The always thoughtful ESPN NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert breaks down how the impending labor stoppage will affect the the teams in the division in non-financial ways. His view of the major problem for the Bears corresponds with my own:
“Instead of knowing what offensive line positions they’ve filled via free agency, they’ll have to jump into the draft cold. Ultimately they’ll have free agency as well, but their draft strategy might have to change.”
The fact that the draft will likely precede free agency this year is an issue. How much of an issue varies with the point of view. I’ve heard it said that some teams may find it to be an advantage. I’d say the Bears won’t.
In the past the team has had a very well defined approach to personnel moves in the offseason:
- Determine their needs.
- Go immediately and hard at any high profile free agent they believe to be a good fit to fill a need (e.g. Julius Peppers). Often they have skipped this step as there has been no one that they really desired to add at the going price.
- Wait until the initial furor has died down and sign lower profile free agents with good value to fill the other needs.
- Having filled most or all of their major needs, the team takes the best players available at the top of the draft at any position (within reason).
With the draft still in front of them, the Bears were able to take or leave free agents on the market. Though they certainly would prefer to fill those needs before the draft, and usually did, they didn’t have to and free agents knew that.
This order of operation will be completely disrupted this year. The Bears likely will be going into the draft not knowing which needs they will be able to fill in free agency. They can still go after the best players available in the draft. However that gives the potential free agents significant bargaining power after the draft because they will know that the Bears have to sign someone to fill a position of need. The team will be more desperate.
How the Bears will approach this problem will be interesting to see. The obvious implication is that they may have to pay more attention to positions of need in the draft.
Fortunately that might not be a huge problem this year. They likely would have drafted along the line of scrimmage at the top of the draft anyway and that’s what I’d expect them to do. Even though its not an ideal situation, they can then negotiate with free agents knowing that they could go into the season starting rookies at those spots if they absolutely have to.