The Bears turned to free agency to find their new starting quarterback, fill other roster needs
It's been yet another busy offseason for the Chicago Bears. After last season's up-and-down campaign, followed by an early playoff exit, and faced with a salary cap crunch, the team was forced to make changes to the roster. The Bears need to add, and in some cases, replace talent on both sides of the ball this time around. Unless things turn around on the field, this very well could be the last season for head coach Matt Nagy as well as general manager Ryan Pace. The first opportunity to retool the roster was via free agency.
As soon as the new league year began in mid-March, the Bears wasted no time in diving into free agency. Some moves were no surprise, others were, while some were even head-scratchers. Here's a breakdown of what the Bears have done in free agency thus far. (Chicago also re-signed defensive backs Artie Burns, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson and Michael Joseph, offensive linemen Alex Bars and Germain Ifedi, tight end J.P. Holtz, linebackers James Vaughters and Josh Woods, and long snapper Patrick Scales.)
Andy Dalton, QB
The Bears signed Dalton to a one-year deal after they were unable to acquire Seattle's Russell Wilson in a trade. Wilson he's not, but Dalton is definitely an upgrade over Mitchell Trubisky, more athletic than Nick Foles, and more proven than Tyler Bray. Matt Nagy is hoping that the "Red Rifle" and his arm can help improve this team. He's already named Dalton the starter for the upcoming season.
Pros: Dalton's record as a starter is 74-66-2. He's completed 62.2 percent of his pass attempts for 33,746 yards, 218 touchdowns with 126 interceptions and a career passer rating of 87.5. He also has run for 1,335 yards with 22 touchdowns in his 10-year career. A three-time Pro Bowler, he led the Bengals to four playoff appearances.
Cons: Dalton hasn't had a winning season since 2015 (24-40-1 since then), he's winless in the postseason (0-4), his production has declined each of the past four seasons (including going from 25 TD passes in 2017 to 14 last season), and 33, Dalton isn't getting any younger.
Allen Robinson, WR
The Bears decided to use the franchise tag to keep their top wide receiver from each of the previous three seasons. This is definitely welcome news to the offense, and to Andy Dalton in particular. Robinson is the Bears' go-to target and he could help Dalton flourish in Matt Nagy's offense.
Pros: Since joining the Bears in 2018, Robinson has caught 255 passes for 3,151 yards and 17 touchdowns. He's done so while playing with four different quarterbacks. Dalton will certainly be looking forward to throwing to him.
Cons: The Bears opted to tag Robinson rather than signing him to a long-term deal. Regardless of what happens this coming season, Robinson's future with the team is very much up in the air.
Damien Williams, RB
With Tarik Cohen coming back from a torn ACL, Cordarrelle Patterson signing with Atlanta in free agency, and minimal production from any other running back not named David Montgomery, the Bears needed to address their backfield depth. Williams is an intriguing addition on multiple levels.
Pros: Over his final two seasons with Kansas City (2018-19), Williams posted 754 rushing yards, 373 receiving yards, 13 total touchdowns, and picked up a Super Bowl ring (LIV) along the way. He's also been known to return kicks from time to time (519 career return yards). Williams also should have familiarity with Matt Nagy's system given their shared Chiefs ties.
Cons: Williams has only played a full 16-game regular season once (2018) since 2015. He opted out of last season due to COVID-19 concerns, so rust could be a factor early on. Williams may be a copy of sorts of Montgomery rather than adding a new element to the Bears' backfield.
Elijah Wilkinson, OT
The Bears needed depth on the offensive line, especially at the tackle position after the team decided not to bring back Bobby Massie. The 26-year-old Wilkinson will be entering his fifth NFL season, and he gives the Bears youth at the position.
Pros: Wilkinson played in 45 games for the Denver Broncos (26 starts) after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent (UDFA) in 2017. He's played mostly right tackle, but he's also seen some snaps at right guard. He has appealing size (6-6, 329) for either position.
