Chicago Bears' Biggest 2018 Offseason Free-Agency Decisions
The Chicago Bears know better than most teams what a strong trip to free agency can do for a franchise.
Over the course of the extensive rebuild put on by general manager Ryan Pace, free agency has been a useful tool to find both outright starters and stop-gap solutions at problem areas.
Granted, the Bears don't always land their top target. Some free agents, especially last year, seemed to use Chicago as a negotiating chip to get more money elsewhere—but such is life during an extensive rebuild.
A year ago, Pace attacked a few positions, notably hitting on spots in the secondary. The front office also didn't throw down major cash in long-term deals, instead offering up prove-it contracts.
This upcoming offseason? Pace and the front office will need to decide who to bring back, who to cut loose into free agency and which positions to attack.
Here's a guide to some of the toughest decisions the team faces.
Dontrelle Inman and Kendall Wright
The Bears need to decide if Dontrelle Inman and Kendall Wright are stop-gap solutions or something more.
Inking Wright to a one-year deal last offseason made sense. He has a positive history with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and could start in the slot while guys such as Cameron Meredith worked the outside.
If only it were so simple.
Meredith is lost for the year and so is Kevin White. The putrid passing attack under Mike Glennon hurt everyone, though Wright does lead the team in receiving. The front office also brought on Inman via trade and he's looked good in one game so far.
Rest assured the front office will have a close eye on both these guys for the rest of the season. If they play well with Mitchell Trubisky, keeping them around regardless of cost and getting Meredith back means a premium position isn't a major need and the team can focus draft assets elsewhere.
Pursue a Free-Agent Wideout?
Then again, the Bears could look to splurge on the free-agent market at wideout.
After all, Chicago seemed to flirt with the idea of doing so last year while losing Alshon Jeffery. But it's a tricky business, as both Jeffery and Terrelle Pryor only ended up with one-year deals, and the latter is fading in Washington fast.
Still, there are some interesting names such as Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry and John Brown headed to the open market. The Bears have the cash to spend and aren't as unattractive as they were a year ago now that Trubisky has shown flashes.
Spending big on a top name to pair with a returning Meredith is one viable way to make sure Trubisky has as much talent around him as possible.
Make a Decision on Jerrell Freeman
The Bears will face a tough decision this offseason when it comes to linebacker Jerrell Freeman.
While a critical part of the linebacking corps on the inside, Freeman played in one game this season before going on injured reserve, then more recently he received a 10-game ban from the NFL for violating policy against performance-enhancing drugs. It's the same ban he faced in 2016, which held him out of four games.
According to Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears would only take a cap hit of $500,000 if they cut ties with Freeman this offseason.
It's a viable option. Freeman is going on 32 years old and will still be suspended for the first two games of next season. Chicago could, in theory, inject some youth into the position while saving money at the cost of losing an effective player.
There's no easy answer here, though it's something to keep in mind.
Decide Pernell McPhee's Future
The Bears might find themselves confronted with a similar situation when it comes to another linebacker.
This one is Pernell McPhee, of course. Meant to be a big addition back in 2015, he only tallied six sacks over 14 games. He then turned around and registered four while only appearing in nine games in 2016. So far this season, he has four over nine again.
McPhee's body simply hasn't held up since joining the Bears, and the production hasn't matched the five-year deal worth $38.75 million they gave him at the time.
Perhaps anticipating this possibility, the Bears have a built-in out in McPhee's contract after this season.
With Leonard Floyd locking down one side of the pass rush, having plenty of ways to address McPhee's spot, the team might choose to take it and apply the cap space elsewhere.
Spend Big on Offensive Tackle?
Believe it or not, the Bears tried this last offseason.
After an up-and-down season by another free-agent signing, Bobby Massie, the front office pursued Rick Wagner, per NFL Media's Mike Garafolo.
Wagner was the top right tackle on the market and eventually signed with the Detroit Lions. It hurt the Bears to see him land with a divisional rival and only prolonged the issues along the offensive line.
As the Bears and most other teams can attest, drafting offensive tackles well right now is one of the hardest things in the NFL to do.
The front office thinks it has something in Charles Leno Jr., hence the extension, but those in charge might decide to overspend on a proven right tackle to shore up the trenches in front of Trubisky.
The Bears didn't land a major target at cornerback in free agency.
In hindsight, it isn't the end of the world thanks to strong play from Prince Amukamara, who seemed like a great schematic fit with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. The Bears hit him with a one-year deal to see if it would work and the returns at the halfway point of the season suggest it has.
While he hasn't been perfect, Amukamara is leagues ahead of what the Bears had on the roster a year ago. And with so many needs to fill in the draft and free agency, inking him to another contract to keep him in town for a few years makes sense, as great prospects at a premium spot such as corner, especially on the boundary, don't just fall into a team's lap.
That said, the Bears lucked out and potentially have two options worth considering here thanks to the next guy on the list.
Kyle Fuller has been a great unexpected development for Chicago this year.
Considered a lost cause before the year after the Bears turned down his fifth-year option, Fuller has returned to the team energized and playing some solid football. He hasn't been perfect by any means, but he's outperformed expectations and looks better than a guy who missed all of last year.
The encouraging outburst from Fuller has the Bears in an interesting situation. Amukamara should probably be the first priority, but the asking price on the 25-year-old should be affordable.
For a rebuilding team such as the Bears, aiming to keep both guys makes sense, especially after the misses on big names last year.
This might come down to what the market decides Fuller is worth, though keeping both would give the Bears two quality boundary guys while grooming prospects.