Best and Worst Moves the Chicago Bears Have Made in Free Agency
After trading wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets earlier this month for a fifth-round pick, general manager Ryan Pace signed outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, safety Antrel Rolle, wide receiver Eddie Royal, long snapper Thomas Gafford and guard Vladimir Ducasse in free agency.
Pace added more depth to Chicago's roster on Tuesday by signing defensive lineman Ray McDonald and defensive end Jarvis Jenkins to one-year deals, per the team's official Twitter account:
After signing McDonald and Jenkins, Pace also signed veteran linebacker Mason Foster to a one-year deal, according to the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs.
While Pace has made some good moves so far in free agency, he has also made some bad ones.
Here are the best and worst moves the Chicago Bears have made in free agency so far this offseason.
Best: Signing Pernell McPhee to a Team-Friendly Deal
After announcing earlier this offseason they were going to be making the switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense, the Bears acted quickly and signed versatile outside linebacker Pernell McPhee to a five-year deal worth $38.75 million, according to Biggs.
Pro Football Focus liked the deal for the Bears, writing:
Impact: The Bears did their best to revamp their defensive line last offseason with Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. Neither brought the pass rush the Bears were looking for. McPhee was the best situational pass rusher in the league last year. He’s able to line up at any position on the defensive line and still generate consistent pressure.
Value: $8m a year doesn’t even sniff the top 10 contracts for edge defenders and is less than even former Raven Paul Kruger got on the open market. Even if McPhee doesn’t take on an added role and remains a sub-package guy he projects to be well worth the money.
He was drafted in the fifth round by Baltimore in 2011 and registered 92 tackles and 17 sacks in four seasons with the Ravens, including 27 tackles, 7.5 sacks and one forced fumble in 2014.
He has the ability to create pressure from the outside as a linebacker, or he can line up at multiple spots along the defensive line to create mismatches against slower offensive linemen.
He is just 26 years old and has the ability to develop into the face of Chicago's defense for many years to come. If he can become a guy who consistently registers 10-plus sacks a season, he will end up being well worth the $38.75 million contract.
Worst: Guaranteeing Eddie Royal $10 Million
The Bears needed to add an experienced wide receiver after trading Marshall to the New York Jets, and they quickly signed Royal to a three-year deal worth $15 million.
Not long after Royal's deal was announced, Biggs explained that $10 million of Royal's deal is fully guaranteed:
The $10 million guarantee for #Bears WR Eddie Royal is fully guaranteed, I am told, no outs. 67 percent guarantee is big.— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) March 12, 2015
While the deal as a whole does not sound that bad, guaranteeing $10 million over two seasons for an underperforming slot receiver seems like a bit much.
His best season came back in 2008 when he hauled in 91 catches for 980 yards and five touchdowns, but since then, he has only caught 59-plus passes twice and has not gone over 778 yards.
Bleacher Report's Ty Schalter did not like the amount of money the Bears guaranteed Royal, writing:
This contract, though... $10 million guaranteed? To a guy about to turn 29? Whose best year ever was a 91-catch, 980-yard, five-touchdown rookie season? Who's only started at least 12 games in a season twice in seven years?
I'm a fan of Royal's redemption story, but this is a bizarre first-week signing.
He turns 29 this May, and even though he fills a major need for the Bears, it looks like they may have overspent for his services.
Best: Not Signing Ndamukong Suh
The best player to hit the free-agent market earlier this month was former Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
A dominant force in the middle of Detroit's defense, the former second overall pick registered 239 tackles and 36 sacks in 78 career games for the Lions before signing a six-year deal with the Miami Dolphins worth $114 million with nearly $60 million guaranteed, according to Spotrac.com.
While it appeared from the get-go Suh was going to go to the highest bidder, the Bears seemed like a good fit for him. Even though the five-year veteran spent his entire career in Detroit playing in a 4-3, he likely could have had just as big of an impact in Chicago's new 3-4 defense.
The Bears were never formally linked to Suh, but guard Kyle Long lobbied for his services late last season.
"I can't speak enough, well I could talk all day about Suh," Long said in December, according to Justin Rogers of MLive.com. "Obviously, shoot Suh, come on down and play with us, man. We'll take him."
Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight.com thinks it is too difficult to get value out of big-name free agents like Suh, writing:
While big-time free agent signings are exciting, they don’t often end well. Players frequently regress to the mean or turn out to be less valuable in new circumstances. But even if Suh turns out to be as good in Miami as he has seemed to be in Detroit — which is far from certain — it’s unclear whether this could ever be a good deal for the Dolphins. With both a hard salary cap and salary floor, an NFL team doesn’t win by paying players exactly what they’re worth — it wins by paying them far less than they’re worth.
