Ranking the 2015 Impact of the Chicago Bears' Free-Agent Signings so Far
Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace hit the ground running once free agency officially began and signed outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, wide receiver Eddie Royal and safety Antrel Rolle to long-term deals all within the first two days of free agency.
In the following days he also signed long snapper Thomas Gafford, guard Vladimir Ducasse and tight end Dante Rosario.
Free agency has quieted down for the Bears in recent days, so we took a look at all of Chicago's new signings and determined how they will impact the team next season.
We analyzed all six free-agent signings and ranked them from No. 6 down to No. 1. Each player's ranking was based on his potential and how he fits in Chicago's new offense, defense or special teams.
Here is our ranking of the impact each free-agent signing will have for the Chicago Bears in 2015.
6. TE Dante Rosario
A fifth-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2007, tight end Dante Rosario spent four seasons in Carolina and one each in Miami, Denver and San Diego before the Dallas Cowboys traded him to the Bears for a seventh-round pick prior to the start of the 2013 season.
The Bears re-signed him to a one-year deal last Thursday.
In two seasons with the Bears, Rosario has hauled in 17 catches for 129 yards in 31 games. While he has the ability to make the occasional catch, he has spent the majority of his career as a blocking tight end.
New offensive coordinator Adam Gase typically does not utilize traditional fullbacks, meaning Rosario will likely be viewed as an H-back in Chicago's new offense.
With Pro Bowl tight end Martellus Bennett and backup Zach Miller already on the roster, Rosario will need to have a strong showing this offseason to lock down a reserve role in 2015.
5. LS Thomas Gafford
For the first time in 16 years, the Bears began the 2014 season with someone other than Patrick Mannelly at long snapper.
Journeyman Jeremy Cain spent all of 2014 with the Bears, and although he played mistake-free football, the Bears opted to sign veteran Thomas Gafford last week, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
Gafford attended the University of Houston and went undrafted in 2005.
He signed with Kansas in October of 2008 and played 105 games between 2008 and 2014 for the Chiefs.
The long snapper position is an integral part of any team, but his impact on the Bears as a whole will likely be minimal in 2015.
4. G Vladimir Ducasse
The Bears added more size and depth to their offensive line last week by signing former second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse (6'5", 325 lbs) to a one-year deal.
According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed four sacks, one quarterback hit and nine quarterback hurries in 417 snaps last season.
Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei thinks Ducasse's signing may indicate Chicago's willingness to move Kyle Long to tackle:
When all's said & done, guard Vladimir Ducasse might be Bears' most significant FA pickup of 2015 if he enables them to move Kyle Long to OT— Dan Pompei (@danpompei) March 17, 2015
Even if the Bears do move Long to tackle, there is no guarantee Ducasse becomes the starter at right guard.
In addition to Ducasse, the team also has Michael Ola and Ryan Groy on the roster. Ola made 12 starts last season, splitting time between left guard, left tackle, right tackle and right guard, while Groy made three starts at left guard.
Ducasse is strong and powerful and is a solid run-blocker, but he struggles with his technique and displays poor footwork at times as a pass-blocker.
At the very least, Ducasse will be fighting for a reserve role, but if the team decides to move Long to tackle, he could be in the running to be the opening game starter at right guard.
3. WR Eddie Royal
The Bears had a need at the slot receiver position and signed Eddie Royal to a three-year deal on the second day of free agency.
In seven NFL seasons, Royal has registered 338 catches for 3,750 yards and 25 touchdowns. He had his most productive season in the league back in 2008, when he was hauling in catches from Jay Cutler in Denver. Royal finished that season with 91 catches for 980 yards and five touchdowns.
Head coach John Fox praised Royal at the NFL owners meeting over the weekend.
“He’s a veteran guy that we think is playing his best,” Fox said, per Biggs.
He spent the early part of his career in Denver moving between the outside and inside, but he grew into the slot position while with the San Diego Chargers the last three seasons.
"I like to pride myself on being able to do that," Royal said about playing the slot position, per Biggs. "I had to learn and it was a process for me."
