By Robert Zeglinski
Credit is due when called for. The most glaring need for the Bears going into the 2018 off-season was offensive weaponry. If the team was going to put second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky into a position to succeed, the worst NFL skill position group needed to be overhauled. In one whirlwind free agency week, general manager Ryan Pace accomplished one of his primary goals in finally turning the Bears into a relevant championship contender. He went out and acquired weapons that can put Chicago back on the map.
The haul for the Bears is impressive and paints the picture of a team ready and willing to win now. What Pace accomplished on the open market deserves proper acclaim. Whether he was unshackled by the constraints of a lame duck coach in John Fox, or felt he needed to make his mark now, Pace was a man on a mission this free agency period. A man determined to bring his charter franchise back into the light.
Let’s grade each signing and re-signing made by the Bears and Pace in 2018’s free agency.
Allen Robinson, WR
3 years, $42 million, $18 million guaranteed: A
The top available receiver on the market, the Bears made sure to put on the full-court press for Robinson as soon as it was discovered the Jaguars wouldn’t franchise tag him. They never let up. Robinson is now the necessary game-breaking facet to Chicago’s offense. A playmaker that you can’t stop with any simple coverage. A true No. 1 receiver that’s a mismatch for almost anyone lined up across from him. And, most importantly, he’s the security blanket that Trubisky can consistently trust. Robinson is set to be a star in Chicago, and for good reason. The 24-year-old’s bright future is ahead of him. There’s no doubt: the Bears hit a home run with his signing.
Trey Burton, TE
4 years, $32 million, $22 million guaranteed: B+
One of the most important contributors to the Eagles’ first-ever Super Bowl victory this past February, Burton comes to the Bears in a similar multi-faceted role. As one of the most versatile offensive players in football, Nagy and company will ask Burton to line up most anywhere. They’ll split him out on the outside as a receiver. They’ll put him in the backfield to lead block. They may even have him occasionally throw passes to Trubisky, like he did to Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles on Super Sunday. Behind starter Adam Shaheen, Burton gives the Bears a dimension they’ve been lacking of late offensively: capable unpredictability.
Taylor Gabriel, WR
4 years, $26 million, $14 million guaranteed: B+
After striking out on rumored top slot slash diminutive target Albert Wilson, the Bears wasted no time to pounce on their fallback option in the 5-foot-8 Gabriel. And what a fallback he is as one of the handful of NFL players that can score on any given play he touches the ball. Chicago now has the electric Tarik Cohen and Gabriel on the same roster. That’s an unfair fact. A fact that should make plenty of defensive coordinators lose sleep at night. It’s a measure of hype that the burner Gabriel is ready to live up to.
Cody Parkey, K
4 years, $15 million, $9 million guaranteed: B
Parkey’s signing is the greatest indicator that the Bears plan to be immediately relevant. That their timeline to go compete for a championship is now, not two or three years down the line. That’s because if you’re going to build a successful, high-flying offense, you need a kicker to be able to capitalize on points on the rare occasions you don’t reach the end zone. You need a kicker that can excel in crunch time with a pressure kick when your franchise quarterback puts you in a position to win. Ever since releasing Gould back in 2016, the Bears haven’t had that. With a former record rookie scoring leader in 2014 that made over 90 percent of his 2017 kicks in Parkey, they finally have stability that can be relied upon again.
Chase Daniel, QB
2 years, $10 million, $7 million guaranteed: C+
It’s said in the NFL that you’re only as good as your backup quarterback. The Bears have taken that proverb to heart by making Daniel the second-highest paid back-up in football, despite the 31-year-old having just two career starts. Ideally, Daniel’s notorious penchant for X’s and O’s work in Nagy’s offense rubs off on Trubisky as a professional. That’s why he’s here ultimately: to bring along the face of the franchise properly. To the dire extreme, the Bears obviously have the faith that Daniel can fill in when needed despite a limited sample size. It’s a small leap of faith, but a leap nonetheless.
Kyle Fuller, CB
4 years, $56 million, $18 million guaranteed: B
Drama ensued towards the end of the first wave of free agency when it was revealed that the transition-tagged Fuller had signed an offer sheet from the rival Packers. Many wondered whether the Bears would let their best cornerback, a homegrown talent, walk away to strengthen a division rival depending on the offer. They received a definite answer when Chicago, as was their right according to the tag, quickly matched three hours later. This, of course, was part of the Bears’ plan to let the cornerback figure his worth and come back once an appropriate contract offer was agreed to that they were comfortable with. They understood his market going in and their strategy of a transition tag worked wonders. There was never any chance Fuller would be allowed to go to Green Bay. So ended any drama of Fuller’s long-term future with the Bears.
Aaron Lynch, Edge
1 year, $4 million, $1.25 million guaranteed: C+
Once the Bears filled out their pertinent offensive needs, attention turned towards the defense and a still-gaping hole on the pass rushing edge. That’s where former 49er Lynch, who played one year for his mentor in current Bears’ defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in 2014, comes in. It’s been a struggle of late for Lynch as he fell out of favor with a shifting regime in San Francisco. This is Chicago’s bet that Fangio can unlock a player that previously enjoyed 12.5 sacks total back in 2014 and 2015. There’s talent here, it merely has to be brought back out again. Lynch won’t be the answer to the Bears’ edge woes, but he’s a solid start towards a solution.
Prince Amukamara, CB
3 years, $27 million, $18 million guaranteed: C+
Amukamara’s return to Chicago makes sense. For one, he enjoyed the best year of his career in 2017 alongside the returning Fuller. For the other, he’s rarely played in 16 games in his career, has a history of injury issues overall, and might become a liability should teams target him more moving forward. Not to mention the guaranteed money that should signal the Bears’ plan to draft a developmental replacement in April. As a No. 2 cornerback, Amukamara will likely be fine in his role. But if not, Chicago could be in trouble on one defensive boundary.
Sam Acho, Edge
2 years, $7.5 million: C
Acho is the Bears’ consummate professional. A good soldier well-liked by everyone in the organization that provides depth on special teams and defense. For the past few seasons, he had been operating on one-year deals with Chicago. His faith and drive was finally rewarded with a two-year contract that offers a measure of security for someone at Halas Hall that really earned that benefit.
Pat O’Donnell, P
1 year, $1.5 million, $500,000 guaranteed: C
While Parkey’s signing showed that the Bears plan to score points, how slowly Chicago moved on bringing back their punter could show how little they actually plan to punt. Jokes aside, the 27-year-old O’Donnell has steadily grown each season as a punter. With plenty of practice in 2017, he was resurgent and showed himself to be a solid field position weapon. If the Bears are going to contend, this hidden battle that’ll be waged by “MegaPunt” in O’Donnell couldn’t be ignored.
Bradley Sowell, OL
2-year contract: D
Sowell didn’t have much of a role with the Bears in 2017, as he isn’t any good. If he’s pressed into action, the way he was in late December, then Chicago is in poor shape on the offensive line. Depending on unrevealed guaranteed money, it’s difficult to envision him making the roster out of training camp. There’s plenty of time for better, younger options to arise before the end of August. R.
Robert is your guy for all things Bears. Find him on Twitter: @RobertZeglinski.