After snapping their seven-year playoff drought last season, the Bears might be in position to halt another skid this spring.
No, they won't be awarded any compensatory picks when the NFL officially hands them out — likely late next week — marking a decade since the Bears last received one. But because Ryan Pace has done some of his best work on Day 2 and 3 of the draft, and with this expected to be a quiet kind of offseason for Bears fans, if not Pace and his personnel staff, it says here there's no time like the present for another organizational shift.
We wrote last week about the Super Bowl LIII participants being the only two NFL clubs expected to receive multiple compensatory picks this year. That's amazing, but not shocking considering both are among the top five organizations in overall compensatory picks since 1994, and the Patriots qualify as the model NFL franchise, alongside other beacons of consistency in Baltimore and Green Bay.
And now that the Bears finally have an impressive nucleus of largely homegrown talent, their free-agency approach should shift from the lavish to long view. That could allow Pace to have what's basically akin to extra lottery tickets come draft weekend, when he's cashed more than most other clubs despite not having an extra compensatory ammunition.
Which brings us to this offseason, when the Bears have 14 potential compensatory free agents. But only three — Bryce Callahan, Adrian Amos and Aaron Lynch — might command contracts valued higher than seventh-rounders, as Overthecap.com's comp pick expert Nick Korte explained to PFW.
As a quick reminder, the NFL hands out 32 total compensatory picks annually via a complex formula built around awarding the teams that lose more compensatory free agents than they signed the previous season. CFAs (compensatory free agents) are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors, but not every player lost or signed is a CFA. For instance, the Patriots and Rams built their comp pick war chests by acquiring players via trade and those cut by their previous employers. Another loophole would be signing restricted free agents who weren't tendered (more on this in a minute).
It's long been expected that the Bears would re-sign Callahan or Amos this offseason but not both because of their tight cap situation. However, what if they let both depart, along with Lynch, and didn't sign any outside free agents who ding the compensatory formula? That obviously would create short-term questions, a risk since the Bears have worked this hard and long to position themselves as contenders.
But letting all three walk would also allow the Bears to get back in the compensatory mix next spring, when they currently are set to have no first-rounders but two No. 2s.
How can they rationalize losing next season the steadying presence of Amos and game-changing ability of Callahan? Assuming they don't draft Amos' replacement, the drop-off to Deon Bush might not be that stark. Especially when we consider that new DC Chuck Pagano's area of expertise is in the secondary, and whoever lines up at strong safety will be opposite one of the game's best in Eddie Jackson.
If the Bears are seeking a veteran upgrade from Amos, the rival Detroit Lions just cut 33-year-old former Pro Bowler Glover Quin. He has lost a step but isn't Antrel Rolle and wouldn't affect the compensatory-pick formula.
Similarly, the Bears have one of the NFL's best outside CB pairings in Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara, and though Callahan has tremendous ability, his health can be a liability. It pains me to say it because he might be my favorite Bear to watch, but Callahan isn't irreplaceable. And a sturdier if slightly less dynamic alternative might have just presented itself.
The Atlanta Falcons, for reasons unbeknownst to many, won't tender versatile nickel back Brian Poole, as first reported Friday by Pro Football Talk. Despite being one year younger, with one fewer season of service, Poole has almost identical numbers as Callahan. The Bears could target Poole in free agency, reinforce their CB depth in the draft and potentially improve their nickel situation.
As for Lynch, he's a valuable rotational rusher, but the Bears like what they have in Isaiah Irving and Kylie Fitts and won't overpay to keep him. They might even cut Sam Acho and re-sign him at a more affordable price, another move that would help fortify a position without weakening their 2020 compensatory outlook.
Frankly, we don't know how highly Pace values compensatory picks. He's said since Day 1 that he believes in drafting and developing but has been among the NFL's more active general managers in free agency, out of necessity or not.
But this is an organizational shift that we believe would best serve the Bears as they attempt to show that their move to contenders has staying power.