Grading the Chicago Bears' Major Free Agent and Trade Acquisitions
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The Chicago Bears have been one of the busiest teams in free agency since the NFL Lockout ended a week and a half ago. Since last Monday, the Bears have over 50 new players on the roster who have never met with coaches or seen playbooks until now.
The winds of change are blowing in the Windy City. Mike Martz’s offensive scheme is being fully constructed, the defensive line is undergoing a face lift and depth charts are already being constructed.
Lots of transactions have been associated with these changes. Free agent signings, draft pick signings, trades and re-signings have kept the Bears front office very busy.
Chicago had an estimated $34 million of cap room to prepare for the season ahead. With a significant amount of money like that to play with, the Bears had the possibility to go after any player they wished. There was plenty of wiggle room in the team’s salary to make deals.
Some signings were obvious needs while others made fans scratch their heads. Did Chicago do well retaining its own restricted free agents and replace the ones lost to other franchises?
Let’s examine the major transactions made up to date in detail and see how exactly the move will impact the 2011 Chicago Bears:
TRADE: Greg Olsen to the Panthers
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Immediate reactions were those of uproar and anger by the team’s fans. While it may seem like the Bears traded away one of Jay Cutler’s favorite targets, consider the following trades.
But a tight end who never achieved his full potential was good enough for Carolina’s third-round pick? What a great trade by Bears GM Jerry Angelo.
This trade shows the dedication of the Bears to the Mike Martz offense. In Martz’s ideal scheme, the tight ends are additional offensive lineman, fullbacks are irrelevant and the quarterback is the focal point of the whole operation.
Olsen was not exactly the ideal blocking tight end and thus didn't fit 100 percent in Martz’s game plan. The logical thing was then to not have Olsen on the roster. If the Bears can’t use Olsen properly, then where’s the sense in having him out there functioning incorrectly?
Transaction Grade: A-
FREE AGENT: Chris Spencer
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The Chicago Bears and center Olin Kreutz ended their thirteen year marriage last week when the team decided not to re-sign the 34 year old veteran lineman.
The solution was to sign a new center via free agency, and that’s indeed what happened.
Chicago inked Chris Spencer to a two-year deal to come play for the Bears. Spencer, who spent his first six NFL seasons with the Seahawks, will be coming in to replace a franchise legend in Kreutz.
Think there’s pressure on the kid to succeed or face the wrath of critics?
There was a time and a place for Kreutz to be succeeded by younger talent, but this particular offseason was not that time. The Bears could have kept Kreutz for another year and let Spencer learn the Bears playbook for an entire offseason.
Because of the short amount of time he will have with the squad before games begin, the clock is ticking on Spencer to learn Martz’s playbook.
The move had to be made but not this year.
Transaction Grade: C-
FREE AGENT: Roy Williams
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Roy Williams is coming to Chicago to reunite with Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz. They worked together in Detroit while holding the same position from 2006-2007.
The two shared success in 2006 when Williams exploded for a career best 82 receptions and 1,310 yards during a Pro Bowl campaign.
The obvious reason for bringing back Williams with his former offensive coordinator is that the two have chemistry and understand the pass-happy offensive scheme Martz runs.
Chicago is taking almost no risk at all by signing Williams to a one-year, $2 million contract.
A key component of a Martz offense is that receivers need to run effective and crisp routes. Quarterbacks in Martz’s scheme are told to throw to spots on the field—not necessarily directly at receivers—and it becomes the wideout’s job to get to where the ball is targeted.
It’s an odd system indeed, so having a player who has operated in it before is a big plus for Chicago.
For the Bears, Williams provides a large target at 6’3” tall for quarterback Jay Cutler.
When combined with the speedy Johnny Knox, the elusive Devin Hester and the strong Earl Bennett, Williams provides the stature necessary to catch the 50/50 balls quarterbacks often throw when pressure forces them too early.
Transaction Grade: B
FREE AGENT: Marion Barber
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The Bears went free agent shopping in Dallas and found Marion Barber on the clearance rack next to Roy Williams.
Barber will be joining the Bears for the next two seasons to serve as the backup to running back Matt Forte. The current backup, Chester Taylor, struggle mightily in 2010 with what the Bears asked him to do.
With Barber, Chicago has a complimentary back to Forte who can also help out near the goal line where Taylor was ineffective last year. The signing brings a tremendous weight off of Forte’s shoulders.
Barber has worked with trios in the backfield while in Dallas. Felix Jones and Tashard Choice both fought for playing time with Barber the last two seasons, meaning Barber has not been over worked and should have plenty left in the tank.
This again is another low risk, high reward transaction for the Bears. The deal is short term and non-committal. This contract also makes Chester Taylor expendable should Chicago try to shop him around.
Transaction Grade: B+
FREE AGENT: Vernon Gholston
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Since being drafted sixth-overall in 2008, Vernon Gholston and the New York Jets haven’t had much success at all.
In fact, Gholston has just 42 combined tackles in 45 NFL appearances. To make matters worse, he is still waiting for his first career sack.
The scheme he worked in under Rex Ryan didn't fit his style of play. In the 3-4 Jets defense, Gholston struggled to get into the backfield.
In Chicago under Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 Cover Two defense, Gholston could find his untapped potential playing on the same line as Julius Peppers.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith even offered food for thought last week when talking to reporters shortly after the signing. Having the breakout year he did, Israel Idonije may have won a starting spot at the other defensive end position from Peppers.
Either Gholston or Idonije will be moved inside to play defensive tackle, so the pressure will be easier on one of them. In addition, this helps the Bears who wanted to address the depth of defensive tackle. The re-signing of Anthony Adams solidifies the four starters for the Bears.
The theme in these last few signings for Chicago is taking players who have struggled and trying to get them at a discounted value. Not a bad philosophy to have in a crazy offseason like this one has been.
The deal with Gholston is just a one-year contract.
Transaction Grade: B-
Follow Brett Lyons on Twitter @BrettLyons670.