The Chicago Bears free agent plan for 2019 may not involve a big expenditure as it has in the past. For one thing, they don’t have a ton of money to throw around. Over The Cap projects they currently have just over $7 million in cap space. For another? They don’t really have to at this point. This team went 12-4 last season and look like they’re ready for a deeper playoff run as their young roster continues to mature.
Instead GM Ryan Pace may stick to filling out the bottom half of the roster with bargain purchases. Players who won’t command a ton of money for one reason or another. Maybe they’re coming off a bad year. Maybe they no longer fit the system of their former team. There are any number of explanations.
Yet the mistake people often make is that opting to sign cheaper free agents means a team can’t improve. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Bears fans should be reminded of just how many times they’ve scored big in the discount section before. Here are a few names from the past 10 years to jog the memory.
Blake Costanzo (LB): 2-year, $1.865 million
A lot of fans won’t remember this name and that’s a shame because Costanzo was probably the last unheralded great special teams linebacker the Bears fielded before the Dave Toub era came to an end. He came over from San Francisco in 2011, collected a team-high 17 special teams tackles in two years while helping Devin Hester to add three more return touchdowns to his eventual NFL record.
Prince Amukamara (CB): 1-year, $7 million
Getting a starting corner for about $7 million in today’s NFL is actually pretty good. Amukamara had a solid coverage year in 2016 and the Bears felt he had the potential to be a big factor in Vic Fangio’s system. Though his 2017 year was quiet in terms of production, it was still solid to help the defense finish 10th overall in the league and earned him an extension that led to the best season of his career in 2018.
Matt Slauson (OG): 1-year, $815,000
Phil Emery gets a lot of grief for how he mishandled the Bears during his run as GM, but he deserves credit for this one. Nobody thought Matt Slauson was worth much at guard, which worked out well for Chicago when they scooped him on a one-year deal in 2013. His presence along with the arrival of Kyle Long transformed the Bears offensive line into one of the best in the NFL that year, allowing just 30 sacks on the season.
Tracy Porter (CB): 1-year, $870,000
The former Super Bowl hero had fallen on hard times by 2015. His glory days in New Orleans were long gone and he’d been a journey in Denver and Oakland the previous few years. It seemed like Chicago was his last chance to stay in the NFL. After early injury setbacks, he morphed into the best cover corner the Bears had that season. A big reason they overachieved with the #4 pass defense in the NFL. His play on Thanksgiving against Green Bay will be a small but landmark moment in team history.
Willie Young (DE): 3-year, $9 million
Some people actually felt the Bears paid too much when they signed the former Lions defensive end to this deal in 2014. The best he’d ever been able to muster in his career was three sacks in 2013. It didn’t make any sense. However, the Bears felt he was poised for a breakout year if given a chance to start. They were correct. Young had 10 sacks his first season for them and 24 over the course of that contract. Any team would pay $9 million for that.
Tim Jennings (CB): 2-year, $1.938 million
This might be one of the greatest steals in free agency history for the Bears. Jennings was a late add to the roster in 2010. Somebody people felt might be decent depth given his knowledge of the scheme. After just three games he was starting and became an unexpected fixture in their secondary. One who would reach two Pro Bowls and collect 16 interceptions during his time in Chicago.
Akiem Hicks (DE): 2-year, $10 million
Not a single person knew what the Bears were getting in 2016 when Hicks was signed. Only Ryan Pace did. He’d known the defensive linemen since helping to draft him back in 2012 and watched his progress in New England the year before. Seeing the opportunity, he pounced with an affordable deal on the belief the big defensive linemen would outplay it. Pace nailed it. Hicks became a force from the getgo, amassing 23 sacks in three seasons, dominating against the run, and making his first Pro Bowl in 2018.