiver
Pace’s biggest acquisition of the free agency period to date was former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson, who immediately fills the No. 1 receiver hole left by the departure of former top wideout Alshon Jeffery more than a year ago. The Bears had a desperate need at the position after the team played a majority of its 2017 season without top options Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, and Pace reeled in the big fish with new head coach Matt Nagy as his primary bait.
“I like what coach (Matt) Nagy did from an offensive standpoint in Kansas City,” Robinson told ESPN’s Josina Anderson.
Last Nite: WR Allen Robinson to me on why he selected #CHI: “I like what coach (Matt) Nagy did from an offensive standpoint in Kansas City. Me being able to see what he did in KC, being able to know that he is an offensive-minded coach & seeing what he’s done before (helped me).” https://t.co/OFLqaGmqA5
— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 13, 2018
Robinson, who turns only 25 in August, is a former Pro Bowl receiver and likely is the best wide receiver to walk through the doors of Halas Hall since Brandon Marshall — except Robinson comes without all the baggage that Marshall carried with him.
In his two seasons as a full-time starter, Robinson averaged 76.5 catches for 1,141.5 yards and 10 touchdowns per year.
Secure a deep threat to take the top off a defense
The Bears brought in Markus Wheaton last free agency period to help them stretch the field, but Wheaton was largely unavailable for most of the season due to injury. This year, Pace took another swing at landing a deep threat when he acquired former Atlanta Falcons speedster Taylor Gabriel.
Gabriel, 27, played for the Falcons’ Super Bowl runner-up team in 2016 and averaged 16.5 yards per catch that year, ranking him 7th overall in the NFL in that category.
Much like Robinson, Gabriel cited Nagy as a reason for signing with the Bears.
Gabriel on why he signed here: “Nagy’s offense, just his creativity and things he did with the Chiefs.” …Cites how the Chiefs moved Tyreek Hill around the formation and utilized him.
— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) March 15, 2018
Add a versatile tight end to the mix
Speaking of “moving players around” to create mismatches and utilize players to their strengths, the Bears corralled a key piece to the puzzle by adding former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Trey Burton via free agency.
A backup with the Eagles, Burton might best be known for his touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles on a trick play in last year’s Super Bowl LII victory over the New England Patriots.
But Burton caught five touchdown passes on just 23 receptions in limited duty in the 2017 regular season.
“I am versatile and can do a bunch of different things,” Burton told the media. “I don’t think I necessarily say I do one thing. I do a bunch of different things.”
Burton and second-year tight end Adam Shaheen will offer the Bears offense a lot of versatility as both move well for their size.
Sign a veteran backup quarterback to aid Mitch Trubisky
Last season the Bears brought in veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez, who served as a mentor to rookie Mitch Trubisky more than anything else. In this year’s free agency, with a new offensive system in place, the team turned to backup Chase Daniel to fill that role.
Daniel (and please, Chicagoans, I know we pluralize everything like Alshon “Jefferies,” but there’s just one of him) began his career in New Orleans where Pace once served in the personnel department. Daniel also suited up for the Kansas City Chiefs when Nagy was quarterbacks coach.
As a backup to the king of the quarterback throne, Daniel poses no threat to Trubisky. His core responsibility will be to help groom the young quarterback.
“Your number one job in that room is to get the starter ready, no matter what,” Daniel told the media. “That’s a hallmark for me of a good quarterback. Whatever it takes, whatever the starter wants to do, you have to conform to that. I’ve been with a lot of different guys who do things a lot of different ways.”
Parkey kicks Barth to the curb
For those fans who couldn’t stand Connor Barth, the news of Cody Parkey’s free agency signing surely had to be music to their ears.
The former Miami Dolphins kicker converted on 21 of 23 field goals in 2017 (91.3%) but also missed three extra points.
Parkey is a four-year veteran who also spent time with the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles.
Buy low, sell high on linebacker’s reunion with Vic Fangio?
