The Chicago Bears are in a tough spot heading into this offseason – facing a key quarterback decision, coupled with a well-paid defense that has been underperforming, and a head coach/general manager grouping that has failed to live up to expectations, and you have the makings of a sub-par NFC North squad.
The kicker for them is that their financials do not bode well for them to be able to make big splashes this offseason, as they currently sit a bit over $10 million above the projected salary cap, with that figure projected to change due to the uncertainties surrounding the final cap number.
QB Mitchell Trubisky and WR Allen Robinson highlight the most important free agency decision that this team needs to make, but there are also players like DT Roy Robertson-Harris and S Deon Bush are potential departures that would leave holes in this team’s depth as well.
Even with their financial shortcomings, they will have to look outside the organization if they want to get back into the thick of things and join the Green Bay Packers in the fight for the divisional crown. Here are three free agents targets that Chicago should look into this offseason.
With the type of money, or lack thereof, that the Bears will be working with this offseason, any sort of big-time offensive line addition(s) will exist without involving the names Brandon Scherff, Joe Thuney, Cam Robinson, or Taylor Moton. But in order to be able to run the ball better, they must add to this unit in some form.
For the Los Angeles Rams, guard Austin Blythe was a diamond in the rough find for them, especially since they picked him up off of waivers from the Indianapolis Colts back in May 2017. Having played out the next four seasons with the Rams, including the final three of his rookie deal, Blythe became a huge cog in their OL unit, playing 1,000+ snaps in each of his final three seasons in LA.
The 29-year-old, who was a seventh rounder out of Iowa back in 2016, is certainly not a sexy pick when it comes to free agency projections, but he would be a solid addition to the interior of the OL.
He was the starting center for Jared Goff and the Rams and could hold that same position with the Bears, or he could slide over to right guard, letting Cody Whitehair go back to being the starting center and let James Daniels return to left guard after his return from injury.
A three-year deal worth around $16-$20 million seems to be in line for what Blythe would earn, and this would be his first chance to cash in on his play, a price that the Bears should be willing to meet.
Regardless of if Robinson ends up coming back, this team is in desperate need of solid WR depth – and that big jump for Darnell Mooney does not happen without a third WR option being brought in.
Taking another FA formerly of the Rams, WR Josh Reynolds would act as another younger player that could use a change of scenery and would not cost all that much. While commanding a cheaper deal that what Blythe will most like get (think two years, $8 million), Reynolds is essentially blocked in LA, paving the way for his departure.
Playing behind both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, and with Florida rookie Van Jefferson earning more snaps as the season went on, the writing on the wall has been there for a while for Reynolds, so looking elsewhere makes the most sense.
Not a freak athlete by any means, Reynolds would bring a strong set of hands and a tall-body frame to the Bears, which would be a great hybrid between Robinson’s catch-all skillset and Mooney’s burner speed. Giving Trubisky/Foles/insert rookie QB here a tall frame to throw to certainly cannot hurt, and it would help boost accuracy issues for whoever is throwing the ball.
His 52/618/2 line from the ‘20 season is impressive, as is the fact that he has never missed a game so far in his NFL career, so his health and skillset would translate well to a CHI offense devoid of that third key pass catching WR.
Now, making the transition from playing in a 4-3 scheme to that of a 3-4 scheme is not something that simply just happens overnight – however, the money will expedite that process, which is something that could help get Trey Hendrickson overpaid and into a Bears jersey this offseason.
The Saints are in absolute salary cap hell, meaning that key players like Hendrickson and Alex Anzalone, among others, are likely going to be wearing different colors next season. For the Bears, as much as they love how their defense is currently built, they also love spending glorious wads of cash on it, so why not add to it?
Hendrickson would slot in as the lone defensive end in new defensive coordinator’s Sean Desai scheme, which is presumed to be an adoption of Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 scheme. While the exact parameters of Desai’s said scheme are not fully known at this point, but Hendrickson would be an exciting and expensive addition for this team to better the strongest part of their roster.
This is Hendrickson’s first chance (and most likely not last) chance at securing the bag, so a four-year deal worth around $50 million in total ($12.5 million AAV) looks to be close to the goin rate for the Florida Atlantic third rounder from ‘17.
Even with the financial constraints put on the Bears, they are in a good position to a) get underneath the salary cap, and b) add to a team that is on the cusp of sustained success that just needs a few pieces brought into the mix. Even without considering the QB position at this point, there are plenty of FA additions that can be considered to help address other roster shortcomings, and if GM Ryan Pace does not take that route for improving this squad, his stay with Chicago may be over sooner than he thinks.