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.

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.