By Chris Emma–
(CBS) When it comes to the silly season of free agency, it’s important to keep proper context.
Such a fast-paced window of action brings rash decisions from front offices and quick reactions everywhere else, all leaving out the bigger picture of what’s in place. When it comes to the Bears’ free agency, the reality certainly needs context.
The Bears had their ducks in a row for a potentially rewarding run through free agency, only to get pummeled by striking out on the first wave of talent. They had sights set on top cornerbacks A.J. Bouye, Stephon Gilmore and Logan Ryan and missed on all three.
Top receiver Alshon Jeffery’s market value proved to be low, as Bears general manager Ryan Pace had anticipated in allowing him to test the open market. Jeffery then chose to bet on himself with a one-year, $14-million deal with the Eagles, leaving the Bears with a major void at receiver.
Bolstering the line with another tackle was a priority, too, and Ricky Wagner spurned Chicago for Detroit while Riley Reiff shipped up north to Minnesota.
Day 1 of free agency ended with the Bears adding just one of their top targets — quarterback Mike Glennon. There was no competition in landing him.
Pace had previously spoke of the landmines that can arise from free agency. The Bears missed out on players like Bouye and Wagner, and they weren’t willing to match the Patriots’ high price for Gilmore and refused to pay Jeffery more than their belief of his value.
“It’s important to be disciplined during these time periods,” Pace said after the fact.
Despite the disappointing Thursday, there was Pace upbeat as usual on Friday as he introduced the new quarterback Glennon, receiver Markus Wheaton, tight end Dion Sims and safety Quintin Demps. Cornerbacks Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara later joined the fold, as did receiver Kendall Wright and tackle Tom Compton.
The Bears have a sharp pro scouting team that Pace deeply trusts, and while they struck out with the first wave, some key voids to the roster have been filled.
Demps is coming off a career year of six interceptions, and Cooper posted four last season. Both could help a defense that had just eight picks in all 2016. Despite his lack of production, the 2011 first-rounder Amukamara is just 27 and could benefit working with defensive backs coach Ed Donatell. Now, three of the four positions in the secondary have been improved.
At receiver, the Bears have added two threats in the 27-year-old Wright and 26-year-old Wheaton. In Wright, the Bears have a speed threat who set a Titans’ single-season mark in receptions with 94 in 2013. Wheaton considers himself a deep threat, and his 16 catches of more than 20 yards in his young career provide evidence of that. While there’s no quick fix for losing Jeffery, the Bears have at least brought in young players with some upside. Sims and Compton add depth to positions of need.
Then there’s Glennon, the 27-year-old quarterback due $18.5 million after making only 18 NFL starts. Pace believes in what he could become, but his contract allows the Bears to part ways after a year if he either underwhelms or their future at quarterback is ready for his chance.
“That’s the business of the NFL,” Glennon said Friday. “If you’re not performing, then you’re not going to be around. That’s every position, that’s every player in the league and it’s no different for me. I have full confidence I’ll be here for a long time, and we’ll win a lot of football games.”
The Bears won’t be deemed winners of the offseason by any major publications, nor was that Pace’s intent. He operates with great caution around those landmines of free agency.
Following a difficult 2016 season, the Bears maintain they’re close to contending. Injuries played a part in their failures, but this was also a young roster in development. Pace is confident that his Bears are now in a better position.
Ultimately, the Bears hope to build through the draft, as do 31 other teams. Pace has high draft picks with which he can maneuver, including the No. 3 selection. It’s worth noting a void at safety and defensive end still remaining with Jonathan Allen, Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker in play.
The Bears do plan to add a developmental quarterback to the mix, allowing development behind Glennon. That could come with the second-round slot, perhaps a move for Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes.
Drafting is the next step of the equation after the Bears finalize pieces to the roster with the final waves of free agency. Then there’s the most important part for any football team — developing talent. The Bears’ roster is among the youngest in the NFL, and Fox trusts his coaching staff to transform these raw players into something more. They’ve had some recent examples of it in Jordan Howard, Cameron Meredith and Leonard Floyd, but need more to come this offseason.
Soon after the disappointing Thursday, the Bears regrouped with confidence in their plan. Pace is never lacking in enthusiasm for this tall task he faces.
Day 1 of free agency was simply just one day. The Bears have already moved on.