The first day of free agency came and went and the Chicago Bears made some moves. Some were head-scratchers while others put a smile on the fans’ faces. After struggling through a mediocre 8-8 season in 2019, general manager Ryan Pace knows that if 2020 isn’t an improvement his seat will start to heat up.
Pace and the Bears didn’t do a whole lot at the start of the new year. They made three deals to try to strengthen the roster. They did manage to make a big splash with one of their moves, though.
Let’s see what other moves Pace and the Chicago Bears make in the coming days before the NFL Draft arrives on April 23rd. As for now, however, here are the grades for their moves on the first day of the 2020 season and free agency.
Tight end Jimmy Graham
The first move made by the Chicago Bears was to shore up the tight end position. A tight end is extremely important for a quarterback to have a good tight end. That player gives the quarterback a big target that comes in handy, especially in the red zone.
The Bears signed Trey Burton to be Mitchell Trubisky‘s security blanket. He was just that in 2018. He made 54 catches for 569 yards and 6 touchdowns. Adam Shaheen added a touchdown catch to bring the tight end total to 7.
Things changed dramatically in 2019. Burton and Shaheen both suffered injuries and had their season cut short. The Bears had Ben Braunecker, J.P. Holtz, and Jesper Horsted behind them. The unit combined for 44 catches for 395 yards and 2 touchdowns, a big dropoff. That contributed to some of Trubisky’s struggles.
Yes, Graham is past his prime. However, he outperformed the entire Chicago Bears’ tight end unit. He had 38 catches for 447 yards and 3 touchdowns. Also, despite having suffered a knee injury in 2015 that forced him to miss the final five games, he came back healthy and hasn’t missed a game in the last four seasons.
If Burton can stay healthy and Graham can have the same type of season as in 2019, the Bears would have an improved tight ends unit. Also, the Bears most likely draft a tight end and ease him in. He can then step in the next season. If Burton doesn’t produce again, the Bears can release him and save $7.1 million in 2021.
2. Pass rusher Robert Quinn
The one move the Bears made that made a splash was signing outside linebacker Robert Quinn. It was obvious that Leonard Floyd wasn’t effectively rushing the passer. That failure made life difficult for Khalil Mack, one of the top pass rushers in the NFL. Mack had to face double and triple teams constantly and that hurt his ability to drop the quarterback (his 8.5 sacks in 2019 was his lowest total since his rookie season).
The Bears fixed that by signing one of the top free agents available. They inked Quinn to a 5-year, $70 million deal with $30 million in guaranteed money.
Now the defense has one of the fiercest pass-rushing duos in the league. They recorded 20 sacks in 2019. Now, playing together with Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Roquan Smith, and Danny Trevathan, the Bears have one of the best front seven units in the NFL.
Quinn provides the protection for Mack. He requires attention so teams can’t run everyone at Mack. The Bears gave up and invested a lot in Mack so they have to make sure he succeeds.
With an even better pass rush, the defense will allow fewer points. Despite the poor offensive showing that forced the defense to play way too many minutes on the field and the injuries that came about because of that, the defense still ranked fourth in points allowed. If they stay healthy this unit can get back to the top spot and help out the offense by giving them short fields to operate.
3. Quarterback Nick Foles
Quarterback is the most important position on the team. A team cannot win if it doesn’t score and the quarterback leads the offense. Trubisky struggled through the 2019 season. He had trouble hitting the open receivers (and sometimes when he did it seemed like he surprised them and they dropped the passes).
Trubisky wasn’t the only problem of course. The running game struggled and the offensive line suffered through injuries. Still, Trubisky takes the brunt of the blame.
Many people felt one of the problems with Trubisky was that he didn’t have anyone behind him pushing him. Chase Daniel was the backup but it was clear that he didn’t have the talent to compete with Trubisky.
The Bears changed that by trading for Nick Foles. Foles has a spotty record in his career as a starter. He’s gone from a starter who made the Pro Bowl to backup not seeing many snaps. He’s had some incredible times as a starter, though, even stepping in and making a playoff run that culminated in winning the Super Bowl and being named the Super Bowl MVP.
Foles spent the 2019 season in Jacksonville as the Jaguars’ starting quarterback. He struggled, however, and injured his collarbone and missed time. During that time, the Jaguars liked the play of Gardner Minshew and decided to give him the starting job.
That decision made Foles available and the Bears stepped up and traded their fourth-round compensatory draft pick in this year’s draft. They also renegotiated his contract so his final two seasons could be voided. Basically, the Bears have a one-year, $15.625 million deal to compete with Trubisky for the starting job.
The Bears had a competition for the kicker’s job in 2019. At the time, Pace and head coach Matt Nagy felt that the competition would bring out the players’ best. This year it’s the quarterbacks who will be in competition and hopefully, that happens.
Foles is familiar with the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo both coached him in Philadelphia and Nagy coached him with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016. Foles has a familiarity with the Bears’ offensive system.
It will be an interesting battle once (if) the preseason begins. Tribisky is the likely starter but he’ll have a short leash. Once he begins to struggle, Foles will be able to step in and take over. He wasn’t the sexy pick, but it was a solid one.