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 after the market opens at 3 p.m. Wednesday, March 14.
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 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.
— 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.
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