GM Ryan Pace faced a difficult task ahead of him going into this offseason. For the first time, he had a team coming off a winning season. The Chicago Bears went 12-4 in 2018 and won the NFC North. His job has since undergone a shift. Not only must he try to find ways to improve his team further, but also do what he can to keep what he’s built from falling apart.
All with far more limited resources than he’s had the previous four offseasons. It’s not easy, but then again this is where the best general managers really earn their money. This is where he wanted to be. People are waiting to see how he handles it. Things are still unfolding of course, but recent results show that he’s not bothered the pressure at all.
If anything, he’s handling it like the best should, with careful precision. Free agency is a few days old and the Bears have been active. Granted, not nearly as active as other teams. However, they’ve made their share of key moves. Looking over the list to this point, they’ve not only done well but they’ve nailed it.
Let us break down the reasons why.
Fixed one of the worst spots on the roster
It may not have the importance that it once did, but the kick returner spot still has a place in the NFL. Field position matters in this game and being able to get an extra 10-15 yards beyond the 25-yard line could mean the difference between a punt and a makeable field goal. The Bears never experienced this joy because they had the worst kick return unit in the league, averaging just 19.1 yards.
Three of the teams that played in the conference championship games ranked in the top 10 last year including the eventual champion New England Patriots. They averaged 27 yards per return and the main trigger man was Cordarrelle Patterson. The wide receiver has consistently been one of the best returners for a long time, and now he’s a Bear. His career average of 30 yards per return will certainly be of help.
Improved the depth at multiple offensive positions
Patterson’s value goes beyond that though. He’s part of a bigger package of relatively cheap players who help to improve the offensive depth as well. He shores up the wide receiver spot for the losses of Josh Bellamy and Kevin White. Veteran guard Ted Larsen will help fill the voids left by Bryan Witzmann and Eric Kush.
Perhaps the biggest addition that people aren’t talking about enough is Mike Davis. While he may not be a true replacement for Jordan Howard, he is definitely an upgrade over Taquan Mizzell. He has quickness and strength as a runner with a reliable pair of hands as a pass catcher. Him, Jordan Howard, and Tarik Cohen would be a far more formidable trio.
Overcame both of their key defensive losses
The Bears knew they might end up suffering a bit on defense in this free agent period. Two of their starters from last season had expiring contracts in Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan. Presuming they were gone, replacing them would prove challenging. Thankfully Pace was quick to react on at least one of those front.
The Bears made veteran Buster Skrine one of their early signings of the market period. While fans believe him to be nothing more than a penalty machine, the truth is he’s a tough and athletic nickel corner who brings value for his durability and his scrappy mentality. He’s a good player and a good fit for Chuck Pagano’s system.
They weren’t done though. A day later they met with former Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, fresh off his brief stint with the Washington Redskins. This after the Green Bay Packers traded him there last October. His ball skills, range, connection to Eddie Jackson, and familiarity with the division all made this an easy sell. To get him, at age 26, for $3.5 million? That’s a steal.
Didn’t break the bank doing it
That’s five players the Bears have added thus far. One would think it might take a healthy chunk out of their limited cap space. In truth? That’s not so. The structure of the contracts has made it to where Chicago still has more than enough cash to make a run at one of the bigger remaining free agents if they wish according to OverTheCap.
Can’t forget rule of Top 51, so $15.5M with two additions in HaHa Clinton-Dix and Ted Larsen replacing two $495k contracts
— Brad_OTC (@BradOTC) March 14, 2019
One could argue most of the offseason objectives for the Bears are complete. They still need a kicker and more pass rush depth but their most glaring concerns have already been accounted for. To say they still have plenty of money to spend knowing this means Pace is doing his job well.