The Chicago Bears Have Taken a Different Approach to Free Agency

Bears approach

Changes at the top of the Chicago Bears football operation have brought a new and different approach. At least, it does with regards to the last regime. This fresh approach has led to varying reactions from the masses. Quite frankly, they haven’t seen so much of the process behind the decisions as we’ve gotten.

A New Approach Has the Chicago Bears Passing on Players, Thrift Shopping

3-Tech Foul

Larry Ogunjobi was supposed to be Ryan Poles’ ‘big-ticket’ free-agent signing this cycle. He was also supposed to be a centerpiece of new Bears head coach Matt Eberflus’ defense. As Poles put it, his violent, penetrating style of play was just what the Bears were looking for as they made the transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3.

A failed physical prevented that from happening. The Bears reneged on the $40.5 million dollar deal with more than $26 million in guarantees that they had offered to the former Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals lineman.

The reaction to Ogubjobi’s signing ranged from content to confusion. Why would they be allocating such resources to the side of the ball that doesn’t have Justin Fields?

Once news broke of the deal falling through, all hell broke loose.

Many were quick to shine a negative light on the Bears new brain trust. But the fact is that this is a fairly common occurrence in the NFL. Players fail physicals and deals fall through all of the time often, though not always, at the same time.

Poles quickly pivoted to Justin Jones, formerly of the Las Angeles Chargers. Jones has dealt with injuries too but comes in on a far more palatable two-year, $12 million deal. But many were still vexed that they expected someone coming off of foot surgery in January to pass a physical. 

But the deal was still pending. And, as has been a big topic following the Deshaun Watson trade to the Cleveland Browns, no deals are done until they are done.

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Alternative Route

The Bears could have followed a similar path to that of Poles’ predecessor in Ryan Pace. His first big free agent signing was Pernell McPhee. The pass rusher was coming off of an encouraging season with the Baltimore Ravens. His Bears tenure was marred by injuries after signing a five-year, $38.75 million deal.

After multiple stints on the PUP list, he was cut after three seasons.

The move itself was bad enough. But it foreshadowed a pattern of Pace locking in on “his guy” often resulting in overpays.

What often made matters worse was Pace’s inability to admit defeat. He would then further compound the issue with defiance when questioned, as rarely as that was. Poles got out in front of this one, acknowledging the sequence of events leading to the deal falling apart.

We should be able to respect both the aggressiveness to identify a player they felt could be a key cog in the machine as well as the quick pivot once they had all of the pertinent information. There also remains the possibility that they could still try to work something out with Ogunjobi. Perhaps he does ultimately sign on a lesser deal further down the road.

What we don’t want to see is this bleed into the draft as it did with Pace. He drafted Kevin White seventh-overall only to see him fail because of injuries (not really Pace’s fault), traded up for Mitchell Trubisky, and signed Robert Quinn to a massive deal despite him apparently being injured.

That last one worked out in the end. Quinn set a new franchise single-season sack record. But the pattern of overvaluing his own opinion ultimately sunk Pace.

So far, it doesn’t seem as though Poles has any interest in going down that path.

“I’ve been on the winning side, and I’m going to stay on the winning side.” – Lucas Patrick via Mark Grote/WSCR

Inside-Out

The focus on improving in the trenches has been felt on both sides of the ball. They signed Green Bay Packers lineman Lucas Patrick (2-yrs, $8M) to be their new center. Patrick has started 28-of-33 games in the last two seasons and brings with him the kind of athleticism and disposition Poles identified as key when he was hired.

The Patrick signing helps the Bears address a major problem area. Sam Mustipher graded out as their worst starting offensive lineman last season outside of rookie Teven Jenkins who didn’t have a training camp.

They’ve also gone about addressing the lack of depth at wide receivers signing Byron Pringle from the Kansas City Chiefs and Equanimeous St. Brown from the Green Bay Packers each to one-year pacts.

Neither player is more than depth but they are quality depth.

That is something the Bears have not had. The likes of Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin represented upgrades to the group coming into last season. They moved on from 2018 second-round pick Anthony Miller prior to the last campaign, trading him to the Houston Texans for a fifth-round pick in next month’s NFL Draft.

Defensively, they’ve added Nicholas Morrow to the linebacking corps. He figures to start next to Roquan Smith next season. But there are still glaring holes in a secondary that surrendered the 30th most passing yards but seventh-most passing touchdowns last season.

Even with Jones, their defense ranked 24th against the rush so there is a lot of work yet to do on that side as well. But they have taken an inside-out approach to build out this roster.

Will Chicago Bears Approach Pay Off?

It is still too early in the process to determine whether or not the Bears are doing things better this way as opposed to how they did things under Pace. There will be another wave or two in free agency and the draft. But the processes are correct and there is a level of transparency that breeds accountability; something the previous regime often shied away from. In the end, though, it still has to bring about positive results.

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