Cons: Wilkinson is coming off an injury-plagued 2020 season. A foot injury sidelined him during training camp, then a fractured shinbone limited him to nine games. Injuries to the offensive line have been an issue for the Bears over the last couple of seasons, so Wilkinson will need to show that he can stay on the field.
Mario Edwards, DL
The Bears signed Edwards prior to the start of last season after the Saints released him. He went on to play in 15 games and showed enough that the team signed him to a three-year, $11.5 million contract extension in March. Edwards' role could increase with Roy Robertson-Harris landing with Jacksonville in free agency.
Pros: Edwards recorded 17 tackles, a career-best 4.0 sacks, seven quarterback hits, six tackles for a loss, and a pass deflection as part of the Bears' defensive line rotation last season.
Cons: This past season was his most productive since 2017. Injuries defined his three-year stay in Oakland after being taken early in the second round (35th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft. After that, he failed to latch on with the Giants (2018) or Saints (2019), totaling 5.0 sacks and 22 tackles in those two seasons. He is suspended for the first two games of the upcoming season due to a violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.
Angelo Blackson, DL
Like Mario Edwards, Blackson will bolster Chicago's defensive line depth, which is expected to feature Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, and hopefully, Eddie Goldman, who opted out last year due to COVID-19 concerns.
Pros: Blackson has appeared in 85 games, making 30 starts across six seasons. A fourth-round pick (100th overall) of Tennessee in 2015, he also has played for Houston (2017-19) and Arizona (2020).
Cons: His stats certainly don't jump off of the page. He's recorded 101 career tackles with six sacks, 11 tackles for a loss, 17 QB hits, and five pass deflections in 85 career games.
Christian Jones, ILB
It's a homecoming for Jones who began his career in Chicago (2014-17). He's expected to add depth behind Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan.
Pros: Jones has notched 439 career tackles in 108 total games (73 starts). He's been a consistent player week in, week out. He's also played all 16 games in five of his seven seasons.
Cons: Unfortunately, Jones hasn't had the best of luck as he has yet to play for a winning team.
Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB
The Bears needed another pass rusher behind both Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, and they just may have that in Attaochu.
Pros: A second-round pick (50th overall) by the Chargers in 2014, Attaochu has collected 144 total tackles, 20.5 sacks, 31 tackles for a loss, 42 QB hits, and four forced fumbles in his career (74 games).
Cons: He's only made 23 starts in his career and this will be his fourth team since 2017, his last season with the Chargers. Attaochu played for the Jets in 2018 and the Broncos in '19, starting just five games (out of 23 total) in that span.
Desmond Trufant, CB
The Bears released Kyle Fuller because of salary cap constraints, so they brought in Trufant on a team-friendly deal (one year, $1.75 million) to take his place. He provides a veteran presence to the secondary.
Pros: The 22nd player taken in the 2013 NFL Draft, Trufant has recorded 349 tackles, 14 interceptions, 83 pass deflections, seven fumble recoveries, and three forced fumbles in his eight-year career. He's also scored two defensive touchdowns, made the Pro Bowl in 2015, and has started every game he's played (103).
Cons: Trufant has only been to the playoffs twice (2016, '17) in his career. Between his seven years in Atlanta and last season with Detroit, Trufant's teams have compiled a 58-70 record. Injuries have limited him to just 15 games the past two seasons.
Cairo Santos, K
The Bears signed Santos to a three-year, $9 million contract extension in March. Initially stepping in for an injured Eddy Pineiro, Santos made the most of the opportunity and was rewarded for his performance.
Pros: Santos connected on 30 of 32 field goals last season, finishing seventh in the NFL at 93.8 percent. He set a new franchise record with 27 consecutive field goals made. He also missed just one (36-for-37) PAT.
Cons: Prior to last season, Santos had made 81 percent of his field-goal attempts. This inconsistency was part of the reason why he has kicked for four other teams, including a previous two-game stint with the Bears in 2017. Santos will have to prove that 2020 was no fluke.
Overall Grade: C-
The Bears addressed some vital needs but there are plenty of question marks to go around with each player signed, and several roster holes remain.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Andy Dalton photo courtesy of @ChicagoBears)