Several media people and beat reporters are quite optimistic about the Bears new coaching staff and changes, which have largely occurred on the offensive side of the ball. After witnessing the Bears free agent signing’s last week, I’m starting to see evidence that the optimism may be justified in some areas. And in other areas, general manager Ryan Pace’s spending habits must continue to be questioned.
Granted, the quality of last years free agent class paled in comparison to this year. Last year at receiver the Bears big signing was Markus Wheaton, a backup in Pittsburgh with health issues, along with former Tennessee starter Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz who had two devastating injuries two years in a row while with the New York Giants.
Cruz was cut in training camp and retired. Wright ended up being the Bears leading receiver on a one year deal, and he will probably follow former offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains to Miami. Markus Wheaton was cut after signing a two year deal with $6 million guaranteed. He caught only three passes on the year, in which he had numerous injuries.
So back to the free agency chalkboard the Bears went, with over $64 million in cap space to spend.
The Bears signed Allen Robinson, a former receiver from Jacksonville, to a 3 year, $42 million deal with $25 million of it guaranteed. Robinson’s second season was very productive with 80 receptions from quarterback Blake Bortles for 1400 yards. Critics say he had a big dropoff in his third year, but he still had 74 receptions, just six less than the year before. The yardage was down to 883 yards, but so was Jacksonville’s entire offense, with Bortles struggles, injuries to other receivers and the offensive line being decimated. by injuries.
The new regime in Jacksonville saw Robinson tear his ACL in the first game last year, and decided not to extend his contract, after he missed the entire season. They say he’ll be ready by training camp, and if he returns to full health, could prove to be the Alshon Jeffery replacement the Bears have been looking for.
Robinson cited excitement to play with Trubisky and for new head coach Matt Nagy as his primary reason for coming to Chicago. I would suspect that $25 million guaranteed would have more to do with it. What I like about Robinson is his size, he’s 6 foot 3 inches tall, he’s athletic, catches almost everything, and he is young. He has been a starter for 2 full, and one half seasons, beside’s missing last year, and he’s still only 24 years old. Robinson signing grade: B-
Taylor Gabriel, is another receiver the Bears signed this week. He will be taking Kendall Wright’s spot at the slot receiver. This is an obvious upgrade in terms of speed at the position. At 5 foot 8 inches tall he is much smaller than the 5′ 11″ Wright, and at 165 pounds I would be very concerned whether or not he can take the pounding of a full schedule. The most games he has ever started in one season is 4, last year for Atlanta, he has been a backup receiver and special teams player for Cleveland and Atlanta for 4 seasons.
The Bears signed him to a four year deal for $26 million plus incentives. They gave him $14 million guaranteed, 230% more than they gave Wheaton last year at $6 million. Wheaton played a handful of games and caught 3 passes all year, after an appendicitis, a broken finger and hamstring problems. This is a very risky signing and I would feel a lot better if the Bears resigned Wright to at least be a backup receiver. Gabriel signing grade: C+
Trey Burton, is a 6 foot 2 inch, 245 pound backup tight end signed from Super Bowl champion Philadelphia, has the highest ceiling of the Bears signees. Burton is more of an H-back than standard tight end. You can put him in the backfield to act as a blocker for the running back at times, which is how I hope the Bears will use him. Burton is an athletic pass catcher who is slightly undersized. But with the ball in his hands as a check down receiver, he would be a nightmare to tackle in the open field for a safety or cornerback. He is fast and agile, with low mileage on him.
During one game he had to start last year, due to an injury to the starter. He caught 5 passes, 2 for touchdowns and 78 yards. There is a lot of potential there for a creative offensive mind, like new head coach Matt Nagy is purported to be, we’ll see and hope.
