Chicago Bears Are NFL Offseason's Biggest Losers So Far

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystMarch 28, 2020

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles walks along the bench area as he looks up at the scoreboard during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

Timing is of the essence when it comes to NFL free agency and offseason acquisitions. The perception of moves can drastically change based on when something happens. 

The Chicago Bears epitomize how poor timing can wreck an offseason and make their moves look far worse in retrospect.

Even without that added caveat, general manager Ryan Pace's plan looked suspect from the start since he invested heavily in aging veterans.  

When both factors are taken into consideration, the Bears simply failed at the start of the new league year and had the offseason's worst overall effort. 

Free agency, like spring, serves as a renewal period. The GM's job is to properly manage the roster so the most growth can occur during the following season. Certain players are pulled, while others are added. 

Chicago's execution relied far too heavily on players with significant question marks, while better or comparable alternatives are/were available. 

Everything starts with the team's mishandling of the quarterback position.

The organization dug its proverbial heels in when it came to Mitchell Trubisky. 

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Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

"We believe in him, we believe in the player, we believe in the person, we believe in the trajectory that he's on," Pace told reporters last month at the NFL Scouting Combine. "We believe we need to be better around him, and that's what this time of year is all about. And that's through things we're doing with coaches, things we're doing with scheme, things we're doing with personnel we're adding and then his growth as a young player. They all grow at different rates, and it's just projecting his growth."

Pace added, "The best teams we've been a part of, there's competition everywhere."

So, the Bears GM left the door slightly open, and less than a month later, Chicago flipped the 140th overall pick in April's NFL draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Nick Foles

On the surface, the move makes a lot of sense.

Foles is an ideal backup for Trubisky during the 25-year-old's development. If the 2017 No. 2 overall pick falters or is injured, the Bears have arguably the league's best quarterback on the bench. Foles proved his worth with the Philadelphia Eagles while playing behind franchise signal-caller Carson Wentz. The 31-year-old has the hardware to show for it too. 

Foles should make a relatively smooth transition since he has a working history with Bears head coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. 

"Multiple sources say the Bears will essentially hold an open competition for the top quarterback spot, and though the incumbent will have the inside track, nothing is promised," ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported. 

Yet Foles has failed as the full-time starter at multiple stops. Last year, the Jaguars made the Super Bowl LII MVP their top priority and signed him to a four-year, $88 million deal. He broke his collarbone in his first game and eventually lost his job to Gardner Minshew II after his return. 

And, more importantly, Foles wasn't the best available option with Cam Newton, 30, still on the market. 

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Panthers offered Newton to the Bears via trade. Chicago wasn't willing to make a dealwhich is understandable since the 2015 league MVP looked like he was destined to be released. A little patience could have placed the Bears in a much better position.

Chicago made the cardinal mistake of leaning into the sunk-cost fallacy. The franchise shouldn't have looked for a comfortable solution; it should have aimed to significantly improve the position. 

Mike McCarn/Associated Press

Newton could have been a far more dynamic presence under center. Yes, his recent injury history, specifically his Lisfranc fracture, is a significant concern, but he's back to working out

Even if the Bears ran the risk of missing out on Foles by waiting for Newton, other viable alternatives exist in Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston and Joe Flacco. 

Instead, Pace jumped the gun, acquiring a $15.6 million cap hit for Foles in 2020. Similar free-agent investments bring the same question marks. 

A quick look at the tight end market shows the Bears overvalued Jimmy Graham—perhaps because of his history with Pace, who helped draft him to the New Orleans Saints

The Cleveland Browns quickly made a strong offer to secure the services of Austin Hooper, the top available free-agent tight end. Hooper—who caught 75 passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns in 2019—signed a deal worth $10.5 million annually. Graham got a no-trade clause and will be making $8 million annually, but he is nowhere near the same player he once was despite his argument to the contrary. 

"This is the best that I've ran, this is the fastest I've been in the last four or five years," the 33-year-old target told reporters. "I'm going to get back to being me. I'm going to get back to making big plays and scoring touchdowns because I think I'm somewhere in the top of scoring touchdowns, and I want to continue that. I want to continue climbing that list and get to where I'm supposed to be."

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

The 10-year veteran is coming off his worst performance since his rookie campaign. Graham caught 38 passes for 447 yards and three touchdowns last season before being released by the Green Bay Packers this month. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers, meanwhile, waited out the market and signed a comparable or better talent in 26-year-old Eric Ebron, who will earn $2 million less per season. 

Yes, the Bears desperately needed a tight end upgrade, but they paid higher than market value for a player clearly on the downside of his career. 

The team also wanted a bookend for Khalil Mack and found one in Robert Quinn, who experienced a career revival with the Dallas Cowboy last season. The soon-to-be 30-year-old edge-rusher posted his first 10-plus-sack season since the 2014 campaign. 

Quinn serves as a prime example of what a pass-rusher looks like when he dips his shoulder, shows tremendous bend and flattens to the quarterback. He should be a solid presence opposite Mack, but one must wonder if the nine-year veteran can replicate what he did in Dallas last year after four straight seasons of underwhelming production.

Injuries played a part in his downturn, so that must also factor into the equation.

Quinn received $14 million per season despite his age and history because he plays a premium position, but the Bears could have put that money toward a younger option like Dante Fowler Jr. or Shaq Lawson.

Meanwhile, Chicago failed to adequately address its three biggest holes: guard, cornerback and safety. 

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Kyle Long's abrupt retirement created a void at right guard. The Bears signed Germain Ifedi on a one-year prove-it deal, but he has spent the majority of his career at right tackle. 

They released cornerback Prince Amukamara and signed Artie Burns, who has been a major first-round bust. Last year, he only played 6 percent of Pittsburgh's defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Reference.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix left in free agency to join the Dallas Cowboys. Deon Bush re-signed with the Bears, but he wasn't a starting player in 2019. 

The draft will help, but the point of free agency is to supplement the roster so a team can take the best available talent once it is on the clock. The Bears failed to do that. 

Timing is everything during the offseason. The Bears mistimed their quarterback acquisition. They overpaid for a tight end whose game isn't timeless. They invested in an aging defensive end. 

Now in his sixth year as GM, Pace may be running out of time in Chicago after what could turn out to be a disastrous free-agent period. 

                                                                                                           

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.