Bears general manager Ryan Pace agreed to deals with free agent tight end Jimmy Graham as well as pass rusher Robert Quinn during the NFL’s two-day window preceding the start of the 2020 free agency period.
The moves were met with cautious optimism from some, and aggravated criticism from others. As is the case with politics and — pretty much all of life — you just can’t please everybody. There are armchair general managers everywhere and each one has his own opinion about how best to improve the Bears.
I tend to fall into the former category. I am optimistic in the case of Graham, but downright giddy about Quinn.
Pace sees need, addresses need
I will say one thing about Pace: he’s not out of touch with the Bears’ fan base. Generally, what the Bears fans see as problem areas, Pace sees, too.
Sure, there are those who will argue that Pace can’t see the writing on the wall with Mitch Trubisky. But I think fixing the quarterback position is more difficult than fans want to admit.
Regarding these two initial free agency moves, Pace saw a need and he addressed a need. The tight end position clearly needed an upgrade over Trey Burton. So, Pace went out and signed a guy with whom he was familiar from their time together in New Orleans.
Yes, I get it. Graham is no longer the versatile, converted basketball player that revolutionized the position from 2011-14. But if he were, he not only would have cost more than the $9 million of guaranteed money that Pace gave him, but he also wouldn’t even have been available to the Bears.
But one thing about Graham that is different than Burton is that Graham is a low injury risk. In 10 seasons, Graham has missed just 7 games. For those keeping score at home, Burton missed 8 games last year alone.
Graham is not the spry young talent that he was in New Orleans, but that doesn’t mean his career is done. He still poses a big threat over the middle of the field, something that can help any quarterback, especially a player like Trubisky who needs all the help he can get.
Pace upgrades the pass rush
There has been a lot of criticism of Pace’s 2016 first-round draft pick, Leonard Floyd. Some of it is warranted, but the rest is over-the-top griping.
Floyd has been a solid NFL pro, helping against both the run and pass. His versatility to help in the run game as well as drop back in coverage is a valuable tool to any defense. But the one area that just hasn’t lived up to its billing is his ability to rush the quarterback.
Floyd was due $13.2 million in 2020, a hefty price tag for a player who never topped 7 sacks in any of his four seasons in the league — and his sack total actually declined in each year.
The Bears released Floyd on Tuesday, but not before first agreeing to terms with his replacement, nine-year veteran Robert Quinn. Quinn currently ranks 12th among active players in career sacks. Of the 11 ahead of him, only one — Chandler Jones — has done it in fewer seasons.
To put it another way, the Bears got themselves a player with a nose for the quarterback, the one area in which Floyd failed to produce consistently.
It’s not your money; stop worrying about the price tag
One of the criticisms I see most from Bears fans who dislike the Graham and Quinn signings is that Pace gave them “too much money.”
The argument, of course, is utter nonsense from those with either a confusion of the NFL salary cap or ignorance of the law of supply and demand.
Graham reportedly received a two-year deal for $16 million. Only $9 million is guaranteed, which almost makes this a one-year deal for the veteran. In other words, the Bears could feasibly cut ties with Graham after a season if he does not pan out the way they’d like him to.
And why would the Bears go this route? Well, take a look around the tight end landscape. There were not a lot of options available to them. Which means: there was a low supply and a high demand from the Bears, meaning they had to overpay to fix the position.
As for Quinn, he agreed to a reported 5-year, $70 million contract with $30 million guaranteed. Quinn has a lot more left in the tank than Graham does and is playing a position that is more important than tight end.
As I’ve stated numerous times in this space, a pass rusher is the second-most important position in football behind quarterback. Getting a valuable one — and the Bears now have two, along with Khalil Mack — is of immeasurable worth. The Bears will get their $30 million of value out of Quinn over the next few years. If he caps out at that, they can part ways with him before the five years is up.
Pace not worried about age; Bears need quick fixes
Ryan Pace’s biggest detractors will point to his failure rate with first-round picks as some kind of proof that he’s not doing his job. Kevin White and Floyd did not pan out and are no longer with the team. Trubisky, meanwhile, is on the cusp of joining them.
But not only is there a high bust rate for first round picks across the league, there also is a lot more that goes into being an NFL general manager than first round success.
Pace has landed a number of contributors in mid-to-late rounds. That has given the Bears a much deeper roster than they’ve had at any point since their Super Bowl run in 2006.
And no, Pace did not draft quite a few of the Bears’ best players. I can admit that. But Pace still acquired them and has assembled one of the NFL’s best defenses.
I understand you build successful franchises through the draft. But don’t worry about the ages of players like Graham and Quinn, because they’re not the long-term solutions. They were signed to fill very specific roles for a set period of time. They’re “Band-Aids” until Pace infuses the roster with more young talent.
Now, if you doubt that Pace ever will find the right young pieces through the draft, that’s fair criticism. But it’s unreasonable to gripe about the age of quick fixes like Graham and Quinn.
The new additions have made the Bears better
Last year was a miserable one for the Bears in terms of tight end production. The Bears cycled in multiple players at the position but had among the worst output from any team in the league. While Graham is no longer the player he once was, he’s still an upgrade — and a healthy one at that.
As for Quinn, I love the addition. Quinn has a non-stop motor and a nose for the quarterback. The same can be said about Mack. Thus, when you have two hungry Bears ready to feast on opposing quarterbacks, offenses will have to keep extra players in to help block both.
Then when you consider a healthy Akiem Hicks plugging the middle — along with Eddie Goldman and Roy Robertson-Harris — with Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith patrolling the second level, this Bears defense is going to return to the dominant one it was two seasons ago.