In one of the most important off-seasons in years, Pace and Bears must play hand wisely in free agency.
By Robert Zeglinski
With the start of the negotiation period in the NFL’s free agency on Tuesday, so come reports that every free agent is drawing “interest” and has a “high price tag”. A week that offers one of professional football’s biggest selling points to fans – hope – with the talent available, also poses its greatest lie detector. Remember: Legitimate facts won’t come to light until pending free agents can officially sign on the dotted line at 4:00 p.m. EST on Thursday – the official start of the 2017 league year.
That issue creates a dilemma that separates the high rolling general managers of the league and the executives blowing all of their money at the slots swearing “the next play will finally be their shot!” You have to be a good talent scout and a gambler comfortable in the heat of the moment. Not an easy task.
Where the Chicago Bears and general manager Ryan Pace go here in one of the most important off-seasons in years, remains to be seen. Given Pace’s predicament of no young quarterback in the wings along with a list of holes, his job on both the talent and negotiating front is far from enviable.
Nevertheless, this is a caution of the mind games by now many in the NFL are familiar with that has to be repeated over and over. Chicago needs to make more than a few huge splashes in the coming days, but at least Pace understands the speed bumps ahead.
“You can always recover from the player you didn’t sign. You can’t recover from the player you signed at the wrong price,” said Pace to reporters at a pre-Combine press conference last Wednesday. However its spuns, there’s risk in throwing money around to potentially overrated players and dealing with other NFL teams.
Understanding that tenuous aspect is a quality start at Halas Hall.
Draft season, particularly the period following this past weekend’s annual Scouting Combine, has often been coined “lying season.” Team building in football isn’t as simple as evaluating a player and selecting him – either in the draft or on the open free agent market. You have to be on your toes for others looking to take advantage of naivety and buying into everyone’s shoddy poker face.
There’s nothing illegal about this, per say. It’s just the nature of how teams and players communicate in what can become a rat race. It’s a game of the best bluff and being caught can throw all plans for a loop.
Some examples of this advanced chess are smoke screens, when a team feigns interest in a player to drive away value from someone they’re actually interested in. Think of a scenario likened to New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo who all of a sudden has an astronomical asking price of at least two first round picks per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.
If you’re the Bears, who would wisely be interested in the potential superstar quarterback but are unwilling to pay the crippling bounty, you “move on.” In that respect, it’d be easy to link current reports of Tampa Bay’s Mike Glennon to Chicago as leverage (unless Garoppolo really is off the table).
The second more common tactic during “lying season” is the leaking of price points. Agents will do this for guys they represent to create a negotiating baseline. Since the salary cap steadily rises every year (approximately $10 million this season) so does the dictated market of available players. It’s up to general managers to play hard-ball and cut through false reports to find a compromise that suits both sides.
Make no mistake, teams do the same in leaking reports to drive away others from players they want for a comfortable price and term, so the dynamic factors both ways. This isn’t the occasion for thin skin as cliché as it sounds.
Nevertheless, once you cut through the mud, it’s important the Bears and Pace get these next seven weeks right. That starts with that free agency this week where Chicago has to continue to build its foundation and add some defensive playmakers in their prime. This is where the road back to relevance begins.
Don’t forget to tip toe around the dangers presented to come, though. Pace certainly won’t.
“Free agency is dangerous. You’re stepping through land mines and you’ve got to be careful you don’t step on the wrong one.”
Early notes and an ideal Bears free agent haul:
- Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore is a primary Bears target per reports. Initial prices settle in at $12.5 to $14 million per season. He’s a perfect fit as one of the league’s rare lockdown cornerbacks. Signing someone like the Patriots’ Logan Ryan in tandem would work wonders.
- As noted, Tampa Bay’s Glennon currently has steam to Chicago. The former third round pick served as the Buccaneers back up the last two seasons. Glennon would likely be a “bridge” quarterback to play while the Bears develop a highly drafted prospect. Initial prices settle at $15 million. Given a scarce market, expect that to drop.
- Baltimore right tackle, Ricky Wagner – the top available tackle – has the Bears as one of his primary callers per reports. Initial prices for the 27-year-old settle in at a range of $8 to $10 million given his elite pass protecting ability and upside. Adding Wagner would likely mean the end of current starter, Bobby Massie, but would Chicago one of the league’s best offensive lines.
- Rounding up the rumor mill: Vikings Pro Bowl returner, Cordarelle Patterson, is drawing interest from Chicago. He would serve as a huge upgrade in the return game. Cardinals safety, D.J. Swearinger, Pro Football Focus’s eighth highest grade safety last season, also has the Bears on his tail. And finally, Raiders receiver, Andre Holmes, is on Chicago’s radar as a depth playmaker as well.
Robert Zeglinski is a staff writer for SB Nation and managing editor at No Coast Bias. Follow Robert on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.