Best and Worst Moves Chicago Bears Can Make This Offseason

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2017

Best and Worst Moves Chicago Bears Can Make This Offseason

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    Chicago Bears fans can expect many moves from general manager Ryan Pace and the front office this offseason.

    But fans shouldn't mistake a flurry of moves for real progress.

    This is a notable trap that fans fall into each year. A team "wins" free agency or has a high "grade" on a draft and things look great—until they aren't.

    Pace and Co. have jumped out to an early start on an active offseason with a great move, re-signing offensive lineman Eric Kush. Pair this with Pace's track record as a drafter and his willingness to let roster turnover happen as it must and this could be another great offseason for the Bears as the rebuild continues.

    Below, let's look at some of the best and worst things the Bears could do in the coming months.

Best: Splurging on a Safety

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    The Bears have a rare opportunity—a stab at shoring up a safety spot with elite play for years.

    Most teams can't say any such thing. Safety is one of the worst positions in the league because the way offenses continue to trend requires safeties to be interchangeable and rangy.

    Yet here are the Bears with about $58 million in free cap space, per Spotrac, not to mention more on the way after potential cuts or trades. And here are the Bears, one season removed from trotting out Adrian Amos (27th), Harold Jones-Quartey (67) and Deon Bush (75) last year at the position, the numbers in parentheses each player's final graded standing at Pro Football Focus.

    A summary of the biggest names possibly headed to the market: Eric Berry (7), Tony Jefferson (6), Duron Harmon (28), Johnathan Cyprien (5) and Barry Church (10), among others.

    A rookie is nice, but one of the above, proven players is a great way for the Bears to spend some money this offseason. Grabbing one and grooming a rookie, if not even grabbing two would help even out a defense already looking strong along the front seven, health provided.

    Talents such as the above rarely slip to market, and the Bears can outbid anyone. No excuses.

Worst: Ignoring Linebacker

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    On paper, Chicago doesn't look terrible at linebacker. In fact, one could almost claim it as a strength.

    Not quite.

    On the inside, Jerrell Freeman led the team in tackles and was a great free-agent add, yet he missed four games due to suspension. Ditto for Danny Trevathan, except swap out the suspension for a severe knee injury putting the start of next season in jeopardy.

    On the outside, rookie Leonard Floyd flashed on the way to seven sacks but had problems staying healthy. The Bears paid Pernell McPhee big cash, but he just missed seven games and missed another two in 2015.

    In other words, the Bears threw a ton of cash at a problem area. It worked, but in an up-and-down manner. With missed games plaguing the unit, the front office can't sit on its hands and prioritize other areas.

    Smart additions along other areas of the defense won't mean anything if a consistent rush isn't hitting home because the most important names can't stay on the field.

Best: Drafting a Quarterback at No. 3

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    If a team finds itself in a position to grab a potential franchise quarterback, it had better take it.

    Such is the line of logic Pace and the Bears can follow this offseason while clutching the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NFL draft.

    The Bears could have their pick of Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky and even Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes II.

    That's not a bad lot to choose from when it comes time for the Bears to address the most important position of all. Given the circumstances, the Bears could even let a rookie sit and learn for a year while looking to one of Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer or even Connor Shaw.

    The alternatives seem shrug-worthy at best. Free agency doesn't offer much, and names like Tony Romo or Kirk Cousins seem like pipe dreams. Waiting until the second round or later to grab a value quarterback isn't the best idea and is part of the reason the Bears sit in this situation in the first place.

    Drafting a quality quarterback is something that has eluded the Bears for years. It's a trend that needs to end if the franchise hopes to find sustained success. Getting distracted by positions the team can fill out in free agency and later in the draft is out of the question.

Worst: Letting Jay Cutler Walk

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    The Jay Cutler era in Chicago is over.

    Fine, but the Bears shouldn't let the veteran quarterback walk without getting something in return.

    This is why ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the Bears are looking for a trade. Of course, this is a leak by the Bears themselves, who have probably been doing so since the season ended. This is more of a last-ditch effort to unload Cutler sometime in March.

    An argument about just cutting Cutler because teams knowing the Bears eventually will doesn't hold weight, not with the team getting back assets for Martellus Bennett and Brandon Marshall lately despite teams knowing they would be cut.

    No, a team will likely come calling for Cutler eventually. Whether it is the Houston Texans, New York Jets or some other quarterback-needy team, coughing up a sixth-round pick or later for Cutler makes sense.

    Quarterbacks have netted too many resources as of late for the Bears to just cut Cutler. Though an emergency situation, Sam Bradford went for a first-round pick. Alex Smith in 2012 was a pair of second-round picks. Even Cutler himself was two first-round picks.

    Teams in need pay for quarterbacks, and Cutler is either a nice stopgap solution for a rebuilding team or a high-quality backup for a contender. Getting nothing for his departure would be a notable loss.

