The Bears enter free agency hoping to sell players on the new direction that quarterback Mitch Trubisky and coach Matt Nagy represent after four consecutive double-digit-loss seasons. General manager Ryan Pace acknowledges the downside to spending on free agents, but the roster contains too many holes not to supplement it with veterans on the open market.
As deals unfold and players change teams, the Tribune’s coverage team will track the Bears’ moves and provide insight into what it all means. Check back often for updates.
— What it means: The biggest move in the NFL on Saturday was a trade instead of a free-agent signing. The Jets, determined to draft their next franchise quarterback, acquired the third overall pick from the Colts in exchange for the sixth overall pick and three additional second-rounders (two this year and another in 2019).
Because both teams already were ahead of the Bears in the draft order, the trade doesn’t increase the number of quarterbacks likely to be selected before the Bears pick eighth. Of course, the more quarterbacks taken before them, the more non-QBs the Bears would have to choose from.
At this point, four teams in the top seven could be classified as needing a quarterback: Browns (first and fourth overall picks), Giants (second), Jets (third) and Broncos (fifth). Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold and Wyoming’s Josh Allen are expected to be taken. A third quarterback, either UCLA’s Josh Rosen or Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, should be selected, as well. The Bears’ dream scenario would be all four quarterbacks being drafted, which would give them at least one of the top four non-QBs in this class.
The Bears have a four-year contract with cornerback Kyle Fuller after a play by the Packers.
— What it means: The Packers had signed Fuller, the Bears’ top cornerback, to an offer sheet Friday. But the Bears matched the deal, worth $56 million over four years, to ensure both of their starting cornerbacks return to a defense that ranked 10th in the NFL last season..
Fuller, a first-round pick in 2014, had a breakout season in 2017, and the Bears placed the transition tag on him earlier this month. That guaranteed him a $12.971 million salary for 2018, but the Bears always had planned to sign him to a multi-year deal after applying the tag. Now, Fuller will earn $20 million in the first year of the deal, which guaranteed him $18 million in the form of a signing bonus.
The Packers’ offer sheet forced them to weigh their options quickly, and they secured a key cog in their defense for the future.
Former Bears long snapper Andrew DePaola has signed with the Raiders, the team announced.
— What it means: The Bears still are in need of a contract with a long snapper with DePaola off the market. DePaola, 30, spent his fourth season with the Bears after Patrick Scales tore his ACL in the preseason. The Bears did not tender an offer to Scales, an exclusive rights free agent.
The NFL Network reported DePaola received a four-year, $4.27 million contract, with $875,000 guaranteed.
The Bears are expected to bring back tight end Daniel Brown, the Tribune has learned.
— What it means: The Bears did not tender Brown as a restricted free agent but are now expected to re-sign him for 2018. The Bears used Brown last season as a pass-catching tight end after Zach Miller was injured. With Trey Burton signed to a four-year deal to fill that receiving role, Brown will have to prove his roster value this summer. That could very well occur on special teams. Brown’s 179 special teams snaps last season were ninth-most on the team.
The Bears also have tight ends Adam Shaheen and Dion Sims on the roster. The Bears were believed to be shopping for a trade for Sims, but he had $4 million of his contract locked in Friday. General manager Ryan Pace said Thursday they were still “excited” to have him and that the Bears could use multiple tight ends.
Brown, 25, is entering his fifth year in the NFL and his third with the Bears. He had 13 catches for 129 yards in 2017 and contributed on special teams.
— What it means: Another addition to the Bears quarterback room driven by familiarity. Bray joined the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2013, the same year Nagy became their quarterbacks coach. Bray, who played collegiately at Tennessee, has one career pass attempt —an incompletion in the 2017 season finale. He spent 2014 (ankle) and 2015 (knee) on injured reserve. The Bears prioritized familiarity among their quarterbacks earlier this week when they signed Chase Daniel, who worked with Nagy — and Bray — with the Chiefs.
