Bears free-agency analysis: Ryan Pace overhauls secondary

Bears free-agency analysis: Ryan Pace overhauls secondary

This is the third in a series analyzing the Bears' decision-making during the 2017 free-agency period.

From 3/13: Bears free agency analysis: Alshon Jeffery non-deal left an understandable void

From 3/14: Bears free-agency analysis: Offseason OL pattern holds with Tom Compton

When the Bears opted out of the spiraling bidding for free agents at two of their critical-need positions — cornerback, safety — the obvious reason was that the prices for A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore at corner and safety Tony Jefferson, the reason was simple: The "whoa" factor.
 
"I guess I should say nothing surprises me anymore," GM Ryan Pace said, then laughed, "but there's a handful of things that you're like, ‘Whoa!'" 
 
Amid the aftershocks of one of the most aggressive Bears starts in their history with free agency — six new players signed in the span of less than 48 hours — is the conclusion that the Bears correctly took passes on players on whom a knee-jerk market was overheating, even allowing for a higher salary cap, and simultaneously upgraded primary need positions.
 
The Bears wanted additions at cornerback. They were linked to Gilmore and Bouye, who were signed by the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars to five-year deals worth $65 million and $67.5 million, contracts for a one-time Pro Bowl alternate (Gilmore) from a pass defense ranked in the 20's (Buffalo, 2015-16), and for a one-year starter (Bouye) with 19 career starts. The guaranteed money for Gilmore reached $40 million, and $26 million for Bouye.

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The packages exceeded the ones for the likes of Janoris Jenkins and Aqib Talib and approach the ranges for Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman.
 
Prince Amukamara has had health issues, but is on a prove-it deal at one-year, $7 million. Marcus Cooper projects as an upgrade over Kyle Fuller in the latter's current diminished state, and his three-year deal averages $5.3-million-per, for a starter with 4 interceptions and 11 pass breakups last season in 13 starts.
 
And Pace was clear that the draft always factors into free-agency.
 
Quintin Demps represents an upgrade at safety, with a player who netted 6 interceptions last season as a member of the Houston Texans secondary along with Bouye. At age 32 Demps might better be viewed as a veteran bridge in the deep middle that has been a black hole since the better days of Mike Brown.
 
With the No. 3 and 36 picks of the draft, the Bears are expected to address the secondary with players that their personnel evaluators view with greater upside than what the spiraling dollars of free agency could offer a team building for a future.

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.

1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?

Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.

“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”

2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?

Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie. 

“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

3. How productive can this unit be?

Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season. 

BearsTalk Podcast: Analyzing Mitch Trubisky's contract as rookies arrive for camp

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USA TODAY

BearsTalk Podcast: Analyzing Mitch Trubisky's contract as rookies arrive for camp

On Ep. 56 of our BearsTalk Podcast, Chris and JJ discuss Mitch Trubisky’s contract, question marks about the final 53, go over the Vikings off-season with Dawn Mitchell from Fox-9 Minneapolis, and go “Off the Grid” on  JJ’s recent engagement.