Monday kicks off the start of the NFL’s 2020 “legal tampering” period. Although, as I’ve preached for years, “legal tampering” is an oxymoron. Hence, I prefer to call it the “free agency pregame show.”
This year’s free agency period is a particularly pivotal one for the Bears. After a promising 12-4 season in 2018 under the first year of Matt Nagy’s leadership, expectations were sky high for the Bears last year. But regression across the board, especially at the quarterback position, caused the Bears to fall woefully short of a desired outcome.
Nagy, as well as general manager Ryan Pace, are not considered to be on the “hot seat” for 2020. But if the team can’t get the quarterback position right, you’d better believe ownership will feel the heat from the fan base.
At the team’s season-ending news conference in December, both coach and general manager expressed confidence in Mitch Trubisky as the team’s present and future quarterback, with Pace going so far as to label Trubisky the 2020 starter. A collective groan emanated from certain factions of Bears Nation that have grown tired and impatient with Trubisky’s lack of development.
Then the offseason got into the full swing of things and rumors started circulating that the Bears could bring in serious competition for Trubisky this season. Trade rumors for Derek Carr, Andy Dalton and Nick Foles began to disseminate. Murmurs of free agency signings were constant as well.
All of this could just be offseason fluff, a space-filler for the doldrums of the NFL calendar year. Or, the Bears could be taking seriously their commitment to improving the most important position in sports ahead of a critical season that defines the direction of the organization.
Will the Bears be active in free agency out of the gate?
If the Bears were in better financial shape in terms of cap space, I’d expect that they would be more aggressive as free agency kicks off. But as it stands currently, the Bears have a rumored $23 million in cap space, which puts them in the bottom third of the league.
I wouldn’t expect any kind of big splash from the Bears, either in free agency or via the trade market, as the franchise is short on cap space and draft capital. At least, not right out of the gate. Pace might lie in wait until the first big dominoes fall before determining market value on some of his potential targets.
If the Bears do strike quickly, it will most likely be to address the bottom portions of their roster.
What positions do the Bears need to target this offseason?
Aside from the quarterback position, the Bears are going to need to fix the tight end position, where Trey Burton had a dismal season recovering from injury in 2019. There are several big names on the market such as Jimmy Graham and Delanie Walker, but I wouldn’t expect them to invest heavily there, especially not in players of advanced age.
The Bears released Taylor Gabriel to free up some cap space, and they’ll have to solidify the wide receiver position behind Allen Robinson. But considering the 2020 NFL Draft is loaded with wide receiver talent, I’d expect the Bears to address the need there.
With Kyle Long’s retirement, the Bears will have to find a replacement right guard. There are a number of things the team could do, which includes moving Cody Whitehair to right guard and selecting a center via the draft. But the team seems intent on keeping Whitehair in the middle. Guards don’t command a wealth of cap space, so the Bears could look for Long’s replacement on the open market.
On the other side of the ball, the Bears are still strong but could use some defensive upgrades. The team re-signed linebacker Danny Trevathan to a three-year deal, thus ensuring the departure of free agent Nick Kwiatkoski. The Bears will have to address the depth in the middle, as well as adding depth behind Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd on the outside. Either or both positions could be supplemented via free agency.
HaHa Clinton-Dix is a free agent, but he might have hinted at his return to the team via Twitter. If he does, indeed, return, he’ll solidify the safety position with Eddie Jackson, whom the Bears signed to a lucrative extension this offseason. But while the safety position would be set, the Bears will need to find a replacement for cornerback Prince Amukamara, whom the team released in a cost-cutting move weeks ago.
Of all the positions the Bears might have to open the pocketbook to address, cornerback just might be it. Although upgrades are arguably needed, the Bears have starters at every other position — quarterback, tight end, offensive line, outside/inside linebacker.
Patience is prudent
I’m with you, Bears fans. I know how frustrating last year was. Super Bowl expectations compounded that angst.
Normally a patient man, I’ve lost confidence that Trubisky can develop into a championship quarterback. The giddy, “five-year-old on Christmas morning” part of me wants to see the Bears strike a megadeal to land a franchise signal-caller the moment that free agency kicks off.
However, the calm, rational side of me says, “chill, bro.”
The fact is, the Bears don’t have a first-round draft pick, nor do they have a wad full of cash to throw at free agents. Identifying talent that can be had for cheap, and leveraging their limited draft capital to facilitate an upgrade at quarterback will be of the utmost importance.
Although I’ve lost patience in Trubisky, the same cannot be said about my trust in Pace and Nagy. I know Bears Nation is divided on the job that Pace has done as general manager. But I believe the way he turned around the organization after the failed Phil Emery/Marc Trestman regime has been nothing short of impressive.
Yes, Pace blew the Trubisky pick. That was particularly amplified when weighed against the performances of the two quarterbacks taken after him — Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. And Nagy was not in Chicago to help identify the correct quarterback in 2017.
I believe that with a meeting of the minds, Pace and Nagy will solidify the quarterback position. I’m confident they’ll upgrade the tight end position. And I have faith that they’ll fill the depth chart everywhere else to return this team to the playoffs in 2020.