— What it means: Lynch, 25, is a reclamation project at what is now the Bears’ greatest position of need. The Bears must find a more promising pass-rushing outside linebacker prospect (or two) in the draft. But signing Lynch after re-signing Sam Acho at least makes them functional for now.
Lynch, a four-year veteran, had six and 6 1/2 sacks, respectively, in his first two NFL seasons. But he played in just seven games for the 49ers in 2017 because he fell out of favor with the 49ers new coaching staff following an early-season calf injury.
The Bears are hoping a reunion with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will help the enigmatic fifth-year veteran return to form. Fangio was the 49ers defensive coordinator in 2014 when Lynch had his strong rookie season.
Finally, it must be noted that Lynch was suspended for four games in 2016 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
The Bears are bringing back punter Pat O’Donnell on a one-year deal, according to ESPN.
— What it means: Two days after filling their need at kicker, the Bears locked up O’Donnell to again be their punter.
O’Donnell, the Bears’ punter for the last four seasons, had a career-best gross average of 47 yards per punt and a net average of 39.7. He put 27 punts inside the 20-yard line.
The NFL Network reported the deal was worth $1.5 million.
— What it means: Sitton, a 10-year NFL veteran, played the last two seasons with the Bears, but the team declined his $8 million option for 2018. Sitton’s new deal reportedly is for two years and $18 million, with $8 million guaranteed.
With the Bears moving on from Sitton, they have a hole to fill on their offensive line, either at guard or center, as Cody Whitehair could play either position.
The Bears made official the deals of wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, tight end Trey Burton, kicker Cody Parkey and quarterback Chase Daniel after the opening of free agency Wednesday afternoon.
— What it means: The Bears went on a spending spree to upgrade their offense, adding a potential No. 1 receiver in Robinson, a speedy slot receiver in Gabriel and a versatile target in Burton.
The Bears also hope Parkey will put an end to their ongoing kicking saga since they cut Robbie Gould in 2016. And they locked up a mentor for second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky by signing Daniel, a veteran backup who has experience with general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy.
Robinson was signed for three years, while Burton, Gabriel and Parkey secured four-year contracts. Daniel’s deal is for two seasons.
Pace and the five new free agents will meet with media Thursday at 2 p.m. at Halas Hall. We’ll have coverage at www.chicagotribune.com/bears
The Bears released Mike Glennon, Marcus Cooper and Markus Wheaton, the team announced.
— What it means: The Bears’ 2017 free-agent class can officially be stamped as a bust. Glennon, Cooper, Wheaton, Quintin Demps — all cut after only one season. As a foursome, they pocketed $33 million for 2017, with Demps the lowest earner of the group at $5 million for three games in an injury-shortened season. The four jettisoned players count $6.58 million in dead money against the 2018 salary cap. On the bright side, cutting them saved $26.5 million.
Pace has described free agency as treacherous water, which may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, until Tuesday, he repeatedly bought from the second and third tiers of the market. Pay for what you get, right? To that point, the failure of the 2017 class doesn’t mean the 2018 class is going to bust too. This year’s group is widely considered to include higher-caliber players. Pace aimed higher and convinced players like Allen Robinson and Trey Burton to join what the Bears are trying to build. Let’s see if this new class lives up to that billing. They had better.
— What it means: To appreciate how valuable the hard-working Unrein was to the Bears base defense over the last two seasons, consider that his presence has kept 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard out of the starting lineup. Unrein played 48 percent of the defensive snaps last season until he missed the final four games with a knee injury. He could anchor against the run, and his tenacity resulted in a career-high 2 1/2 sacks in 2017. His departure opens a starting spot for Bullard, but the Bears will need to replace that depth.
Wide receiver Markus Wheaton expects the Bears to release him, he tells the Tribune.
— What it means: Though nothing is official yet, Wheaton, who is owed a $5 million base salary for 2018, was made expendable by the Bears’ signings of wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel and their tenders to Cameron Meredith and Josh Bellamy.
He signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Bears last March. But he totaled just three catches for 51 yards in 2017, his fifth season in the NFL. He was slowed in training camp after undergoing an appendectomy and then breaking his little finger. He suffered a groin injury midseason and never quite got on the same page as quarterback Mitch Trubisky upon his return.
The Bears made it official that cornerback Prince Amukamara and outside linebacker Sam Acho will return.
— What it means: The Bears took two steps toward maintaining a stable defense by bringing back two productive players from 2017, with Amukamara agreeing to a three-year deal and Acho returning on a two-year deal.
In his first season with the Bears and seventh overall, Amukamara started 12 of 14 games for a Bears secondary that allowed just one 100-yard receiver all year. He had 48 tackles and seven passes defended.
Acho heads into his fourth season with the Bears and eighth season overall in the NFL. He started 12 games and compiled 45 tackles and three sacks in 2017.
— What it means: The Bears had been connected to Fulton, who can play center and guard, because of his four years of experience with the Chiefs, where he played for new Bears coach Matt Nagy. Fulton’s multi-year deal reportedly is expected to be for roughly $7.5 million per year. Fulton, 26, attended Homewood-Flossmoor in Chicago’s South suburbs.
The Bears are in need of an interior offensive lineman because they are declining to pick up veteran guard Josh Sitton’s $8 million option. They have some flexibility in filling their hole because Cody Whitehair can play center and guard.
Backup quarterback Chase Daniel intends to sign with the Bears, NFL Network reported.
— What it means: In the connect-the-dots world of free agency, Daniel was an obvious choice. The career backup was with the Saints from 2010-12 when Pace was there and was with the Chiefs from 2013-15 while Nagy was there. He is a proven commodity in a supportive backup role, and his familiarity with Nagy and the scheme Nagy plans to install should help Trubisky. However, as an NFL player, Daniel is far more unproven than the Bears’ other options for QB2. In eight seasons, he has started only twice and thrown only 78 passes and one touchdown.
Outside linebacker Sam Acho agreed to re-sign with the Bears on a two-year deal, his brother announced on Twitter. Acho told Chicago reporters Wednesday that it’s effectively a one-year deal with a $3 million guarantee.
— What it means: Acho is coming off his best season out of three with the Bears. He played the previous three on one-year deals, so this new contract is a reflection of his play. Acho was on the field for 61 percent of the defensive snaps last season, helping out while injuries decimated the Bears at outside linebacker. He started 12 games, had three sacks and consistently played tough and competitively on the edge in run defense. The Bears need a game-wrecking pass rusher opposite Leonard Floyd, but that would be acquired only through the draft. Acho, then, represents good depth.
Cornerback Prince Amukamara is expected to re-sign with the Bears, a person with knowledge of the situation said. The three-year deal is worth up to $27 million.
— What it means: Amukamara was an asset as a cover corner in 2017 when he played for the Bears on a one-year, $7 million contract. No, he hasn’t had an interception since 2015, but he did break up a slant pass against the Panthers that safety Eddie Jackson intercepted and returned for a touchdown. In other words, in playing 80 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps, Amukamara managed to help a pass defense that ranked seventh in the NFL.
By bringing him back, the Bears proceed with their theme of continuity on defense. They protected their rights to cornerback Kyle Fuller by applying the transition tag with hopes of reaching a long-term agreement. By committing $13 million to Fuller for next season, it’s unlikely the Bears will make a bigger splash at the position in free agency. We’ll see whether they draft a cornerback, potentially in the first round, but at the outset of free agency it at least appears the Bears secondary will look familiar next season.
— What it means: Glennon has been headed out of town since he was benched after four games last season. It was simply a matter of where and how much his new contract will offset the $2.5 million roster bonus the Bears guaranteed him for 2018. The Cardinals are retooling their quarterback position following Carson Palmer‘s retirement. They have agreed to sign Glennon and Sam Bradford, and they could also draft one under new coach Steve Wilks. The Bears will visit the Cardinals during the regular season, so they haven’t necessarily seen the last of him.