Essentially, Morris argues NFL teams win by getting value out of their contracts, instead of by overpaying for players.
By not spending money on Suh, the Bears were able to spread out their funds and sign McPhee, Royal and Rolle.
Signing Suh would have immediately improved Chicago's defense, but his contract likely would have handcuffed the organization for years to come.
Worst: Taking a Risk by Signing Ray McDonald
From purely a football perspective, the McDonald signing makes a lot of sense for the Bears. The team has little depth along the defensive line, and he has experience playing for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
In eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, McDonald registered 210 tackles, 19.5 sacks, 10 pass deflections, one interception and forced four fumbles.
Even though he's been productive on the field, his off-the-field issues are a concern.
Nick Mensio of ProFootballTalk.com summarized McDonald's off-field issues, writing:
But McDonald got into plenty of hot water with the law last year. He was arrested in a felony domestic violence case in August, but prosecutors said in November that he would not be charged. McDonald was later accused of rape in December. The 49ers released him that same day, and he’s been without a team since. Earlier this month, McDonald sued the woman that accused him of rape because he was never charged in the incident and it cost him his job.
While he has not been formally charged for the incident in December, the league could still take action against him in the form of a suspension, according to Kevin Fishbain of ChicagoFootball.com:
As far as any future suspension for Ray McDonald, an NFL spokesman says McDonald's off-the-field situations are "under review."— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) March 24, 2015
While McDonald could eventually be cleared of any wrongdoing, the signing looks to be a bit of a risk for a rookie general manager like Pace.
If McDonald is a model citizen off the field and produces on the field, very few will question the signing, but if he has off-the-field issues again, Pace's decision-making will be put into question.
Best: Adding Leadership with Antrel Rolle
The Bears acted quickly in free agency and signed Rolle to help shore up the safety position, and head coach John Fox likes what Rolle can bring as a leader.
“He’s a guy I coached in a couple of Pro Bowls,” Fox said, according to Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com. “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.”
Chicago's locker room appeared divided at times last season, and Rolle can help bring stability to a team that has not had a vocal leader since Brian Urlacher.
"I don't think I've ever been involved with a player who was more sincerely interested in how his team could improve," said New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin about Rolle, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. "And I admire that very much in him as a young man and as a leader."
Even though he has been praised for what he can bring as a leader, Rolle knows he will have to earn that role in Chicago, saying, according to Wright:
I think you earn your leadership. I don’t plan to come in there overnight and start trying to take over things. I’ve never wanted to ever take over anything. If I lead, it’s going to be by example. If I’m a leader, it’s because my peers see me as a leader, not because I see myself as a leader. So I’m just trying to go in there, man, and just be the best safety I can be. Be the best teammate I can be, and play between those white lines, just go out there and bring everything I know; bring that University of Miami old-school mentality to that locker room.
In addition to giving the Bears a new leader in the locker room, he also gives the team stability at the safety position. He is a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, and although he struggled last year against the run, he is still one of the league's best safeties in coverage.
Signing Rolle does not fix all of Chicago's issues from last season, but his addition is a step in the right direction for a team that needs a new voice in the locker room.
Worst: Not Adding a Right Tackle
In 2013, the Bears added veteran offensive linemen Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson in free agency and drafted Kyle Long and Jordan Mills to help solidify the offensive line.
Bushrod, Slauson, Long, Mills and center Roberto Garza started all 16 games together along the offensive line that season. While they had their share of ups and downs, the group was steady throughout the entire season, except for Mills.
According to Pro Football Focus, Mills gave up three sacks, 13 quarterback hits and 62 quarterback hurries in 1,022 snaps at right tackle in 2013.
There was hope that the former fifth-round pick would bounce back in 2014, but he struggled with injuries and only played 839 snaps. In 13 games, he gave up six sacks, six quarterback hits and 31 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.
Despite Mills' struggles last season, the team has not addressed the position in free agency.
Bryan Bulaga, Doug Free and Derek Newton all quickly re-signed with their teams this offseason, leaving the tackle market in free agency relatively scarce at the top, but there are a handful of players still available who could make an impact next season.
Joe Barksdale, Byron Bell and Tyler Polumbus are not household names, but they all have previous starting experience and could come at a relatively cheap price.
The Bears could also move Long from guard to tackle later this offseason, but even if they do decide to move him, they need to have a backup plan in place if Long cannot make the transition.
Pace has made a lot of good moves this offseason, but if he does not address the right tackle position before the start of training camp, it may come back to haunt the team 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.