The Biggest Free Agency Busts in Chicago Bears' Recent History
NFL free agency is a period of high hopes for every team. The best teams look to rebuild in order to dominate. Bubble contenders hope to add pieces that will put them over the edge. Cellar dwellers pursue pieces that can help a young core.
Free agency can also break the hearts of football fans. Ask any Redskins fan about Dan Snyder’s free agent signings.
The Chicago Bears are looking for a few pieces that could help bring the city its first Super Bowl victory since 1986.
The trick is to avoid signing anyone who is washed up, overpaid or injury-prone.
The Bears have had their share of poor free agent signings. This list details the worst ones in recent memory. Free agent signings are evaluated based on expectations, production and money. The worst signings fail to meet expectations, get hurt or are overpaid.
Don’t expect to see quarterbacks Chad Hutchinson, Todd Collins or Jonathan Quinn on this list. While all three were abysmal, none of them were paid enough or had high enough expectations going into their Bears career.
Philip Daniels is omitted from this list because his production was not far enough below the expectations for him.
Finally, Bryan Cox is left off the list because it focuses on free agent signings from 2000 on. Cox’s four-year, $13.2 million contract made him the highest paid Chicago Bear of all time to that point (1996). Joe Flacco’s historic contract (six years, $120 million) shows how drastically dollar value has changed.
With the criteria in mind, here are the 10 worst free agent signings for the Chicago Bears in recent memory.
10. Marion Barber, RB
After Chester Taylor’s brief and unsuccessful stint with the Chicago Bears, Jerry Angelo sought another quality back-up running back for Matt Forte.
Barber was signed to a two-year, $5 million deal before the 2011 season (according to the Chicago Tribune). Barber was a power back who had 47 total rushing touchdowns in six seasons as a Cowboy. He should have been a nice complement to Matt Forte. His Bears career was underwhelming.
In reality, Barber’s season wasn’t awful. He scored six touchdowns, averaged 3.7 yards per carry and had a 100-yard game as a starter against the Broncos.
Unfortunately, Barber was responsible for critical mistakes in the Denver game. It was his best effort of the season, but he ran out of bounds during regulation when the Bears were leading late and then lost a fumble in overtime.
Both plays led to Denver field goals. The Bears lost and narrowly missed the playoffs in a very disappointing year.
Barber retired after 2011. While he was expected to be a quality back-up for Matt Forte for two years, he was maligned by Bears fans in his only season.
9. Roy Williams, WR
Mike Martz made beautiful music with Roy Williams during their time in Detroit.
Their season together in Chicago was cacophony.
Martz was offensive coordinator for the Lions in 2006 and the Bears in 2011. Roy Williams produced the following stats in the two seasons:
2006: 16 G; 82 receptions; 1,310 yards; 7 touchdowns
2011: 15 G; 37 receptions; 507 yards; 2 touchdowns
Roy Williams didn’t play another regular-season NFL game after 2011. Needless to say, he was a disappointment. It was believed that Williams (6’3”, 215) would provide Jay Cutler with a red-zone target. Instead, he was horribly inconsistent and had a propensity for dropping passes.
This signing was another Martz faux pas. Martz showed his destructive effect on Bears personnel when he ran Greg Olsen out of town. Bears fans were grateful that both Martz and Williams were gone in 2012.
8. Brandon Meriweather, S
After Mike Brown’s successful run as a Chicago Bear ended in 2008, Jerry Angelo searched for quality safeties every offseason. Brandon Meriweather was a two-time Pro Bowler for the New England Patriots, and the Bears signed him for $3.25 million for one season (according to ESPN).
Meriweather was paid starter money, but he only started four games in 2011.
His style of play was reckless—he often missed tackles or made mistakes in coverage. Major Wright and Chris Conte established themselves as the Bears’ best safeties that year, and Meriweather’s signing turned out to be nothing more than a waste of money.
The Bears expected that they were getting a Pro Bowl-caliber safety, but instead acquired underachieving, expensive depth. Meriweather is no higher on the list because, like Roy Williams, he was signed for one year.
7. Kevin Shaffer, OT
When the Chicago Bears needed help at offensive tackle in 2009, they turned to a man who had started at least 15 games in five consecutive seasons.
Kevin Shaffer was signed to a three-year, $8 million deal (via the Chicago Tribune). The expectation was that Shaffer would provide depth as a swing tackle and possibly be a starter.
Chris Williams ended up starting all 16 games at right tackle, and Orlando Pace started 11 games at left tackle. When Pace injured his groin, Shaffer stepped in at left tackle. He started the last five games.
While Shaffer was by no means a terrible tackle, he wasn’t good and the move just didn’t make much sense. The Bears let tackle John St. Clair go to Cleveland, where he started 24 games over the next two seasons. Cleveland let Kevin Shaffer leave and the Bears signed him. The teams basically swapped mediocre free agents. Instead of upgrading, the Bears paid to fill a roster spot.
Though Shaffer had plenty of starting experience elsewhere, the stats show that he was no more than filler for the Bears.
2009 was Forte’s worst rushing season statistically (929 yards, 3.6 average). 2010 was when Chicago yielded a league-high 56 sacks. Those were Shaffer’s two seasons with the Bears. He didn’t even crack the starting lineup consistently on an awful offensive line.