The Bears announced the restricted free-agent tenders that the Tribune reported Monday.
— What it means: Receivers Cameron Meredith and Josh Bellamy and cornerback Bryce Callahan were tendered a one-year contract at the right-of-first-refusal level. The Bears can match any outside offer to which any of those players agree. The Bears’ announcement indicated that tight end Daniel Brown and inside linebacker John Timu were not tendered contracts. They’re still able to re-sign with the team, but they are free to seek other opportunities. In Brown’s case, the Bears agreed to terms Tuesday with pass-catching tight end Trey Burton, so Brown could be inclined to find a better chance elsewhere to get on the field.
Slot receiver Taylor Gabriel is joining the Bears on a four-year deal, his former Browns teammate, Andrew Hawkins, first reported. NFL Network reported Wednesday that it’s a four-year deal that includes $14 million guaranteed.
— What it means: Pace said Feb. 28 that the Bears could improve their receiver group in a hurry in free agency, and he has followed through with a spending spree Tuesday. Gabriel will fill their slot receiver vacancy, joining receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Trey Burton as new weapons for second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Gabriel, 27, is known for his speed and ability to gain chunks of yards after the catch. Nagy will try to exploit that in his quick, precision-based passing game. Gabriel had 33 catches for 378 yards and a touchdown last season. In the Falcons’ NFC championship season in 2016, he had a career-high six touchdowns.
NFL Network reported the deal will be worth $26 million over four years, with $14 million guaranteed.
— What it means: The linebacker affectionately known as “Cheese” developed a market because of his versatility as a reserve last season. Because of injuries to Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski and several outside linebackers, he played 59 percent of the defensive snaps and ended up with 84 tackles, second-most on the team. Jones attributed his emergence to increased comfort in the defense and maturity as a professional. His instincts started to catch up a bit to his athleticism, which has always stood out. The Bears will miss having that depth.
The Bears are expected to finalize a deal with former Dolphins kicker Cody Parkey on Wednesday, according to Tribune sources.
— What it means: The Bears have to hope they have solved their problems at kicker after a rocky 2017 season at the position. After cutting Connor Barth, replacement Cairo Santos lasted just two games before reinjuring his groin and requiring surgery. Mike Nugent, 36, was signed for the final four games.
Parkey, 26, made 21 of 23 field goals for the Dolphins last season, and he was 7-for-9 from 40 yards or longer, with a long of 54. He made 26 of 29 extra-point attempts. He has made 76 of 88 field-goal attempts in a four-year career with the Eagles, Browns and Dolphins. When Parkey was with the Browns for 14 games in 2016, the special teams coordinator there was Chris Tabor, who now holds that position on Nagy’s new staff with the Bears.
The Bears are expected to sign former Eagles tight end Trey Burton. NFL Network first reported the news.
— What it means: The Bears continue to add targets for quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Burton, 26, had 23 catches for 248 yards and five touchdowns in 2017, his fourth season with the Eagles. He received a lot of attention for throwing a touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles in the Super Bowl last month.
Burton joins a group that includes second-year tight end Adam Shaheen. It’s unclear what his arrival might mean for veteran Dion Sims, who will be owed $4 million of his salary if he is on the roster Friday. NFL Network reports the deal will be worth $32 million over four years.
Burton should slot into the Bears’ offense as a F-tight end. Shaheen was used as an in-line tight end as a rookie last season behind Sims. That dynamic opens questions about Sims’ future with the team just one year after the Bears signed him and touted him as an all-around tight end who would add to their passing game.
The Dolphins will sign wide receiver Albert Wilson to a three-year, $24 million deal, NFL Network reports.
— What it means: That’s one less slot receiver option for the Bears, who had been mentioned as a possible landing spot for Wilson. He had 42 catches for 552 yards last season for the Chiefs while working under Nagy, who was the Chiefs offensive coordinator. Wilson is widely regarded as an ascending player, but his totals last season, including three touchdowns, amount to modest career highs. The Bears should be able to redirect and find a capable slot receiver in free agency or the draft without too much trouble. Yes, Wilson’s familiarity with Nagy’s offense would’ve been a plus for a team generally lacking it, but this shouldn’t be too detrimental of a setback, if one at all.
