When it comes to free agency, there are two ways a team can approach it. The first being aggressively, paying more for the top-tier free agents with the aim of adding impactful players. Or conservatively, spending less on the lower-tier free agents hoping that players can help fill gaps on a roster.
For Bears general manager Ryan Pace, he has primarily taken the second route. The few exceptions to this would be when the Bears acquired Pernell McPhee and Danny Trevathan in 2015 and 2016, who were both coming off fairly good seasons. But those are the only exceptions.
Most of Pace’s other signings, including McPhee, did not contribute significantly to the team and have overall been disappointments. Of course this excludes Akiem Hicks. Although, this shouldn’t come as a surprise because free agents like Alan Ball, Jacquizz Rodgers and Mike Glennon weren’t expected to do much of anything in the first place.
Still, this overall conservative approach to free agency is questionable and may have originated due to John Fox being the head coach for the past three seasons. When a team consistently punts on fourth-and-1 inside the opponents’ territory, it makes sense that this same passive philosophy is resonated throughout the entire organization.
But with Matt Nagy stepping in as head coach and coming from the Andy Reid coaching tree, which displays aggressive play-calling through Reid and Super Bowl-winning head coach Doug Pederson, that once conservative mindset went out the door for good when Fox was fired.
The aggressive nature that Nagy embodies should not just be how the team plays but also how the organization approaches free agency.
Now, I’m not saying the kind of aggressiveness that most resembles the blind rage some Bears fan manifest when their beloved team losses, or when a strongly opinionated person comes after someone on Twitter because they don’t agree with their take on who the Bears should pursue in free agency.
No, I’m talking about aggressiveness that is formulated through methodical, strategic and extensive planning. That is how the Bears need to go about acquiring some of the top free agents.
Even though free agency doesn’t officially start until March 14 at 4 p.m., Eastern Time, wide receiver Allen Robinson, cornerback back Trumaine Johnson and guard Andrew Norwell are projected to hit the market. And with the Bears having the sixth-most cap space as of March 6th with $62,546,933, that number will also increase once Glennon is cut, the organization has the money to acquire any one of those free agents.
But the Bears were in a similar situation last season. According to Spotrac, the Bears had $62,341,446 in cap space in 2017, and still couldn’t land some of the top-tier free agents like cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore.
That could have been due to the multiple questions surrounding the Bears in 2017 like Fox’s coaching job, who was going to play under center, and if defensive coordinator Vic Fangio would remain with the team.
Those questions have been answered, and in one offseason Chicago went from being a place that top-tier free agents rejected to one of the more attractive destinations in 2018.
Adding a receiver like Robinson, who is just 24 years old, would give Trubisky a legitimate No. 1 target and will open up the passing game. With the Bears placing the transition tag on Kyle Fuller, Johnson would be the upgrade the secondary needs to take it from good to great. And with Josh Sitton gone, it would be beneficial to add a quality offensive lineman like Norwell to help keep Trubisky upright.
The primary focus for the Bears in free agency should be to add impactful players like Robinson, Johnson or Norwell and to not just add players for the sake of filling roster spots. That hasn’t worked Pace in the past, so it’s time to try something new.
A lot will be riding on how Pace does in his fourth go-around in free agency, but he can make a statement by being aggressive and signing one of those soon-to-be free agents to show that his team is ready to compete in 2018.