Best: Front-Loading as Many Contracts as Possible

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    The Bears have to play smart with their money.

    Cap space, even as much as the Bears clutch, goes away in a hurry. Big-money deals, extensions for key players and even rookie salaries before a smart rollover to the next season and plenty of room for injury insurance has a way of eating at the free space.

    The Bears can make multiple huge deals happen on the market and pay their own plus have $8-10 million to rollover to next season if the front office front-loads deals.

    Meaning, get the guaranteed cash out of the way first. Pay a top-tier safety or corner, if not both, as well as extensions for some of their own. Structure the contracts so the biggest hits come off the books now, keeping the team's options open in future offseasons while not being hamstrung by past deals.

    There is no reason for the Bears to enter future offseasons regretting past deals and having little wiggle room to keep improving. Almost every move the Bears have made over the past two years has had a future-looking lean—there's no reason big contracts doled out this year can't do the same.

Worst: Giving Up on Kyle Fuller

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    Now isn't the time to throw in the towel on cornerback Kyle Fuller.

    Fuller missed all of 2016 with an injury, and it was easy to speculate about his efforts in getting back on the field. When on it, he hadn't overly impressed.

    But throwing away a former first-round pick at one of the team's biggest areas of need right now doesn't make much sense. It's not like Fuller is costing the Bears much in 2017, with a cap hit floating around $3 million, per Spotrac. It's also not like he is hogging a roster spot a player leaps and bounds better could use.

    In 2015, Fuller ranked tied for 39th in the NFL at cornerback at Pro Football Focus over 1,038 snaps, giving up just 425 yards and five scores. It was a huge improvement on his rookie campaign, where he finished at No. 107 over 877 snaps.

    It has been a year since the Bears have seen much of anything from Fuller. But the transition to the NFL is brutal for defensive backs, and letting him continue to grow alongside other upside guys like Cre'von LeBlanc is a worthwhile endeavor.

Best: Re-Signing Alshon Jeffery

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    We're not done with this horse just yet, folks.

    The Bears need Alshon Jeffery back in the fold next season. He's the type of wideout who helps along a rookie with reliable, tough consistency or helps a veteran squeeze the most out of the offense.

    It's not like the Bears don't have the money to blow, especially on a front-loaded deal. And the fact Jeffery has 11 missed games over the past two years with mediocre numbers and served a four-game ban last year (which the Bears saved cash on) only drives down the money he can demand on the open market.

    Jeffery is now 27 years old and very much a gamble. But a team in Chicago's position must take these gambles while building up the rest of the roster. A paid, motivated Jeffery with little in the way of guaranteed money hurting the Bears for a long time is a savvy approach by the front office.

    Keeping Jeffery in town means an ability to stop worrying about a critical spot on the field. It means more room for complementary guys such as Kevin White, Cam Meredith and perhaps a rookie to go to work on every down. Did anyone mention the stable presence Jeffery could provide while helping a rookie quarterback develop?

    Jeffery has the talent to be a top-10 wideout in the NFL if the Bears can get a stable environment around him. The free cap the Bears have makes it inexcusable for the team to let such a talent get away.

Worst: Trading for Jimmy Garoppolo

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    Conventional wisdom suggests the Bears will have an interest in trading for New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

    In fact, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported the Bears are "all in" on trying to make a deal happen.

    Yikes.

    Yikes, because trading for Garoppolo would take an uncanny amount of resources. One has to think the Bears would duel with a team such as the Cleveland Browns for the right to a trade, meaning sparring with a team holding two picks in the top 12 of this year's draft.

    And never mind draft resources thrown at Garoppolo to get him to town. Think about resources to keep him in town, meaning a big-money quarterback extension in this wacky quarterback market where Joe Flacco and Carson Palmer have two of the top three cap hits in 2017 and it's a costly situation. Chicago would take the money from a big free-agent signing or maybe even Jeffery to eventually make it happen.

    As for Garoppolo the player, he looked decent in a few spot starts for the Patriots. But take him out of a Bill Belichick-led stable environment and a backup role and throw him into the fire of starting every week on a more fluid situation with not only starter expectations, but we-just-traded-everything-for-you expectations and it is hard to see how he pans out.

    The fact of the matter is, Garoppolo is a former second-round pick (in a class where Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel came off the board ahead of him). If the Bears love him and think he's a capable franchise quarterback, fine. But there doesn't seem to be enough evidence to justify sacrificing so much in the way of resources when the Bears can get a first-round player this year and groom him on a cap-friendly deal for years.

    Another team willing to put in a bigger bid might save the Bears from themselves. Trading a monster haul for a quarterback didn't work out so well last time.

        

    All contract information courtesy of Spotrac unless otherwise specified. Stats courtesy of NFL.com. All advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

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