It’s finally time to put together an off-season plan for the Chicago Bears after weeks of going through the roster to decide what changes should be made. Those group-by-group assessments have painted a pretty clear picture. It’s the same story now that it was when we started the retooling process.
The Bears must improve the talent at tight end and offensive line, neither group pulled its weight last season. They should add legitimate competition to the quarterback room without fear of damaging egos. Defensively, they’ll have to fill one starting spot each at cornerback and safety. There are questions at inside linebacker too. So let’s decide on a plan of attack.
A Chicago Bears Off-Season Plan
Chicago has limited capital, both draft and financial, to improve its roster externally. That means they must spend judiciously if they are going to dabble in free agency. The list of free agents has several intriguing names. Particularly at tight end and quarterback, two very important positions to the Bears. Which should the Bears spend on?
Their free-agent big board should be tiered by the overall talent and not just throwing money to fill a need. That leaves a couple of viable options per position. There’s tight ends Austin Hooper and Hunter Henry. Guards Brandon Scherff and Andrus Peat should be obvious options. And quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who should top the list.
No, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers aren’t on this list despite the former being suggested by multiple outlets. Trading for either Cam Newton or Nick Foles should only be an option if their teams eat a good amount of their salary and aren’t asking for much in return. Both would be intriguing options under those circumstances.
The Bears should be all in on Bridgewater. Otherwise, they’re better off spending a mid-round pick on a developmental prospect than hoping they can get more out of Andy Dalton or turn Marcus Mariota into Ryan Tannehill. Reclamation projects and trying to recreate a lightning-in-a-bottle situation are what rebuilding teams do.
Barring a trade, the quarterbacks that could fall in the Bears range have received a mixed bag of analyses. Washington’s Jacob Eason is talented but has been plagued by inconsistency. Washington State’s Anthony Gordon has the intangibles but there are questions about his arm talent and slight frame.
There’s no middle ground here. Outside of an obvious backup, any quarterback added to the roster will be viewed through the prism of whether or not they are an immediate threat to starter Mitchell Trubisky. General manager Ryan Pace has stated the organization’s support for Trubisky under center making a rookie project most likely. But plans change.
No position was more of a letdown than the tight ends and there are metrics to prove it. Another foray into free agency should be the play. It’s understandable if anyone is leery after what has become of the Trey Burton signing but the signs were always there. He was a part-time player that rose to prominence in a niche role. On a related note, avoid Eric Ebron.
Instead, they should pursue Hooper or Henry. Hooper caught 75 passes for 787 yards and six scores for the Atlanta Falcons last season while Henry put up a 55/652/5 line for the Los Angeles Chargers. Both have dealt with injuries but have the profile to provide the immediate impact rarely seen from rookie tight ends.
The Bears didn’t reach out to former-Bears tight end Greg Olsen. But at 35 and with injuries being a big part of his last few seasons, it’s not hard to figure out why there hasn’t been much traction there. Maybe something gets done deeper into the offseason though; he still outproduced all Bears tight ends by himself.
Draftniks have been touting the names of Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet and Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins. Both would be upgrades over what Chicago currently rosters, but again, the learning curve for rookie tight ends is well-documented. Not that they couldn’t contribute, but the double-duty of blocking and catching passes could be too much.
Winning football teams are built in the trenches. After quarterback, no position group should have more attention paid to it by an organization. The Bears sound as though they are banking on their line woes being a bigger reason for the offense’s struggles than the quarterback. That could lead them to spend in free agency to shore the unit up.
Tackle might be out of the question in free agency. With good money already invested, they could hope for a rebound from the vets with an added push from rookies or improved depth pieces. Charles Leno and Bobby Massie have to be better protecting the edges. Here’s hoping improvements elsewhere are enough.
Both Scherff (Washington Redskins) and Peat (New Orleans Saints) are expected to be highly courted, including by their current teams. That just means the Bears need to be early and forceful in their offer should they make one to either guard. It didn’t take long after Kyle Long was finally shut down to realize Alex Bars or Rashaad Coward aren’t the answer.
Projecting draft selections along the offensive line can be tough before the combine because of the higher number of position changes compared to other position groups. Especially with the interior, today’s top center prospect could be tomorrow’s sixth-ranked guard and vice versa. That is also true for a lot of college tackles with short arms or limited lateral mobility.
Omitted but Not Forgotten
Most of the work this offseason will be to improve the offense. Outside of the obvious impending hole at safety, the Bears have options on defense. They can even take their pick between their free agents at middle linebacker and don’t have to create a hole at cornerback (though they likely will). That flexibility doesn’t exist with the offense.
Any replacements on the defensive side will likely come via the draft. Saftey’s can get expensive and they just paid Eddie Jackson. At cornerback, they have already taken a flier on former CFL standout Tre Roberson; possibly signaling they will look to fill those gaps with a more frugal approach.
The same is true with pass-rusher Leonard Floyd. He’s largely disappointed fans but has received consistent support from management. In other words, he’s not going anywhere. On the contrary, an extension could be on the horizon. The logic would be both to lock up valued versatility and to free up some more cap room for other moves.
Wide receivers weren’t mentioned for two reasons. First, Anthony Miller should be in for a big bounce-back season after a sophomore slump. Second, the Bears won’t be targeting any wide receivers before the back end of the draft or spending big money on the position with such limited resources.
The Chicago Bears Off-Season Plan
If forced to put a ranking on the aforementioned free agents, it starts with Bridgewater. Quarterback is still the most important position and arguably the biggest thing holding the Bears back. After him, the focus should be Hooper and Peat, both of whom seem more likely to be allowed to walk from their current franchises than their counterparts.
Mocking the Bears draft is just as difficult as last year given their lack of a first-round pick. What’s different this time is they have a pair of second-rounders that could be utilized to move up but probably not far enough for one of the top passers. The areas most in need of addressing are clear. Now we have to wait and see how they go about all of it.
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