There’s a reason he wasn’t back for his contract’s third year.
6. Chris Chandler, QB
Chris Chandler was a two-time Pro Bowl selection who took the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl.
That was in the 1990s. When the Bears inked Chandler to a three-year, $4.5 million deal (via the Chicago Tribune) in 2002, he was washed up.
The Bears didn’t bring Chandler on as a starter, so it’s difficult to argue this as a terrible signing. Jim Miller led the Bears during their 13-3 campaign the year before and returned as the incumbent.
Still, Miller threw only 13 touchdowns (with 10 interceptions) in 14 games. The Bears relied on the defense in 2001, and really needed to upgrade the offense. Instead, Chandler was brought in as a contingency plan.
Chandler started seven games in 2002, when the Bears posted a disastrous 4-12 record. He threw four touchdowns and four interceptions. His 2003 encore featured three touchdowns and seven interceptions in six starts. His abysmal Bears career ended after that.
To be fair, it’s not that Chandler was a bad quarterback during his career. It was just his third decade in the NFL.
The fact that the Bears thought Chandler could lead them to victories or even be a serious contributor for three years was ridiculous. It was an awful decision, and they paid for it in the losses column.
5. Chester Taylor, RB
Another Matt Forte back-up running back makes the list.
Chester Taylor was a successful running back in Minnesota. In 2006, he rushed for 1,216 yards. He maintained a respectable yards-per-carry average after that year, but his role diminished when the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson.
The Bears signed Taylor to a four-year, $12.5 million deal (according to ESPN Chicago). He was not expected to supplant Matt Forte as starter, but he was expected to compete.
Taylor never competed with Forte, and he was a bust even in a platoon. On 112 attempts in 2010, he averaged 2.4 yards per carry.
Taylor didn’t show much burst or power when he played for the Bears. His four-year contract ended when the Bears released him after one season.
The expectations for Taylor were incredibly high—his signing was similar to the Michael Bush signing before the 2012 season. He was a back with 1,000-yard potential; Taylor was fast but strong enough to serve as a power back.
Taylor’s pathetic 2010 campaign showed that the Bears badly misjudged his value.
4. Orlando Pace, OT
Orlando Pace is arguably one of the greatest offensive linemen of all time.
Pace was a franchise left tackle for the Rams, and he started 154 games for them from 1997-2008. He helped protect Kurt Warner and clear the way for Marshall Faulk, two all-time greats.
When he arrived in Chicago, he had a recent history of injuries. The Bears ignored the warning flags and gambled on his upside.
Pace started 11 games at left tackle, and he performed poorly. He was on the back side of his career at 33, and he was incredibly slow. He also injured his groin against the Vikings in Week 12, which basically ended his Bears career.
Compared to his early career with the Rams, it was an extremely disappointing run.
3. Kordell Stewart, QB
Kordell Stewart was an extremely popular quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Bears signed him to a two-year, $5 million contract in 2003 (according to the Seattle Times). The Bears had just released Jim Miller, and they wanted another experienced quarterback beside Chris Chandler.
Stewart was a mobile quarterback with a decent track record in Pittsburgh. He was especially successful in 2001, when he won AFC Offensive Player of the Year, but he had a high number of career interceptions.
His lone season in Chicago was no exception.
Stewart started seven games and threw seven touchdowns to 12 interceptions. His completion percentage was lower than Chandler’s and Rex Grossman’s (a rookie), both of whom started for the Bears that year.
The Bears hoped that Stewart could bring them back to the level they reached in 2001 after an abysmal 2002, but he failed early on. He went 1-4 in his first five starts for the Bears.
Kordell Stewart was not in a Chicago Bears uniform the next season.
2. Frank Omiyale, OT
Frank Omiyale was one of the worst free agent signings the Bears have ever had.
Omiyale was signed for $11.5 million over four years (via the Chicago Sun-Times). Omiyale started one game over a four-year career with the Falcons and Panthers. For some reason, the Bears paid him as if he was a guaranteed starter.
Omiyale started 28 games in 2009 and 2010, but he was truly awful. He was incredibly slow and often looked lost on the field.
The Bears benched him in 2011 when they finally couldn’t take any more. He was a subpar option at guard and a terrible option at tackle. Omiyale was finally released at the end of the 2011 season.
This signing was astounding, because the expectations should not have been that high. Orlando Pace proved himself elsewhere, but was over the hill when he played in Chicago. Omiyale never proved himself elsewhere before the Bears dished out a large amount of money to him.
It shouldn’t have surprised anyone that he failed to live up to the production his contract seemed to demand.
The real surprise was that the Bears ever decided to pay a back-up lineman that much.
1. Thomas Smith, CB
The worst free agent signing for the Chicago Bears in recent years is easily Thomas Smith.
If the only other fact you know about Thomas Smith is that he played only one season for the Bears, that would be enough. Even one good season would make him a humongous underachiever for that contract.
Smith was cited by the Chicago Tribune as being a good leader, but his play on the field was awful. He was a liability in coverage, and managed to record no interceptions.
Smith was gone after only one season with the Bears. His short career with the Bears makes him easily the worst free agent signing Chicago has had in recent history.