The Bears strike near the top of the receiver market, agreeing in principle to a deal with Allen Robinson, according to a source close to the player.
— What it means: Pace insisted the Bears could improve their receiving corps quickly this offseason, and Robinson would be a major upgrade if he returns to his pre-injury form. From 2015-16, before he required reconstructive ACL surgery in his left knee in September, he totaled 153 catches for 2,283 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Jaguars. At 6-foot-3, 211 pounds, he’s a detailed route runner with good hands. The Bears are betting that his agility returns as part of his ongoing recovery from surgery. Robinson will turn 25 in August.
The three-year deal, which cannot be finalized until Wednesday, is expected to be worth approximately $25 million guaranteed with a maximum value of $42 million, according to NFL Network. That average annual value of $14 million would rank ninth in the NFL, according to spotrac.com. Robinson aimed for a relatively short deal that will allow him to hit free agency again when he is still young and not coming off reconstructive knee surgery.
Hours after news surfaced of the Bears’ deal with Robinson, receiver Sammy Watkins reportedly agreed with the Chiefs on a three-year deal worth approximately $16 million per year.
The Dolphins are a frontrunner for Chiefs wide receiver Albert Wilson, NFL Network reports.
— What it means: The Bears also have been linked to Wilson, who worked with new coach Matt Nagy in Kansas City. Chiefs general manager Brett Veach indicated at the NFL scouting combine earlier this month that the Bears might seek to reunite the two. It looks like there could be some competition. Rapoport said a source called Wilson’s market “still fluid.”
The Bears are expected to pursue Dolphins kicker Cody Parkey, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
— What it means: The Bears continue to search for stability at kicker, a position that has been unsettled since Robbie Gould was released in Sept. 2016. Parkey made 21 of 23 field goals for the Dolphins last season, including 7 of 9 from 40 yards and longer. The 26-year-old has said he’d like to re-sign with the Dolphins to help stabilize a four-year career during which he has been with four teams (Colts, Eagles, Browns and Dolphins). After the Bears cut Connor Barth during the 2017 season, they auditioned Cairo Santos before he landed back on injured reserve (groin). The Bears have a new special teams coordinator — Chris Tabor — so changes to that unit are expected. Parkey made the Pro Bowl as a rookie with the Eagles in 2014 after breaking the rookie scoring record set by Bears kicker Kevin Butler in 1985.
On SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio with host Adam Schein, free agent wide receiver Allen Robinson called Chicago “an amazing city and football town.”
— What it means: Possibly nothing, maybe something. Robinson will be one of the most sought-after wide receivers this week, and Bears fans are within their rights to hang on his words. But he also didn’t rule out a return to the Jaguars via a multi-year deal and said the 49ers were “a team that is for sure moving in the right direction.”
The Bears are expected to tender restricted free agent receivers Cameron Meredith, Josh Bellamy and cornerback Bryce Callahan, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
— What it means: It’s no surprise that the Bears would protect their rights to those three at a relatively cheap cost. Meredith was positioned to be the Bears’ best receiver in 2017 before he tore his ACL and suffered MCL damage in his left knee during the third exhibition game. Bellamy has been a valued special teams contributor for the past two seasons. Callahan played 48 percent of the defensive snaps last season. He’s quick enough to cover in the slot, and he’s a willing tackler, but he has had durability problems related to his knees and hamstrings.
Reserve offensive lineman Bradley Sowell agreed to a new two-year contract with the Bears, the team announced.
— What it means: Sowell played well enough in two starts and other fill-in duty to be re-signed as a swing tackle candidate. His ability to play tackle and guard gives the Bears flexibility on game days.
Source Photos and content
We invite you to visit the entry in the original version