Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times breaks down the Bears’ needs in free agency. The following says all that you need to know about the state of the defense:
“2015 defensive rankings: Total — 14. Scoring — 20
“2015 Pro Bowl players: None”
To be 14th in total defense with the limited talent available was nothing short of a miracle. Nevertheless, the Bears are badly in need of impact players.
Look for the Bears to fill those needs in the draft rather than free agency.
“[General manager Ryan] Pace has laid out the dangers of playing at the high-stakes table when free agency begins: a bad contract could the Bears dearly, for years.
“Coming off a six-win season, he knows the Bears don’t need to gamble — They’re not one huge signing away from a Super Bowl — as much as they need to make steady decisions to build the team on good footing.
“The odds, then, point to the GM trying to land two or three players atop the second tier of available defensive players.”
The truth of this statement depends upon your definition of “second tier”.
I think most fans now agree that throwing money around in free agency is not the way to lasting success. Teams that do that are constantly cap strapped, rarely win anything and, when they do, they rapidly fall apart as the reality that you can’t pay everyone hits home.
Long-term, every team needs to have a certain percentage of their performers signed as cheaper draft picks. They are the life blood of any organization that wishes to consistently compete.
What the Bears will be looking for is probably one free agent on the order of what they think they got with Pernell McPhee last year. A younger player with upside that they think they can sign at a reasonable price and use in such a way that he out performs his contract. Such a player could become a building block for years to come.
Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com suggests that safety Tashaun Gipson might be a top target and, at age 25, if he continues to fly under the radar the way that he appears to be doing, I’d say that will be a good guess.
Another name to keep an eye on is Jerrell Freeman out of Indianapolis, a speedy inside linebacker with instincts. He does a particularly good job in coverage though he’s probably just a tad older than the Bears would like at 29.
Bears fans might also watch the players that the Chiefs are trying to resign. Many of them such as defensive end Jaye Howard and cornerback Sean Smith may fit the profile, though they are starting to get some attention in the market and their price may be too high in the end.
After consideration of a player of this type in the first wave, I would say that “second tier” will fit what the Bears are looking for. Veterans and some younger players who are still available after the first wave of free agency is over and, again, after the Bears have filled what holes they can after the draft.
This is, in my opinion, the way to build a young team in free agency. It’s going to be a long haul as the Bears gradually fill their long list of needs. But in the end, if they do a good job of identifying and developing talent, they’ll have built a franchise that will consistently compete while preserving the long-term stability of the roster.