Well done, Ryan Pace. Well done.
To be completely honest, I did not expect this. Last year at this time, I had a gut feeling (based on what I’d seen and heard from various reports but a gut feeling nonetheless) that one way or another, Alshon Jeffery was a goner in Chicago. All weekend and heading into this week, I started to develop the same feeling regarding Kyle Fuller. I thought that Fuller and Pace were too far apart in extension talks, and that Pace was preparing to let more drafted talent walk out the door.
Thankfully, I was wrong. Tuesday, Pace applied the transition tag to Fuller, essentially turning him from an unrestricted free agent into a restricted free agent. If no team gives him an offer sheet worth signing, he will be back on a one year contract at around $13 million. If he signs an offer sheet with a different team, the Bears will have the opportunity to match the contract and keep Fuller in Chicago. Unless some cornerback-needy team loses their minds and gives him an out of this world deal (anywhere upwards of $16 million per year would check that box), my assumption is that Pace will match any offer he gets.
Last month, I wrote an article detailing where the Jeffery situation went wrong and what the Bears could learn from it, and in the latter section I described how they can’t afford, on a team with enough holes already, to let their own top players to hit the free agent market. Transition tagging Fuller prevents that from happening and lets other teams set his market so that the Bears don’t have to work too hard and fast and potentially give him money they don’t need to give him on a long term deal.
Right now, Pace almost certainly wishes he did the same with Jeffery. Alshon and Pace were far apart (I tend to side with Pace’s opinion. I continue stand by what I said in regards to why they shouldn’t have given Jeffery a monster contract) on what the big receiver is worth. Letting him hit the market because of this was the wrong decision. If they franchise or transition tagged him, it would have allowed Jeffery to come back on a one year deal, and maybe for even longer than that at a fairer price. We’ll never know, all we can do is make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
So far, Pace is one for one there. He’s also one for one in the 2018 offseason in general, which already has a different feel to it than its 2017 counterpart, with the Bears keeping their big free agent instead of letting him walk. That leads me into my next topic: what’s another way can Pace make this free agency period different from the disaster it was last year?
First, let me digress a little bit and ramble about another time that I was wrong in regards to what I thought Ryan Pace would do. Leading up to the 2017 draft, I failed to take anything he said with a grain of salt. I took his comments and actions on what he looks for in a quarterback – that experience and number of starts is important, that he wants a proven winner, sending the himself, John Fox, and the quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone to Clemson’s pro day and a few scouts to North Carolina’s – as a sign that the Bears were targeting DeShaun Watson instead of my preferred choice all along, Mitchell Trubisky.
In other words, I believed exactly what Pace wanted me and everybody else to believe.
So fast forward now to the 2018 combine, where Pace said that he will continue to tread lightly in the treacherous waters of free agency and be as fiscally responsible as a general manager can be, despite an abundance of cap space.
Like Ryan Pace with Jeffery and Fuller, I am not making the same mistake again. I don’t believe that for a second.
The Bears lost a bidding war for Janoris Jenkins, their top free agency target, two years ago. They lost another one for Stephon Gilmore, their top target last year. While how those signings are working out with the Giants and Patriots, respectively, are still up for debate, and a strong case could be made that especially in the instance of Gilmore the Bears lucked out in not signing him to a monster deal, the principle of losing the bidding war doesn’t change.
That is why I don’t believe Pace when he says he’ll keep being cautious. If he has to write a blank check to his No. 1 target this year, rumored to be Jaguars’ wide-out Allen Robinson, I think he’ll do it. Even if it means overpaying the high risk, high reward receiver. It goes against his philosophy, but I don’t think he can afford to miss out on his man for the third year in a row.
Pace knows that this offseason can’t turn out like the last one. He’s off to a good start. In less than one week, I have another gut feeling that he’s going to bring some excitement to a football town that hasn’t been felt here in a long time.