Burton was signed to a 4 year deal worth $32 million and further enlarges the enormous commitment the Bears have made at tight end position by drafting Adam Shaheen in the second round last year, and the free agent signing of Dion Sims a year ago. Sims’, who received a $4 million roster bonus last Friday, is considered the blocking tight end. Let’s hope that the Burton signing does not signal that Shaheen is a bust, since the 2nd round pick, struggled to pick up his blocking assignments a year ago. Lets also hope that the Bears clear up their offensive line problems enough to allow Burton, and not Sims, to see the field enough to justify an average of $8 million a year. Burton signing grade: B+
The Bears also signed career backup quarterback Chase Daniel to a two-year deal worth $10 million and $7 million guaranteed. He has followed head coach Matt Nagy here from Kansas City and will act as Mitchell Trubiksy’s tutor on the playbook Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich plan on installing. This was an expected move as the Bears also signed another Kansas City backup quarterback in Tyler Bray who has missed the last 3 seasons with a torn ACL and other maladies. Bears Backup quarterback grades: D
The Bears continued to burn your money by signing kicker Cody Parkey to 4 year $15 million dollar deal that guarantees $9 million. Considering that the Bears become Parkey’s 4th team in 4 years and that the last team, Miami, claimed him off of waiver’s and let him go. I’m starting to think some one should take the checkbook away from Ryan Pace. Granted Parkey had a career best year last year, but the rebuilding Bears may be better suited to an open competition of rookie free-agent kickers that could be signed to league minimum deals. The Bears clearly think they are closer to winning though, and gave Parkey $9 million guaranteed when there was no competition for him. Or is it that the Bears don’t scout kicker’s, don’t know how to evaluate them and don’t think it’s worth their time. Not knowing the value’s of certain positions and just throwing money at a problem will lead to other problems. Kicker grade: C
Last Year’s Cornerbacks:
Such as, the Bears resigning their two starting cornerbacks from last season. Now in my last article I said that Pace made a mistake by not signing Prince Amakamura to a deal that didn’t include a team option year. I stand by that, because my option year would’ve included a raise that would’ve come in cheaper than the yearly average of the second contract that the Bears signed Amakamura to this past week. Amakamura signed a 3 year deal worth $27 million and $18 million guaranteed. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the Bears, after declining Kyle Fuller’s fifth year option before last season, which would have cost about $6 million, signed him to a 4 year $56 million dollar deal with $18 million in guaranteed money. This came after further evidence of the Bears not being able to evaluate or knowing the value of players, or their respective positions. The Bears re-signed Fuller after matching Green Bay’s offer to Fuller. Green Bay was able to sign Fuller when the Bears applied his free agency with the transition tag, not the franchise tag, like so many Chicagoland Bears scribes, like Hub Arkush and Pro Football Weekly, had thought they would do. It was a weak attempt at a cost saving measure by Pace, who has no confidence to do his own job, as he attempted to let the league dictate the market for Fuller. It didn’t work. Which is also why the transition tag has been applied to no one in over 15 years.
Pace, Pennies Unwise Part 2:
What happened was that the new Green Bay Packers general manager, Brian Gutekunst, knew the market and the Bears roster problems better than Pace did.
It’s like this. The Bears, by virtue of having so many players leave with expiring contracts like; Amakamura, Fuller, Wright, Dontrelle Inman, Tom Compton, Christian Jones, Bradley Sowell, Benny Cunningham, Mitch Unrien, Mark Sanchez, Sherrick McManis, Josh Bellamy, Sam Acho, John Timu, and Mike Nugent.
And having so many broken down and bad fit players they had to cut like; Mike Glennon, Marcus Wheaton, Marcus Cooper, Quintin Demps, Josh Sitton, Jerrell Freeman, Lamarr Houston, John Jenkins, Pernell McPhee, Zach Miller and Willie Young.
Not to mention how many holes at certain positions they still have to fill, because of multiple injuries at multiple positions like wide receiver, inside and outside linebacker, defensive end and offensive line. Gutekunst knew that even with the fifth highest amount of salary cap space available in the league at free agency with $64 million, the Bears would have difficulty filling all of their holes in one off season. So he decided to make life more difficult for the Bears financially, while possibly trying to patch one hole on his own team.
I don’t think Gutekunst seriously wanted Fuller, the Packers are more than comfortable with drafting another cornerback like Kevin King in the 2nd round last year, but he did want the Bears to spend more on him, so the Bears will be forced to spend less in other areas later. By virtue of Green Bay’s deal that the Bears matched to retain Fuller, he is now among the five highest paid cornerbacks in football, which is what he would’ve been under the franchise tag all along. Not that franchising Fuller would’ve been the right move, it would not have been.
Remember the Bears could’ve controlled him for another year if they had tendered his option year for $6 million, as I said before. If I were the Bears GM, their total outlay for Fuller and Amakamura would’ve been between $14-15 million, with much less guaranteed. Now they have $36 million in guaranteed money for at least the next 3 years, and a per year average of $23 million for two cornerbacks of a team that went 5-11 a year ago. Don’t mis-understand though. Fuller and Amakamura played well together for about half of the season. Most of the second half of the season I would pin the Bears losses and defensive lapses directly at Fuller’s feet. The Bears are paying Fuller now like he has already ascended to being an all-pro type player, not the starting corner for a 5-11 team. You don’t pay for the potential of a fifth year player, he is what he is.
If there is a dropoff in Fuller’s play, which was good enough to entice or force the Bears into paying all-pro money for him. The Bears will really be screwed financially if they have to replug this hole a year from now. Chances are, the Bears still spend a late pick, 4th round or later, and hope to strike gold at cornerback. That’s seems pretty unlikely though, with possibly 20 cornerback’s off the board by then.
With the Bears looking to draft a pass rusher or linebacker, and a wide receiver, the Bears needs on the offensive line and most likely an upgrade at cornerback, will probably come later. With no 3rd round pick, because of the Trubisky deal a year ago, the Bears will kick their most serious needs down the road, because that’s what Pace does. I just don’t think Pace has his priorities in order. You will be able to tell, by how quickly he drafts a wide receiver/ new toy, for his new best bud/ head coach Matt Nagy. If the Bears draft a wide receiver other than D.J. Chark of LSU or Courtland Sutton of SMU, in the second round, I would calmly ask Pace to resign as general manager.
Next article: we prioritize needs and begin to pick players that we want the Bears to draft.