The Chicago Bears need to make some serious progress this offseason, and it all starts with some big moves during 2017 NFL free agency.
After a miserable showing in 2016, the Chicago Bears have a lot of ground to make up in the coming months. 2017 NFL free agency will be a great place to start for a franchise that could make a quick recovery with a strong offseason.
Many of the building blocks are there for the Bears. They put together an outstanding 2016 draft class, but have some significant holes to fill. With some big moves during free agency, they could make a sudden push towards the upper half of the NFC North.
Now before you get too excited, we have to acknowledge those aforementioned holes. With Jay Cutler likely a goner, addressing the quarterback position will be a top priority. The defense also needs help at a number of spots, primarily in the secondary. Wide receiver could also be a serious concern based on what happens with some pending free agents.
Instead of focusing on what needs to be done, let’s predict what the Bears will do. With that in mind, here are my five predictions for Chicago’s biggest moves of 2017 NFL free agency. If they come true, the Bears will undoubtedly improve tenfold on their 3-13 showing this past season.
This is pretty much inevitable at this point. Since the end of the 2016 campaign (and even before), it’s been known that it was likely the last time we saw Jay Cutler in a Bears uniform. It’s been a good run, but he’s worn out his welcome in the Windy City.
One way or another, he won’t be on the roster for much longer. Whether the Bears find a trade partner as they’re actively attempting to do (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter) or simply cut him loose, there’s just no way Cutler is on the roster long after the beginning of the 2017 league year.
The Bears will definitely do everything in their power to get something back for Cutler. A couple of teams, including the New York Jets, have been mentioned as potential trade partners. Luckily for Chicago, there are quite a few franchises looking for help under center this offseason. And with the lack of premium talent available via free agency and the draft, Cutler will be an enticing option.
It’ll be strange seeing Cutler in a different jersey in 2017. However, after the way last season went, it’s time for change in Chicago. The Bears have the building blocks of a contender, but need to get things settled at quarterback. Moving on from Cutler is the first step towards achieving that.
Moving on from Cutler seems like an easy decision for the Bears. However, when it comes to retaining Alshon Jeffery, things aren’t as clear-cut. Chicago would obviously love to keep their star wide receiver. Despite his recent rash of injuries and some ineffective play, Jeffery is still one of the top pass catchers in the NFL. Unfortunately, he’s also the hands-down best receiver scheduled to hit the open market this offseason.
That fact could make re-signing him very difficult for Chicago. Jeffery knows he’s going to get some massive offers via free agency this offseason, and likely won’t be willing to give the Bears a hometown discount. That leaves them with limited options—either spend insane amounts of money on him or slap him with the franchise tag again.
The tag would cost the Bears about $17.5 million (via ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson), which is a huge amount of money and cap space. While they’ll have plenty of spending power during free agency (especially once Cutler is moved), that doesn’t mean they want to throw that type of dough at a receiver coming off a down 2016 campaign.
Again, they could also try to simply re-sign him. However, with the amount of interest around the league, I’m sure Jeffery would be content to test his value on the open market. He’ll do so, and find himself a suitor willing to overspend. Hence, no more Jeffery in the Windy City.
With Jeffery gone, Eddie Royal a likely cap casualty and Marquess Wilson headed for free agency, the Bears need an influx of new receiver talent. Unfortunately, the market isn’t exactly saturated with quality targets.
There are a couple of options after Jeffery who could intrigue Chicago. DeSean Jackson is capable playmaker despite his age, Terrelle Pryor has a ton of upside (but is likely to re-sign with the Cleveland Browns), and Victor Cruz can be a star when healthy. However, I like another option that isn’t available quite yet.
There’s a good chance the Jets move on from receiver Brandon Marshall this offseason. NJ.com’s Darryl Slater even went as far as giving him a 60 percent change of getting the ax in the next few weeks. New York can save $7.5 million in cap space by cutting him loose, so it’s starting to look like a no-brainer.
That could open the door for Marshall’s return to Chicago. His three seasons with the Bears were among the best of his illustrious NFL career, including two 100+ catch, double-digit touchdown campaigns. He’s the only receiver in team history to record multiple 100-catch seasons.
So why not return to where he played some of his best ball? Cutler may be gone, but he could help play a prominent role in the rebuilding process. Whoever steps in at quarterback would certainly benefit from having a reliable playmaker like Marshall to throw to.
Kyle Fuller is a complete unknown at this point, but may be let go with his love for the game apparently gone. Tracy Porter is also considered a potential cap casualty. The rest of the depth chart is filled with average veterans and unproven youngsters. Put simply, Chicago needs help at cornerback. So why not grab arguably the top talent on the open market? It’s not going to be cheap or easy, but A.J. Bouye would do wonders for this Bears defense heading into 2017.
The Houston Texans’ star cornerback had a breakout season in 2016, coming out of nowhere to turn in one of the NFL’s best performances at his position. He played a huge role in helping the Texans field the league’s top defense, routinely shutting down his side of the field.
Houston is expected to make a big push to re-sign Bouye. However, with limited cap space, they may be forced to let him walk. Assuming that’s the case, I’m predicting the Bears use their surplus of spending power to convince him to bring his talents to the Midwest.
Cutler’s gone, and Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley are free agents. That means the only quarterbacks under contract in 2017 are David Fales and Connor Shaw. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the type of situation any NFL team wants to be in.
Unfortunately, the 2017 free agency class isn’t exactly loaded with quarterback talent. Chances are Kirk Cousins won’t be available, and Colin Kaepernick may not leave San Francisco after all. A flier like Mike Glennon could also be an option, but it’s far from guaranteed he’ll succeed in Chicago.
The Bears also own the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, which they could use to acquire a young gunslinger. Seeing as the class’ top arms aren’t inspiring a ton of confidence among the draft community, Chicago could opt to go in a different direction with their first-round pick.
So instead, the Bears go bold and make a trade for the New England Patriots’ Jimmy Garoppolo. According to the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin, the young quarterback is expected to yield a second-round pick. If that’s the case, it’s understandable to take a shot with Garoppolo seeing as Chicago likely wouldn’t find a better arm with that pick anyway.
As CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora pointed out, there are many connections between general manager Ryan Pace and Garoppolo. He knows talent when he sees it, as evidenced by his haul during the 2016 NFL Draft. Pace will take his search for a quarterback seriously, bringing in Garoppolo and giving this franchise a brighter future.