Since taking over last season, general manager Ryan Pace has made plenty of moves to overhaul a depleted Chicago Bears roster and they appear to be moving in the right direction. Last year’s draft netted two players that played significant, quality snaps in FS Adrian Amos and DT Eddie Goldman, while the return of an injured first-round wide receiver Kevin White should make that class look even better.
They followed it up with a strong foray into free agency this offseason to go with another strong-looking draft that has netted a good nucleus for the roster going forward. There are still question marks on the roster, but given the lack of talent just two years ago, things are looking upward in Chicago.
Offseason Grade: A-
Free agency and trades
New arrivals: LB Danny Trevathan, LS Aaron Brewer, S Omar Bolden, OT Bobby Massie, G Ted Larsen, LB Jerrell Freeman, C/G Manuel Ramirez, DT Akiem Hicks, QB Brian Hoyer
Re-signings: WR Alshon Jeffery, TE Zach Miller, WR Marc Mariani, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, WR Deonte Thompson, DT Mitch Unrein, S Chris Prosinski, TE Rob Housler, OT Nick Becton, OLB Sam Acho, CB Tracy Porter, CB Sherrick McManis
Departures: C Matt Slauson, S Antrel Rolle, DT D’Anthony Smith, OT Jermon Bushrod, LB LaRoy Reynolds, RB Matt Forte, DT Jarvis Jenkins, TE Martellus Bennett, LB Shea McClellin, G Vladamir Ducasse, G Patrick Omameh, S Sherrod Martin, CB Alan Ball, S Ryan Mundy, C Will Montgomery
Chicago addressed a huge need in the middle of their defense by adding inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman in free agency. Trevathan has been one of the league’s best all-around linebackers when healthy, capable of making plays in the run game while grading well in coverage. Freeman is coming off a career year – always a dangerous proposition when signing free agents – but he was outstanding against the run last season while cutting down on his missed tackles for three straight years of double-digit totals to finishing with only five last season. If he continues his progression, Freeman pairs with Trevathan to form one of the league’s best duos.
Re-signing Jeffery was necessary in a weak wide receiver market (see season summary below) as he quietly ranked third among the league’s receivers last season — the only question is whether or not he can stay healthy. When he’s on the field he can win contested downfield catches and he works well with QB Jay Cutler’s freelancing style.
As for the losses, Matt Slauson was Chicago’s most effective offensive lineman a year ago, whether playing guard or center, so he’ll be difficult to replace. At tight end, Martellus Bennett took a step back from his strong 2014, and while Zach Miller did an unexpectedly outstanding job in his first NFL action since 2011, replacing Bennett’s all-around ability will be a challenge. The running back position is another question mark with Matt Forte moving on, but Chicago is confident that Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey can carry the load. Keep an eye on fifth-round pick Jordan Howard adding a strong downhill element to the run game.
2016 NFL Draft
1 (9) (from Tampa Bay) Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
2 (56) (from Seattle) Cody Whitehair, G, Kansas State
3 (72) Jonathan Bullard, DE, Florida
4 (113) (from Philadelphia via Tennessee) Nick Kwiatkoski, ILB, West Virginia
4 (124) (from Seattle) Deon Bush, S, Miami
4 (127) (from New England) Deiondre’ Hall, CB, Northern Iowa
5 (150) Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana
6 (185) DeAndre Houston-Carson, S, William & Mary
7 (230) Daniel Braverman, WR, Western Michigan
The Bears had one of our favorite drafts, netting three first-round talents with their first three picks. They moved up to get Leonard Floyd and he can be either a movable chess piece on their defense or a pure edge rusher to complement OLB Pernell McPhee. Whitehair was the top-graded offensive tackle in the nation in 2015, though we like him as a guard conversion where he has a chance to start immediately. Bullard was the top-graded run stoppers in the nation in 2015 and he can move around the defensive line while bringing interior pass rush potential. The aforementioned Howard has a chance to steal immediate carries while Daniel Braverman has all of the skills to become an effective slot receiver if given the opportunity.
After years of having limited draft picks and subsequently adding limited talent to the roster, the Bears have turned a corner from a talent standpoint the last two years, both in the draft and in free agency. The defense has continued to add pieces after disastrous efforts in 2013 and 2014, and they should improve once again in 2016. Offensively, getting 2015 first-round wide receiver Kevin White back to complement Jeffery will add a strong dynamic to the pass game, though there are still question marks along the offensive line and at running back. Cutler is what he is at this point in his career and expecting top 15 to 20 quarterback play is reasonable; the hope is that a healthy Jeffery and White can turn his downfield aggressiveness into explosive plays. If the defense makes the expected strides, Chicago will be a difficult team to beat on a weekly basis.