Bears' Last-Minute Guide to 2021 NFL Free Agency

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2021

Bears' Last-Minute Guide to 2021 NFL Free Agency

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears only went 8-8 in 2020, but that was good enough to earn a playoff berth. It was also enough to justify the return of head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. However, if the Bears hope to be more than playoff participants this coming season, they'll have work to do during the offseason.

    That work will begin soon, as free agency is scheduled to kick off Wednesday. The legal contact period will open Monday, so expect Nagy and Pace to be on the recruiting trail long before they start putting pen to paper with free-agent targets.

    And Chicago should already have several targets in mind. While the team isn't quite in a position to splurge in free agency, it does have a few needs that are notable.

    Here, you'll find a look at those needs, along with Chicago's top pending free agents, potential targets on the open market and their current cap situation.


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    Allen Robinson II
    Allen Robinson IIPhelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Projected Cap Space: -$1.2 million

    Chicago's cap situation is less than ideal, thanks in no small part to the decision to franchise-tag wideout Allen Robinson II. Robinson is unquestionably a top-tier receiver—he had 1,250 receiving yards in 2020 despite some shaky quarterback play—but this puts Chicago over the salary cap as things currently stand.

    The Bears will need to free up more cap space in the coming days, both to navigate free agency and to sign picks in April's draft. If Pace cannot find some additional cap room, the Bears could find themselves in a predicament on both fronts.

    Chicago currently owns the 20th pick in the draft. Last year's 20th pick, K'Lavon Chaisson, carried a cap hit of $2.4 million as a rookie.

    If the Bears have any hope of making significant improvements this offseason, unearthing cap space will be a must.

Notable Free Agents

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    Mitchell Trubisky
    Mitchell TrubiskyBrett Duke/Associated Press

    With Robinson back, the most notable free agent Chicago has headed to market is quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. However, given his rocky play as a pro, the 2017 first-round pick probably won't be at the top of Chicago's priority list.

    Still, he's a serviceable starter and may be one of the Bears' only options when it comes to free agency.

    Cordarrelle Patterson won't get the free-agent attention that Robinson would have on the open market, but he's been a valuable utility player—as a runner, receiver and return man—for the Bears and will likely be somewhat of a priority.

    Offensive tackle Germain Ifedi is a mid-level starter who may be back at the right price. Safety Tashaun Gipson was a 16-game starter in 2020 who could also be back if Chicago can figure out the financials.

    Cornerbacks Buster Skrine and Artie Burns probably won't be high on Chicago's list of players to retain. Burns made just one start in 2020, while Skrine allowed an opposing passer rating of 125.7 on the season.

Biggest Needs and Potential Targets

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    Joe Thuney
    Joe ThuneyReed Hoffmann/Associated Press


    The Bears have to figure out their quarterback situation if they hope to be a legitimate contender in the near future. Unfortunately, they don't have the cap space to bring in any sort of long-term answer at the position through free agency.

    Bringing back Trubisky may be the top option for Chicago as things currently stand, and that's not an ideal one. Veterans like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Marcus Mariota could also be on the open market—signing any of these players will require additional cap space—and they represent the sort of potential placeholders that Chicago is likely to target.

    The bottom line is that the Bears would be best served by targeting a quarterback in the draft, though it may not be willing to rely entirely on Nick Foles while a rookie prepares himself to be an NFL starter.


    Interior Offensive Line

    The Bears have been shuffling the interior of their offensive line ever since the retirement of guard Kyle Long last offseason—and given his injury history, really, before then.

    In 2020, 10 different offensive linemen took snaps, with eight of them seeing at least 300 reps. Unsurprisingly, running the ball was an exercise in inconsistency, as Chicago ranked 21st with a 4.2 yards-per-carry average.

    Long recently announced his plans to resume his playing career, but he may not view Chicago as an ideal home. If the Bears had the cap space, New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney would likely be their ideal free-agent target.

    Thuney has never been a Pro Bowler, but he's also never missed a start—something that cannot be said about Long in Chicago. Of course, Thuney is also likely to be one of the most coveted linemen available for this reason. Austin Blythe, who has played both center and guard, could be a more realistic option.


    Offensive Tackle

    As is the case along the interior, Chicago has been searching for steady bookend tackles for some time. Once the Bears find their answer at quarterback, protecting him will be a major priority. In 2020, left tackle Charles Leno Jr. was responsible for six penalties and five sacks, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Unfortunately, the tackle market isn't a robust one, with Russell Okung and Alejandro Villanueva topping the list of available left tackles. Given the Bears' cap situation, they may not be able to chase one of the top options anyway.

    Once again, this is a hole that will likely need to be addressed in the draft—barring a surprise move that generates a substantial amount of cap room before Wednesday.


    Cap information via Spotrac.