When the 2018 Free Agency period began the Bears were prepared to add some players of impact that would fill needs and help their young Quarterback take the next step. They took a page right out of the Los Angeles Rams approach to last years free agency by going out and getting some of the Free Agent markets top targets to give their 2nd-year #1 draft pick Quarterback Mitch Trubisky all the tools to exploit his immense talent.
The Bears are undoubtedly improved and have provided Mitch Trubisky with the necessary weaponry to succeed in this new dynamic offense the Bears are attempting to build. However, there are a few more pieces that need to be collected although most of the big ones may very well be on this roster at the moment in forming the core of a team that may compete on an annual basis for championships moving forward. After all, this is about more than appeasing a restless fan base for the upcoming season alone. This is about building this franchise for sustained success. The Bears are off to a good start by acquiring young ascending Free Agents who figure to not only start the new era but to hopefully finish the goal of this core’s era in the rebuild.
The other way you get this done is by acquiring upgrades at positions that already appear to be in good shape. This way you push starter quality players down the depth chart and if an injury occurs you’re going to have the luxury of inserting someone who essentially is a starter in the NFL. It’s why Free Agency plays an important role in this process as it plays partner to the draft. When you go into the draft picking players without the desperation of need you then draft top players regardless of position and they upgrade a spot you feel good about and in essence, push your previous starter down the depth chart or you have a young player fresh out of the draft and ready to step right in after they leave.
This builds sustained success as you constantly have starter quality players at the peak of their abilities and if you’re doing your job right in development you’re getting a ton of compensation picks back because you’re losing high-quality veterans. Now you have higher round comp pick to either pick some of the best young college talents to replenish your depth or even use as trade collateral to move up in the draft and get starters or rotational players. This also keeps your special teams in excellent shape.
That being said the Bears top mission is to add starter quality players at high impact positions no matter how they do it. Before building depth you have to have starters. In this case, the Bears desperately need a player or two at their outside Linebacker position. The addition of Aaron Lynch and resigning of Sam Acho are depth style moves and good ones at that. However, the Bears need a starter there. A high-level starter at that.
It’s even more important considering Leonard Floyd has yet to finish a season without an injured reserve stint ending it. Thus far he’s played in just 22 out of a possible 32 games. Not just that he struggled with an injury to begin his rookie season which limited his practice time and thus his effectiveness because he was so raw coming in and needed the reps not to mention his unfamiliarity of Vic Fangio’s system. The flaw with him coming in aside from being so raw was is body type and whether or not it can sustain health while absorbing the physical rigors of the NFL. So far that answer is a resounding no.
So it’s reasonable to assume the Bears want to minimize his snaps to about 55% maybe even less which mean you need to account for the other 45% at minimum. So perhaps it’s a must that the Bears need to go need at number eight overall regardless of it generally being the poor play. The Bears have yet to accumulate that roster depth where they can sustain injury because they have these starter quality backups at the impact positions on the team. So expect an Outside Linebacker by Round 2 at the latest to find his way on this roster.
I also have zero doubt that Ryan Pace will attempt to trade down during this draft in multiple rounds to accumulate numbers as well as being extremely active in the UDFA market. With that extra resource, I feel that the depth will be attacked at position groups that appear to be light on talent.
The Bears do have some very good players inside in Aikem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, as well as, some promising young player in Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris who bring toughness and athleticism inside. Another kid people are forgetting about much as they did with Robertson-Harris last season and that’s Rashaad Coward who the Bears signed out of Old Dominion as a priority Free Agent. He may be replacing the snaps by Mitch Unrein who left for Tampa Bay early in Free agency. However, I would not rule out an acquisition in the draft with some strong players in this year’s class inside. How good would Vita Vea look in a Bears uniform? Nor would I say they’re absolutely done in free Agency with some very interesting name available in Johnathan Hankins, Bennie Logan, Nick Fairley, Sharrif Floyd, among others.
This brings me to the pushing starters down the depth chart to build depth concept with Adrian Amos. No doubt Amos made good progress. He went from being on the roster bubble to having praise heaped on him by football analytic giant Pro Football Focus who pretty much declared him the greatest Safety in the world. I am not as over the moon about Amos as they are but he’s certainly a starter quality box Safety. However, in this day and age Box safeties are rotational players and usually get the minimum snap count of their rotational counterpart as this is a passing league and offenses and defenses are in Nickel personnel more times than not.
