After Ryan Pace’s monster off-season haul in 2018 that consisted of a trade for Khalil Mack, the notable signings of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, Chase Daniel, and *gasp* Cody Parkey, paired with the re-signings of Kyle Fuller, Pat O’Donnell and Prince Amukamara, the Bears are faced with a much more difficult task this off-season.
Coming off of a 12-4 record and a NFC North title, there is no doubt the Bears improved mightily this past season with the off-season moves paying off. This off-season, however, the team needs to make moves in order to advance beyond the NFC Divisional round of the playoffs, hopefully progressing into a Super Bowl caliber team. While the task of creating as much excitement this season will be challenging due to significantly less financial flexibility combined with the lack of draft picks until the third round, the Bears will try to improve by attracting free agents who could push the team into the Super Bowl.
Chicago will have roughly twenty millions dollars in cap space this season after converting part of Eddie Goldman’s salary into a signing bonus. In terms of team needs, Chicago does not have many holes to fill given the team returns 20 starters from last season’s team, as of now. However, the Bears do have issues to solve at the strong safety, nickel, running back, and kicker positions. The Bears could use another playmaker offensively, as well as more pass-rusher depth. Below, I will provide my off-season plan to build the Bears into a more viable Super Bowl contender while leaving a little cap space.
For the Bears issue at strong safety, the team faces a complicated issue. Most NFL franchises love to develop homegrown talent through the NFL draft, ultimately rewarding these players with contract extensions when the players hit free agency. Unfortunately, I do not think this is a reality for the Bears and former fifth round pick Adrian Amos from Penn State. While Amos is a solid strong safety, he is not a great playmaker and functions primarily as a solid tackler and hard hitter. There is nothing wrong this, of course, but for a player who will command a premium price in free agency, his lack of playmaking ability will not be worth the signing cost. By letting Amos leave, the Bears have a few options: sign a safety, have Deon Bush replace Amos in the starting lineup, or draft Amos’ replacement.
If I am the general manager, I would feel comfortable letting Amos leave and replacing him with Deon Bush. Strong Safety is not a vital position for the Bears as the team has such a strong defense. As long as Bush simply plays average football, there should not be too much of a drop off at the position or a collapse in the Bears defense. His comfort level in the defense, regardless of how new Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano changes the defense, is an added benefit. On the flip side, since the Bears have held onto Bush his whole career, the team will know how prepared Bush is to step into a starting role. If the coaching staff and front office do not feel comfortable with Bush as the starting strong safety next season, then the team can sign a veteran replacement on a bridge deal for a draft pick within the next few seasons. The bridge options could include Earl Thomas or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
At nickel, resigning Bryce Callahan will be worth his price tag. Callahan began as an undrafted free agent out of Rice in 2015, and the Bears signed him. When an undrafted free agent makes a name for himself in the NFL, the success becomes a great sports story. Given Callahan’s work ethic to beat the odds by turning into a shutdown nickel, the Bears should reward him with a hefty pay day. And make no mistake about it: Callahan will be worth every penny. Last season, Callahan was among the best nickels in football, with six passes defended, two interceptions, and 45 tackles in 13 games, 10 of which he started. He defended 376 routes last season, and allowed 65 targets while giving up only 40 receptions last season.
Additionally, Callahan is great at preventing receivers from beating him with the home run, as he rarely was burned deep last season. If one were to question Callahan’s importance to the team, simply look at the playoff game versus the Eagles. Golden Tate caught a touchdown in the slot over Callahan’s replacement with Sherrick Mcmanis scoring the game winning touchdown for the Eagles. Callahan’s injury history should knock his price down a bit. Conversely, this could also be viewed as a risk to the Bears signing him. The Bears should resign him on roughly a 4/28 million dollar deal. This would give the Bears about eight million more dollars to play with.
The Bears last spot to address this off-season is running back. Last season, Jordan Howard simply did not get the job done for Chicago. He improved his pass catching ability from two season ago, but he still failed to prove himself in the passing game. He turned into a liability because of this deficit. When Howard played in the game, defenses could assume a run was coming, and as a result, Howard averaged 3.7 y/a and had 935 yards through the ground. Howard is not a great fit for Matt Nagy’s offense, and the team should trade him for a mid-round pick. The Bears should then sign a free agent running back. Unless the Bears have fallen in love with a running back that should be there in the middle rounds, I would sign Mark Ingram for a 6 million AAV. Ingram would provide a great running option for the Bears, a more efficient passing option than Howard and would make an electric combination with Tarik Cohen. Ryan Pace drafted Ingram in New Orleans, and now it is time to bring him to Chicago.
Remaining Cap Flexibility + Draft
With this off-season plan, the Bears would have approximately four million dollars in cap space remaining. Hopefully, the Bears would be able to sign a veteran pass rusher that is ring chasing (a la Justin Houston). Realistically, this plan will not happen as Houston will have a big market, and the Bears will not be able to pay him. The Bears could use the wiggle room to resign edge rusher Aaron Lynch or simply leave a little bit of cap space if an opportunity comes up during the season.
Keep in mind, if the Bears decide to cut salary, the team could look to part ways with Danny Trevathan which would save roughly six million dollars. In my plan, through the draft, the Bears would draft safety Amani Hooker in the third round as Hooker is a ball hawk from Iowa. This strategy would help make the Bears feel more comfortable if Deon Bush does not pan out. In the fourth round, I would target Lil’Jordan Humphrey from Texas as he could provide a great receiving weapon for Mitchell Trubisky. Then, in the fifth round, I would take cornerback Justin Layne from Michigan State. In the seventh round, I would select kicker Austin Seibert from Oklahoma who could solve the Bears kicking crisis. With these draft picks, the Bears would help solve short term needs while simultaneously acquiring young talent to develop for the future.
Overall, this is my Bears off-season plan that gives the Bears the most feasible chance to contend for a Super Bowl next season while keeping the team financially sound.
Follow William on Twitter (@WilliamKarmin04) for more Bears news and opinion