Restricted free agency is a difficult avenue to improve an NFL team, especially the Bears. By definition, these are players who are still under team control; they can be tendered at a low cost and their current team is able to match any offer they receive, and depending on the type of tender, they could be entitled to compensation in the form of draft picks.
Ryan Pace and company don’t have enough cap space to hand out overly expensive offer sheets to potential additions in an attempt to force another franchise’s hand, putting the Bears at a disadvantage here. If they want to find upgrades through restricted free agency, they’ll have to look for the right situation. To be specific, Pace will have to seek out guys who are stuck behind one or two more talented assets on their team’s depth chart. Either that or he’ll have to catch a team with cap problems at a bad time.
Luckily, a few of those players exist, as well as one solid depth option already on their roster. Here are five restricted free agents who the Bears should target this March.
Ben Braunecker, TE, Bears
I could explain myself what Ben Braunecker does well and why the Bears should bring him back, and I will. But first, I’ll let NFL Network’s Brain Baldinger (his “Baldy’s Breakdowns” are absolutely fantastic), who seems to want to hit strap on pads and hit someone every time he watches Braunecker play, explain it for me.
.@ChicagoBears @Mtrubisky10 watching him start this game Sunday v @lions and the 🏈 doesn’t touch the the ground for his first 7 passes including this throw off a scramble drill to #BenBraunecker. Every team needs a “Braunecker”. Top 5 offense/Top 5 defense. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/paZjRvTXV1
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 13, 2018
.@ChicagoBears #JamesDaniels can move mountains. Amazing what can happen when you stay low; snap your hips; and bring your feet with you. @HawkeyeFootball and #KirkFerentz teaches the fundamentals as well as anyone in CFB. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/3PuouOwC2T
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) December 31, 2018
See? Everybody needs a Braunecker.
Balding has a somewhat visceral affection for Braunecker for one of two reasons. The first option is that their names sound similar. The second, and more likely, option is that Braunecker will do anything his coaches ask and more. He can line up at any spot, including fullback and wing, he blocks well, he’s a better receiver than you think, and he plays on every special team.
Braunecker won’t be too expensive, and he’ll make an excellent third tight end once again in 2019.
Briean Boddy-Calhoun, DB, Browns
Boddy-Calhoun is a great example of that first type of player I described in the opening paragraphs – he’s a useful, productive player who is stuck behind a stacked depth chart.
To put it mildly, the Browns have invested heavily in their secondary. Their starters are Jabrill Peppers and Damarious Randall at safety, they have second-year phenom Denzel Ward and former Bear/Chief Terrance Mitchell on the outside, and T.J. Carrie has impressed in the slot. Their defensive backfield is set in stone for the 2019 season, and Boddy-Calhoun, who can play both safety and slot corner, is the odd man out.
Boddy-Calhoun’s stats were superb as a rookie, picking off three passes and defending 11 more. His numbers have declined since entering the league as a UDFA in 2016, but at a diminutive 5’9″, he’s maintained the fiery style of play that got him noticed by Cleveland in the first place.
If the Browns decide that he isn’t valuable to them as a depth piece to their secondary, the Bears should certainly have interest. Chuck Pagano likes defensive backs who can play both safety and in the slot, and Boddy-Calhoun certainly fits that description.
Anthony Harris, S, Vikings
If they beat you, get ’em to join you. That’s the philosophy that has me wanting the Bears to make Anthony Harris an offer in restricted free agency.
After spending the majority of his career on the bench as a quality special teamer, Harris used incumbent SS Andrew Sendejo‘s injury to claim a starting role opposite superstar Harrison Smith in 2018. In his nine starts, he picked off three passes, two of which came in one game against Chicago. The one that became etched in my memory was this one, on a deep seam route to Taylor Gabriel.
Incredible catch from Anthony Harris on the interception; Trubisky tries the seam in Tampa-2 pic.twitter.com/zHKJ4x84Sc
— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) November 19, 2018
This was an excellent throw from Mitchell Trubisky, and while it wasn’t the best decision, I can’t really pin the blame on the QB for this interception. It was a calculated risk into tight coverage; Harris just made an incredible play on the ball. He high-points it perfectly, out-jumps Gabriel, and gets two hands on it. He then somehow pulls the football towards to his lower abdomen, pins it against his body, and comes down with a clean catch.
It was only one play, but those ball skills are rare. And he was solid in coverage most of the time he played.
Sendejo is under contract for this season, but the Vikings can cut him without any dead cap. If they were to keep him and let Harris walk, they would be crazy, but this is the franchise that gave Kirk Cousins $87 million guaranteed. The Bears should, at the very least, check in with Harris’s agent and see what it would take to steal him from a rival.
Geronimo Allison, WR, Packers
Allison is in an odd situation, and it’s not dissimilar to the one that Cameron Meredith was in at this time last year. He’s a highly intriguing talent when healthy, but “when healthy” hasn’t been too often as of late.
In only five games last year, Allison caught 20 passes for 303 yards, good for an impressive 15.2 yards per reception clip. Extrapolated over a full season, that adds up to 64 catches for just under 970 yards, which probably would have prompted the Packers to give him a second-round tender.
The groin injury that he suffered in November complicates things, however. As does the emergence of Marquez Valdez-Scantling, a 2018 fifth-rounder who performed admirably as Green Bay’s number two receiver in Allison’s absence. The Packers have a solid amount of cap space, about $34 million to be exact, but one would think they have to use a good chunk of it on defensive talent.
If that means losing Allison, possibly to the Bears, so be it. They have to maximize the remaining years of Pennywise the Dancing Clown‘s prime, and that could mean prioritizing an expensive edge rusher over an injury-prone number two or three receiver.
Malcolm Brown, RB, Rams
In early December – when the Bears took the Rams’ juggernaut offense in football behind the woodshed – if you told me that an overweight yet somehow faster C.J. Anderson would solve the Bears’ running back conundrum, I would have said you were insane.
That being said, if Ryan Pace liked what he saw from Malcolm Brown during his limited action in LA, that just might be the case.
Anderson, in his late regular season and playoff action, made it very hard for Les Snead and Sean McVay to let him walk in free agency. It’s inexplicable that he received more carries than Todd Gurley down the stretch, but he certainly proved himself as at least a backup. Assuming the Rams re-sign Anderson, they probably have to let Brown (who was Gurley’s backup until a season-ending injury) walk.
Brown was impressive in the film and live game action that I’ve seen, and he was incredibly efficient before his injury in 2018; he averaged 4.9 yards per carry and 10.5 yards per reception (albeit on only five receptions, but the McVay offense doesn’t call for much receiving work from backs not named Gurley), including the gem.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 4, 2018
Brown has that shiftiness that you can’t teach in running backs, and Jordan Howard certainly does not.
After that toe-tapping touchdown, Troy Aikman said that Brown could start for quite a few NFL teams. I agree. If the Bears enter the season with Brown, a draft pick, Cohen, and a special teamer making up their RB room in September, that would be fine by me.
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