NFL teams can’t officially acquire new free agents until 3:00 PM Chicago time this Wednesday (3/13), but free agency kicks into high gear on Monday with teams allowed to “legally tamper” or negotiate with agents and players leading up to the starter’s gun.
Here in Chicago the topic du jour is what should the Bears do to best position themselves for a trip to Super Bowl LIV?
The answer starts with another big question that no one is currently asking.
The Bears came within a double doink from Cody Parkey of beating the Eagles in the wild-card round last January and continuing their pursuit of Super Bowl LIII.
Can the Bears contend for a championship this year with basically the same team that started that game — other than Parkey?
Bryce Callahan missed the last three games of the regular season and that wild-card game, and while Amos started vs. the Eagles, Eddie Jackson did not and he is by far the superior player.
So can the Bears — with Eddie Jackson, Deon Bush and Deandre Houston-Carson at safety, some combination of Bush, Sherrick McManis and Kevin Toliver at nickel on defense and a healthy Kyle Long and Adam Shaheen and a much more effective game plan on the ground on offense — contend for a championship?
Yes, it is not all that far-fetched.
Not only can Mitch Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Anthony Miller, Shaheen, Cody Whitehair and James Daniels all still take significant steps closer to their ceilings, it’s expected.
The same should be said for Bilal Nichols, Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd, Isaiah Irving, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Jackson, Bush and Houston-Carson on defense.
The Bears should be better just by getting a year older.
If Trubisky becomes a top-five-to-top-10 quarterback, the answer is yes.
And that is why there are no more than three or four expensive options in free agency the Bears should even consider.
The first is Tyrann Mathieu. He is only 5-9, 185 pounds, but he can play any position in the secondary – including safety and nickel – has been a Pro Bowler and All Pro, has started 32 consecutive games since tearing his ACL and won’t turn 27 until May.
Landon Collins might be nice, but he will be more expensive than Mathieu and doesn’t solve the nickel problem as well as giving the Bears the best pair of safeties in the NFL, which either the “Honey Badger” and Jackson or Collins and Jackson could be.
The Bears should also consider Tevin Coleman as a complement to Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, not a replacement.
Howard and Coleman could resemble Ingram and Kamara in New Orleans, while Cohen could be used as a third-down specialist, receiver and primary returner.
Howard might earn a new contract, but the Bears should try and draft his replacement without assuming a third-to-seventh-round back can step right in and replace Howard’s value.
Certainly, the Bears will tinker with the bottom of the roster and special teams — do they re-sign Josh Bellamy? — but the only other notable free agents I’d even consider if I was Pace are one of Aaron Lynch, Justin Houston and Dante Fowler Jr. and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Seferian-Jenkins is a head case, but he’s also a 6-6, 260-pound tight end with a world of talent, and he appared to get his act together with the Jets in 2017 and was off to a decent start last year in Jacksonville before his season was cut short early by injury. Moreover, he isn’t 27 until the end of September.
The Bears need one more solid edge rusher, and Lynch and Fowler, Jr. are youngsters with big upside who won’t break the bank, while Houston is a 30-year-old who hasn’t hit double digit sacks since an otherworldly 22 in 2014. But he was healthy last year and could be a killer in a rotation with Mack and Floyd — or even all three on the field at the same time.
A free agency class of Mathieu, Coleman, Seferian-Jenkins and Houston wouldn’t have to break the bank — although Coleman could end up over-priced — and could spell Super Bowl.