Can the Bears Afford Another Playmaker in Free Agency?
The Bears have enough money make another move in free agency, but will they?
The Chicago Bears have $9.5 million left on their salary cap, per Spotrac. Realistically, they have enough money and can afford another free-agent signing or two, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will go that route. In 2019, Ryan Pace made a few moves to give the Bears some breathing room for free agency, but he didn’t use all of it and let roughly $14 million roll over into this year’s offseason. Last year, the Bears were also coming off of a great 2018 campaign and Ryan Pace was sitting pretty. That’s not to say his seat is warm, but it’s safe to assume that he needs to start winning if he wants another contract.
Most NFL franchises let some salary cap roll over, and one can’t say it’s a specific trend with Ryan Pace because this is only his second year starting an offseason in cap trouble. If Ryan Pace does stretch the budget and sign another player or two during this free agency period, it will be very telling. No GM wants to shoot themselves in the foot for future years, but if it’s a make-or-break season, there would be no reason for Pace to save any of the leftover cap room.
If the Bears do decide to sign another player of significance, there are still quite a few options out there. COVID-19 may not have hindered the NFL Draft, but it has played a major role in free agency. Teams are much more hesitant to sign players recovering from injury, which is why Cam Newton is still on the market. In any other offseason, Netwon would have been signed in the first wave. In the chart below, you will see a few players that the Bears could reasonably pursue between now and training camp.
You may notice this list is dominated by offensive linemen. That’s because offensive line was the Bears’ biggest need going into the offseason that hasn’t been properly addressed. Even though many reports indicate that new offensive line coach Juan Castillo is going to be the most important addition, he still needs players to coach up. The last thing the Bears need is another season of rotating random backups and UDFA’s at right guard.
If the Bears were to spring on one player, it has to be Larry Warford. He has been highly productive, and even though his salary seems steep, the Saints did pay him out a good chunk of dead cap which could make it easier to lure him to Chicago on a more team-friendly deal.
The Bears also need tackle depth/help, and both Demar Dotson and Jason Peters are good options at a reasonable price. Both players are getting up there in football years, so it’s reasonable to expect both of them to sign for less than their 2019 average. If the Bears decided to sign either tackle, both would instantly become the best tackle on the team. At a minimum, the Bears need one more depth piece with starting experience, which is why Michael Person made the list. He would be a utility signing, and his play would far exceed his contract value.
Bears fans have also noticed the lack of depth at running back. As of now, Cordarrelle Patterson is their third-string running back. As much as I like both Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson, I don’t feel confident either would be able to shoulder a full load at running back. The Bears are in big trouble if David Montgomery goes down, and even though they do have some sneaky prospects on the roster currently, there are still a few decent options that could be brought in to training camp.
The most intriguing name on this list is Lamar Miller. He has shown flashes at times, and I really can’t hold his time in Houston against him. Bill O’Brien seems to have lost his mind and no one knows what he is doing. That’s why the Bears can’t offer Miller near what the Texans did, but if he was willing to take a Mike Davis-type of deal around $2-3 million, he’s worth taking a flyer on.
The Bears also need someone who can gain some of those tough yards, which is something Isaiah Crowell can do. He would be relatively cheap and could be utilized even if Montgomery is healthy for the full season. The last player that could be worth exploring is Spencer Ware. He ended the season on IR, but he comes from a similar system and Matt Nagy is familiar with him from his Kansas City days. He would be a veteran minimum guy, and if any of you play fantasy, we all know he’s been a decent one-week plugin over the years. He isn’t a starting, every-down back, but he can shoulder a workload for a few weeks if needed.
The Bears did acknowledge the safety position in free agency, but there are still a few really nice options out there that some Bears fans calling for. Both Tony Jefferson and Eric Reid would be great complements to Eddie Jackson in the secondary. However, both players would also stretch the budget to its maximum. Though any deal can be structured in a variety of ways, the Bears would still already be looking at cap issues for 2021. If the Bears wanted to make another splash, either player would be welcomed by Bears fans. It doesn’t seem likely, and the Bears need a lot more help on offense, but I’ve heard rumors that Ryan Pace values the defense much more than the offense and believes he can ride it to a winning season. If that’s the case, loading up on another defensive stud would make sense. Signing Tony Jefferson or Eric Reid would instantly make the Bears a top-three defense, and I don’t hate it.
The Bears have a chance to make another move in free agency if they chose to. If they do, it should be an offensive lineman because that’s where they need the most help. Then again, who knows what Ryan Pace is thinking?