The defending NFC North champions have some slight needs to address heading into 2019
Coming off of their first playoff appearance and division championship since 2010, the Chicago Bears are looking for more in '19. But with any team there's always change in the offseason. While the Bears haven't gone through as much change as other teams have, they do have some adjustments to make. These adjustments have to with some potential holes on the roster, and free agency will be used (and already has) to fill some of those holes.
The lack of available salary cap space ($17 million per Spotrac) could force the Bears to go the affordable route in most cases, but the team has already been active during the NFL's legal tampering period, which is in effect until the official start of free agency on Wednesday. Here are the positions that general manager Ryan Pace has already addressed or figures to as he looks to improve a roster that went 12-4 last year but has bigger goals in mind.
Safeties Adrian Amos (unrestricted free agent) and DeAndre Houston-Carson (restricted), along with cornerback Bryce Callahan are hitting the market for the first time. The Bears drafted Amos in 2015, while Callahan and Houston-Carson were brought in as undrafted free agents in '15 and '16 respectively. While all three men have had some injuries at various points during their careers, they have been able to combine for 419 total tackles, seven interceptions, six sacks, 40 pass deflections, and six forced fumbles. Their familiarity with this team, familiarity with the defense, and the fact that they've proven themselves against challenging offenses make re-signing these athletes a priority.
The pending addition of former New York Jets cornerback Buster Skrine (224 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions for the Jets from 2015-18), who is set to receive a reported three-year deal worth $16.5 million ($8.5 million guaranteed), could complicate things for Callahan but you can never have enough nickelbacks today's NFL.
Eric Weddle would have been a nice addition at safety, but the six-time Pro Bowler reportedly came to contract terms with the Rams shortly after his release by Baltimore. So this gives general manager Ryan Pace the chance to refocus on Amos and Houston-Carson. There are reports that the Bears are interested in former Jacksonville Jaguar Tashaun Gipson (20 career interceptions) if they are unable to bring Amos back, but if one thing is for certain is that the Bears are not yet done addressing the secondary.
It’s no secret that the Bears have been looking to make an adjustment at this position. As good as Jordan Howard has been since his rookie year of 2016 (3,370 rushing yards, 568 receiving yards, 25 combined touchdowns), his skill set and running style doesn't seem to be the best fit for head coach Matt Nagy's offensive system. The Bears have reportedly discussed the possibility of a trade for Howard with several teams, so it seems a safe bet that he will be moved one way or the other before training camp. On Monday it was revealed that the Bears had expressed interest in former New Orleans Saint Mark Ingram, and disgruntled Pittsburgh Steelers back Le'Veon Bell. Both men, unfortunately, are a little out of the Bears current price range.
Regardless there seems to be an obvious push to make Tarik Cohen (3,202 all-purpose yards, 14 total touchdowns) the starter but should Howard leave who will back the Pro Bowler up? Taquan Mizell is mostly a special teams player and Benny Cunningham, who was effective in limited action, is a pending free agent. The Bears have agreed to terms with former Seattle Seahawk Mike Davis (averaged 4.6 ypc in 2018), but how he'll fit on the roster is yet to be determind. At the same time, the addition of Davis could make Cunningham the odd man out. The Bears may also draft a running back next month, but all is still unknown until Howard's situation is resolved.
Aaron Lynch is an unrestricted free agent and Sam Acho was released last week. While both men are experienced veterans at their position, they also have been limited due to injury and lack of production. Acho was brought in for not just his experience, but his pass-rushing ability. But in four seasons with the Bears, he only registered four sacks, and three forced fumbles. Most of his impact was on special teams, and he sustained a season-ending injury last year which is why the Bears opted not to pay the money he was due for 2019.
Lynch was signed due to his history with former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. But multiple nagging injuries (mainly hamstring) reduced Lynch’s output last season to just 16 tackles, three sacks, and an interception. Considering that rushing the passer is a key aspect to the 3-4 defense, depth at this position is key. The Bears have Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd to lead the way but need more firepower. Former Kansas City Chief Justin Houston recently hit the market but his asking price could be a little steep. Perhaps the Bears can convince Lynch and Acho to return at team-friendly prices.
The only tight ends on the active roster entering Monday were Trey Burton and 2017 draft pick Adam Shaheen. Burton has already proven himself (54 rec., 569 yds. 6 TDs last year), while Shaheen has been hampered by injuries and hasn't offered much production (17 catches in two seasons). On Monday afternoon, the Bears announced that they re-signed Ben Braunecker to a two-year deal. Considering Braunecker has totaled seven catches in 36 career games since making the team as a undrafted free agent in 2016, it's premature to say that Chicago is done with this position. Daniel Brown likely won't be back and Dion Sims has already been released. It’s also doubtful that Zach Miller (leg injury) will ever play again.
GM Ryan Pace could add another tight end through the draft or during training camp, but free agency remains an option too. Tyler Eifert is on the market but the former Bengal probably won't come cheap and he's played in just 14 games over the last three seasons because of a variety of injuries. When healthy though, the 2013 first-round pick has produced (142 career catches for 1,716 yards and 21 touchdowns).
This has been the most talked about position for the Bears since last season ended. The much-publicized struggles of Cody Parkey (and his infamous "Today Show" interview) forced the team's hand. Parkey is expected to be released shortly after the start of the new league year later this week. Chicago recently signed Chris Blewitt (yes that's his real name) but he's never kicked in the NFL and only made 69 percent of his field goal attempts when he was at the University of Pittsburgh (2013-16). Redford Jones, who kicked for Tulsa from 2015-17, was signed to a reserve'future contract in January. One thing is for certain, the Bears can’t take this position lightly. Stephen Gostkowski (12 made field goals of 50 or more yards for New England from 2006-18) is the biggest name out there, but Dan Bailey (career success rate of 86 percent), Aldrick Rosas (32-of-33 on FGs for the Giants last year), and Wil Lutz (93 percent success rate for the Saints in 2018) are other possibilities, as is the draft in late April.
— 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's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.