To eliminate predictability as well as being prepared at all times in case of a pass you’d want a safety that can play tough in the box defense to bury the run game and one that can cover particularly against the move Tight Ends in this league. This clearly puts Minkah Fitzpatrick in play should he fall to the Bears. However, with the desperate need for pass rushing help it’s far more likely they draft a front four player with their first pick and perhaps draft a safety beyond that pick. Derwin James is probably the next best option but will likely be gone by the time the Bears pick in the second. There are some good options after that. Jessie Bates out of Wake Forest, Ronnie Harrison from Alabama, Stanford’s Justin Reid, and Armani Watts out of Texas A & M are all fine choices in day 2 of the draft who could all be upgrades over Amos. Amos also is going to be a Free Agent so the Bears can make this as much of a cap saving move and perhaps even start collecting compensation picks as much as it is about an upgrade. This will give the Bears a chance to start Amos while the rookie learns his craft and have Amos accumulate some numbers and status which could give Amos a big payday elsewhere and a nice 3rd round comp pick out of it for the Bears to boot.
There are also some nice free agent options still out there that would be clear upgrades. Two of which have ties to the Bears top football minds. One, Kenny Vaccaro was with the Saints when Pace was there and Eric Reid with Vic Fangio in San Francisco. Both would be clear upgrades over Amos as they can play the run as well and are far better in coverage particularly Reid. I certainly hope the conservative ownership that is the McCaskeys doesn’t influence any possible acquisition because they want to steer clear of all controversy which would come into play with Reid and his taking of the knee during the National Anthem.
As for offense, there is a huge contingent out there that thinks the Bears are in desperate need of offensive line help. This in spite of being the 11th best team in the league in giving up the least pressures according to the statistics compiled by Pro Football Focus and were 11th in rushing yards per attempt. This in spite of being devastated by injury to their interior linemen and forcing the one healthy body in Cody Whitehair moving all over the line to cover for the rash of injuries. This year they have Eric Kush returning from injury and Last season’s fifth-round draft pick Jordan Morgan ready to take over while all members of the line are going to be tutored by one of the best Offensive Line Coaches in football at any level in Harry Heistand. I think a lot of this is about some being enamored by Notre Dame prospect Quenton Nelson and the hope he lands in the Bears lap and they pull the trigger on him.
That said you can never have enough offensive linemen and I do expect the Bears to invest in one at some point. I don’t see it in the first round even if Nelson does fall to them but I do see day 3 bringing a lineman or two aboard for the Bears. The interior is deep and plentiful and I could definitely see drafting a lineman who can play multiple positions up and down the line for Heistand to develop. There are several prospects who can be converted from Tackle to guard that should fit the bill. Kyle Long may need to be replaced sooner than later.
Wide Receiver is another deep group and there is a lot of talented pass-catching Tight Ends at the top of the draft. There is a distinct possibility the Bears pull the trigger on one or two on day 2 and 3 of this draft. This is an offense that thrives on versatility in both positional versatility and scheme transcendence. That’s why I also fully expect them drafting a running Back late in this very deep class of versatile and explosive backs. The Bears are good at the top of the roster with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, but look to be in the market for a third and possibly even a 4th back. One of those spots may be filled by Taquon Mizzel who himself has explosive qualities and some pass-catching abilities out of the backfield.
However, with a draft class so deep that a quality rotational back can be had even in the priority free agent field I fully expect one to make his way on this roster at some point out of this college class. Particularly one that can contribute on special teams. Some names that come to mind are Rashaad Penny, Kerryon Johnson, Kalen Ballage, and Nick Chubb which one or two of them may sneak to the Bears at the top of the fourth round and would be excellent choices. Both could at some point replace Howard when he becomes a Free Agent as the feature guy. Some others that should easily be there in the mid to late round range are names like Nyheim Hynes, Mark Walton, Ito Smith and Chase Edmunds who all have that explosive quick-twitch ability and can catch the ball out of the backfield which fits Nagy’s offense to a tee.
While I fully expect a best player available approach in the draft by Pace I do see the Edge Rusher position being one that must be addressed at the top of the draft at 8th overall or preferable later in the first in a trade down. To assure this as being a possibility the Bears may make a late signing here just before the draft to shore up depth needs. Either way, expect an anything and everything draft day for this franchise. But one thing is for certain, the Bears are in very good shape heading into it but for one spot which has no answers in the veteran Free Agent market. So, don’t be surprised to see a name that no one is talking about at 8 that will help the Bears get to the Quarterback more frequently than they have the last three seasons under Fangio.