According to Pro Football Focus, he ran 445 routes out of the slot last season and hauled in 46 catches on 66 targets for 584 yards. His 69.7 percent catch rate out of the slot was the 11th-best in the NFL.
The Bears relied upon big receivers Alshon Jeffery (6'3") and Brandon Marshall (6'4") on the outside to go up and get the football the last two seasons, but with Marshall now gone after being traded to the New York Jets, there will likely be a bigger emphasis on trying to get the football in the middle of the field with Royal.
"I just see what Gase is able to do with the offense, the explosive plays that they had," Royal said, per Biggs. "The amount of times he throws the ball, that is always a receiver's dream to be in an offense that throws the ball a lot. Just putting us playmakers in position to make plays."
Gase likes to create mismatches offensively, and he should be able to utilize Royal's speed in the slot like he did with Wes Welker in Denver.
Even though Royal will turn 29 in May, he is one of the league's best slot receivers and should thrive in Gase's new offense in 2015.
2. S Antrel Rolle
The safety position has been a thorn in Chicago's side for years, and the team opted to sign veteran Antrel Rolle to help give the secondary stability and leadership.
In his 10 years in the league, he has registered 799 tackles, four sacks, 68 pass deflections, 26 interceptions, four defensive touchdowns and forced eight fumbles. He is a two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler.
Even though he is 32 years old, he is already the best safety on the roster and should help provide stability to a position that has seen a plethora of safety pairings over the last decade.
He struggled at times against the run last season, but he is still one of the league's best coverage safeties. He has the ability to roam sideline to sideline, the speed to keep up with quick running backs and receivers and the strength to match up against powerful tight ends.
In addition to what he brings on the field, Fox knows Rolle will also bring leadership to Chicago's locker room.
“He’s a guy I have coached in a couple of Pro Bowls,” Fox said about Rolle over the weekend, per Biggs. “I can’t identify leadership on our defense at this point. I’m not saying we don’t have any, I don’t know. I know this guy does have those abilities.”
The Bears have struggled to find leadership in the locker room since the departure of Brian Urlacher after the 2013 season, and Rolle could help fill that void.
He should have a big impact on the field in Vic Fangio's new defense in 2015, but his leadership in the locker room will likely be where he makes his biggest impact next season.
1. OLB Pernell McPhee
The Bears needed to find an impact pass-rusher this offseason, and it sounds like they found one in outside linebacker Pernell McPhee.
"This is a player we targeted right from the onset," Pace said at McPhee's introductory press conference, per Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com. "He is a highly productive, disruptive and versatile defender. This guy not only brings the top physical talent but also the right mentality and makeup to improve our football team."
McPhee spent his first four years in the league as a reserve/role player for the Baltimore Ravens, but he proved in limited opportunities he has the potential to be a disruptive pass-rusher.
In 60 career games, he has registered 92 tackles, 17 sacks, seven pass deflections and forced three fumbles. Last season he recorded a career-high 7.5 sacks.
According to Pro Football Focus, McPhee finished last season as the second-best 3-4 outside linebacker with a plus-26.0 overall grade after posting 21 quarterback hits and 35 quarterback hurries.
In addition to being someone who can rush the passer from the outside, McPhee also has the ability to line up inside with his hand on the ground or standing up.
Chicago's defense was statistically one of the league's worst over the course of the last two seasons, and McPhee said one of the reasons he decided to sign with Chicago was to help restore the team's tradition on defense.
"I wanted to come and be a part of bringing that tradition back," McPhee said, per Mayer. "You know; a hard-nosed playing defense, play with violence, play with an attitude, play with a swag—just go out there and dominant the game."
Known mostly as a pass-rusher, McPhee can also set the edge against the run. In 89 snaps against the run last season he made 10 tackles with five assists and eight stops, according to Pro Football Focus.
Because of his pass-rushing ability, versatility and ability to step up versus the run, McPhee should have the biggest impact out of all of Chicago's free-agent signings in 2015.
Statistical information courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
Matt Eurich is a Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.