Gabriel: Bears’ Free Agency Signings Give Them More Flexibility In NFL Draft

By Greg Gabriel–

(CBS) I have always gotten a kick out of the many mock drafts we see in January and February, because so much changes after the NFL Combine and free agency. With so many underclassmen in the draft, the combine gives important information on those player that each club needs before finalizing their evaluations. That includes verified measurables, medical reports and interviews.

Obviously, the draft and free agency are the primary sources of player acquisition. If done correctly, free agency can give a team players at need positions that it can’t get in the draft. In other words, a team looks at the strength of free agency and the strengths of the draft and then hopes that between the two, it can fill all of its needs.

In the first three days of free agency, the Bears signed eight new players. The big addition was Mike Glennon, who will become the Bears’ starting quarterback in 2017. The other signings were receiver Markus Wheaton, receiver Kendall Wright, tight end Dion Sims, offensive lineman Tom Compton, cornerback Prince Amukamara, cornerback Marcus Cooper and safety Quintin Demps. All of these players were added at positions of need for the Bears. While there could be more signings, those who are signed later in free agency will be role players.

Given these signings, what direction could the Bears go in the 2017 NFL Draft? With the third overall pick, the Bears have the opportunity to get an outstanding player. One problem they face is that two of the most highly rated players have medical issues. It’s been reported that Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen has had labrum surgery in each shoulder and has mild arthritis in each. That doesn’t look good, but the reality is it becomes a medical question.

Structurally, his shoulders are fine, but the arthritis can cause discomfort and will worsen with time. Medical staffs for interested teams will determine if the condition is minor or severe enough to pass on him in the draft. If the Bears select him, it will only be because they feel his shoulders are fine going forward.

Ohio State safety Malik Hooker is a special player but had two recent surgeries — one for a sports hernia the other for a hip labrum problem. The sports hernia doesn’t bother me, but the hip injury does. While there’s no question that Hooker will come back from the surgery, some skill players never feel quite right after that.

If those two players are possibly out of the mix, where will the Bears go? If they wanted to take the best cornerback in the draft, they could select Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore, a third-year sophomore with great upside.

Some believe the Bears should take LSU safety Jamal Adams, but I’d be against that. In the last 10 years, there has only been one safety selected in the top five — the Chiefs’ Eric Berry, who was special coming out of college and ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash. I envision Adams being good but not special. Add to that the fact that he ran 4.56 at the combine, and that says it all. That’s too slow for a safety to be selected in the top five.

That leaves the quarterbacks. At No. 3, the Bears are in position to get the best quarterback in the draft or the second-best, if the 49ers select one at No. 2. Of course, there’s still a debate as to who is the best quarterback, but the reality is their grades are all close, so teams should take the one they feel most comfortable with. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky are the most heralded quarterbacks.

Another possibility for the Bears is to try and trade down. I believe this is the best-case scenario, as this is a strong draft and acquiring another high pick could really benefit them in the long run. Adding another second- or third-round pick would provide them another chance to take a good player or perhaps trade back into the back of the first round. Either would be a good path.

This much is certain: The Bears’ free agency signings give them more flexibility when it comes to the draft. The one position of need they didn’t touch so far is defensive line, so I can see the Bears drafting a defensive lineman among their first few picks. Looking at the talent level of the defensive linemen in this draft, they can get a good one into the third round.

As we get closer to the draft and see how other player transactions transpired, we will again look closely at what the Bears could possibly do.

Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.

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