In the past four months, the Chicago Bears have fired John Fox, hired Matt Nagy and his staff, added offensive firepower in free agency, and had a universally lauded draft. The excitement inside of Halas Hall is palpable, and for good reason. The national media is starting to pick up on the improvements that the Bears have made, and there have even been a few mutterings of the “p-word.”
With so many improvements, one would imagine that general manager Ryan Pace can go ahead and sit back on his laurels. Surely he has earned himself a much-needed vacation after so much heavy lifting, right? Not so fast. This team is vastly improved from the 2017 version, there is simply no denying that, but is he finished? I am not so sure.
Pace has done exceedingly well in overhauling this entire organization. From the massive addition at Halas Hall to the replacement of the training/strength and conditioning staff to the gutting of the coaching staff and finally to the roster itself. But just as a chef wants to put the proper amount of seasoning on their dish before serving it, there is still some small moves that could end up paying huge dividends later.
There are three positions that have some depth deficiencies right now; offensive tackle, outside linebacker, and safety. This off-season has proven to be atrocious when it came to tackle options, and Pace wisely didn’t overspend or over-draft on that position. That leaves us with outside linebacker and safety, two crucial positions in the Vic Fangio-led defense.
First, let’s tackle the position that typically generates the most pass rushing production. Like tackle, this was not a great off-season to need help at outside linebacker. Sure, the recent 6th-round pick Kylie Fitts should offer some help as will the recently signed Aaron Lynch, but the position could use one more piece for depth.
The question for me boils to what Pace values more for this team, a higher impact in 2018 or potentially finding a gem on the street who could be a piece for years to come. I am honestly torn here between two avenues and two potential perfect additions to the Bears roster.
The first player fits the win-now mode. How Connor Barwin is still sitting around unsigned is completely beyond me. With the exception of 2010, he has been remarkably healthy and consistent as a pass rusher. While there are two seasons that stick out as anomalies–2011 (11.5 sacks) and 2014 (14.5 sacks)–Barwin is still a very productive player. The past three seasons he has tallied 5, 5, and 7 sacks respectively. Not too shabby. At 31, he isn’t in the long-term plans but would be a nice addition for 2018.
The other is Chris McCain. This feels like a Pace-type of player to me. He is long and lean (6’5″ 238 lbs) in the same mold as Leonard Floyd. He is still young at 26, and he is an ascending player coming off of a 5-sack season. Under the tutelage of Fangio, McCain feels like the kind of player who could really take off. His speed and bend are insanely good, he just needs the opportunity to be more consistent.
Unlike Barwin, McCain actually has a chance to be a mainstay with the Bears for the foreseeable future, should he reach his tremendous upside. I would be willing to take a chance on a long-term solution to a long-time problem.
With the emergence of Adrian Amos as the tone-setting strong safety and Eddie Jackson as the rangy ball-hawking free safety, there doesn’t appear to be a starting spot available. But dig a little deeper into Fangio’s past and you will see a trend emerge. He really likes to use a “big nickel” or a third safety in lieu of a cornerback. As luck would have it, there are two players that are unsigned that fit that bill, and both have ties to the Bears…
Kenny Vaccaro was drafted by the Saints while Pace was still in the front office there. If there was anyone who would be familiar with what Vaccaro could offer a team, it’s the Bears. At 6’0″ 215 lbs, he is big enough to be a force against the run, making players think twice about going over the middle and patrolling the flats. Vaccaro has been a little bit of an enigma in his career but as a backup or sub-package player, he would be a good fit.
The other player on this is Eric Reid. I am going to briefly acknowledge the fact that this feels like a “blackballing” from the NFL owners, but that is a whole different discussion. The reason this fits is Fangio, who was the defensive coordinator in San Francisco when Reid was drafted. Make no mistake, Reid is an excellent football player. He would be a welcome addition to any team’s secondary. Reid has also had his best NFL seasons when both Fangio and Bears defensive backs coach Ed Donatell were with the 49ers.
Both of these safeties are young, Vaccaro is 27 and Reid is 26, which means you could potentially view them as the 2019 replacement for Amos as well, should the Bears fail to re-sign him. Speaking strictly for 2018, either of these players would be a great addition to the team. My preference would be Reid due to his ball skills, which are excellent.
For my money, this off-season couldn’t have gone much better. Chef Ryan Pace’s dish is nearly complete, all it lacks is the perfect seasoning. Sprinkle a little McCain and Reid on top, and you have yourself something worthy of three Michelin stars.
Follow Andrew on Twitter: @BearsLink82
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