As a rookie in 2014, former 49ers linebacker Aaron Lynch recorded six sacks in 16 games — with just three starts — while playing under current Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in San Francisco.
Fangio left for the Bears after that season and Lynch recorded another 6.5 sacks in 2015.
In the past two years, however, Lynch has played in just 14 games and he is seeking a career rejuvenation by rejoining Fangio in Chicago, as the Bears added another piece to the puzzle via free agency.
“(Fangio is) somebody you want to impress,” Lynch said recently. “You play every down for your team and your coaches, and Vic has that type of respect and gives off that type of vibe where you want to do your best because you’re going to get your best from your coach.”
The Bears are in need of pass rushing help after releasing Pernell McPhee and Willie Young, and with Leonard Floyd attempting to return from an MCL and PCL injury. The Bears would be wise to add another young pass rusher via the draft, but it always helps to add veterans with knowledge of the system.
Solidify depth with some key returning players
In addition to the new players the Bears added in free agency, they have retained several of their own key free agents.
After the Bears placed the transition tag on cornerback Kyle Fuller, the NFC North rival Green Bay Packers extended an offer to Fuller, who accepted it. The Bears had five days to match the offer or allow him to walk to their chief rival, but they only needed one.
Fuller re-upped with the Bears for $56 million over four years, with $18 million guaranteed, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
On the #Bears and CB Kyle Fuller: Getting a 4-year deal for $56M is a huge win for him and his team. It’s impossible to get this done on the transition tag and they did it using the #Packers structure. For $14M a year, Fuller has security. Big day for all.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 17, 2018
Fuller will team up at cornerback once more with Prince Amukamara, who signed a three-year deal worth up to a reported $27 million.
“I just really wanted to finish this thing out,” Amukamara said in response to why he re-signed with the Bears. “I feel like we were scratching the surface last year. We were in some games, we won some games, and just really wanted to build off that.”
Amukamara was a legitimate playmaker for the Bears last year. One of the reasons why Fuller had such a breakout campaign in 2017 was because teams didn’t want to throw toward Amukamara’s side of the field.
When pairing Fuller and Amukamara with emerging playmaker Eddie Jackson at safety, the Bears have the makings of a real solid secondary. With their coverage ability, they afford the pass rush more time to get to the quarterback. Conversely, if the Bears add more help to the pass rush, the secondary is going to be able to make even more plays.
Elsewhere on the field, the Bears locked up linebacker Sam Acho, who has been a nice rotational player on defense but is also a key special teams contributor. The team also re-signed punter Pat O’Donnell and tight end Daniel Brown.
The Bears have also tendered receivers Cameron Meredith and Josh Bellamy as well as nickel back Bryce Callahan, giving them the right to match offers that those players might receive from other teams.
Pace gets new life with contract extension
While Pace has had a good amount of success with various draft picks over his three years with the Bears — including, but not limited to, Eddie Goldman, Adrian Amos, Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, Jordan Howard, Eddie Jackson, and Tarik Cohen — the one area of criticism he has received is in his free agency acquisitions.
Mike Glennon, Pernell McPhee, Eddie Royal, Antrel Rolle, and Marcus Cooper have been among his biggest misses.
I can’t — and won’t — blame him for swinging and missing on Glennon and McPhee. The two biggest keys to winning games in the NFL are passing the football and rushing the passer, and the Bears had big, gaping holes in both aspects when they signed those players.
But now that Pace has received a contract extension, he has gotten new life to right the ship under the leadership of Nagy and his assistants.
One of Pace’s biggest moves of the offseason was not a player, but a coach. Retaining Fangio to coordinate the defense and maintain the progress on that side of the ball cannot be quantified.
While Nagy is busy implementing an offense that Bears fans hope resembles a legitimate juggernaut, Fangio can orchestrate the entire other side of the football.
With the moves that Pace has made to address the offense — both coaches and players — the hope is that he can stack another solid draft class on top of the base he has been building for three seasons and the Bears can be contenders in 2018.