The Chicago Bears are in a position that they haven’t been in for quite some time. They are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and with that distinction comes a few crucial benefits.
The fan base is energized, for one. And the coaching and personnel staff doesn’t have to worry about job security. But perhaps most importantly of all, the Bears are suddenly an attractive destination for veteran players who want a shot at a ring.
Many of said veterans who are owed significant paychecks will lose their jobs between now and March. Some teams, like the Atlanta Falcons, have already begun to shed salary, with cuts for cornerback Robert Alford (who already signed with Arizona) and a certain specialist who will be discussed shortly.
At the risk of sounding cliché, one team’s trash could turn into the Bears’ treasure. Here are six possible cap casualties who could help Chicago bring home a Lombardi.
Matt Bryant, K, Falcons
Bryant is the only player here who has already been given the axe. As a result, he is free to sign whenever he wants, and he can fix the Bears’ kicker problem as soon as today.
Since entering the league in 2002, Bryant has been among its more reliable kickers. He is eighth all-time in field goal percentage, and despite missing three games due to injury he was good for over 95% at 43 years young this season.
Because he is presumed to be in the twilight of his illustrious career, Bryant might not command too much cash. In fact, he was contemplating retirement and announced via tweet that he’d come back, only to be released less than an day later. If Bryant does go for a reasonable deal on a contending team – maybe two to three million a year for one or two seasons – then it would be a no-brainer for Ryan Pace to kick tires on him.
Eric Weddle, S, Ravens
We’ll talk a lot about Adrian Amos in the coming days and weeks leading up to free agency’s beginning, but it’s looking increasingly likely that he has played his last game in a Chicago uniform.
In my mind, that leaves two options. The Bears can allocate money somewhere else and let Eddie Jackson conceal his partner’s weaknesses. Or they put on an evil genius face, sign another elite playmaker, and create the best safety tandem in the league.
Eric Weddle certainly fits the bill, and at 34 has aged like a fine wine. He had a down year in terms of turnover creation, intercepting nothing, but he is one year removed from a six-pick season and has 10 in his last three. Weddle is a clear bounce back candidate who would come much cheaper than an Earl Thomas or a Landon Collins would.
He is expected to be released by the Ravens. And something tells me that at the last stage of a fantastic career, Weddle would like to join yet another elite defense. And he would also like a shot at a ring.
Theo Riddick, RB, Lions
Likely to receive an affordable contract? Check. Reliable production? He’s caught at least 53 passes in each of the last four years. Sure, the Bears have an electric pass-catching back in Tarik Cohen, but Riddick is a different type of player who could add a consistent short-yardage security target for Mitchell Trubisky. And he should have plenty of gas in the tank at 27 years old.
(Side note – there is nobody in the NFL like Cohen. He is a unicorn. And his skill set does not preclude the Bears from signing someone like Riddick.)
He would not solve Chicago’s running back need, as he will never be anyone’s primary ballcarrier, but zero teams in football will pass up a cheap, consistent receiving threat if given the chance. You can never have enough.
Chris Thompson, RB, Washington
Theo Riddick clone, with slight alterations. Thompson is more explosive but Riddick has a better track record of health.
Either one would be a valuable addition to coach Matt Nagy’s offense, but again, neither would be the Bears’ bell cow. Where can they find that? If Pace wants to take a risk on someone on the wrong side of 30, I have an idea.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills
He will turn 31 years old in July. He dealt with nagging injuries throughout 2018. And when he was on the field, he was less effective than he had ever been.
LeSean McCoy brings a gaggle of running back red flags to the table. But it’s easy to forget that as recently as 2017, McCoy totaled more than 1500 all-purpose yards, back when his offensive line didn’t consist of five revolving doors and swing tackle Kelvin Benjamin.
“Shady” has thrived in the past as the cornerstone of the offense run by Matt Nagy’s mentor, Andy Reid. He isn’t in his prime anymore, but he remains one of the shiftier backs in football who is solid at worst and elite at best as a receiving threat. While signing McCoy would have to come with drafting a back due to his age, he is a perfect fit for Nagy’s scheme and could help take Chicago to the promised land.
Justin Houston, EDGE, Chiefs
Remember the “you can never have enough” line for reliable pass-catchers? Take that and magnify 1000x with pass rushers. Even though he’s no longer the elite QB-annihilator that he was in his prime, the 30-year-old Houston can still bend around the edge and pick up seven to 10 sacks a year.
Kansas City has to pay Dee Ford now and Chris Jones soon after, both of whom will command monstrous deals, so it would be in their best interest to cut their losses with a $21 million dollar cap hit in Houston.
Houston would undoubtedly be the most expensive player on this list, (based on no inside info whatsoever, I’d guess he’d command nine or so million a year on a short-term deal) but Houston would be worth it, even as technically a backup. He, Leonard Floyd, and Khalil Mack would create a nearly unstoppable three-man rotation. And you know Chuck Pagano would find ways to get all of them on the field at the same time on passing downs.
Have fun with that, Rodgers.
If the Bears make their expected cuts and don’t overpay for their own free agents, they should have enough to bring in Houston. He would complete an unstoppable pass rush that would allow the Bears to compete with every team in the NFL.
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