Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the Chicago Bears, who posted a 5-11 record in 2017 and have since hired a new staff that includes former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy as head coach.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Mike Glennon, QB: $16,000,000
  2. Akiem Hicks, DE: $9,600,000
  3. Kyle Long, G: $8,848,158
  4. Josh Sitton, G: $8,666,668
  5. Pernell McPhee, LB: $8,075,000
  6. Danny Trevathan, LB: $7,150,000
  7. Mitch Trubisky, QB: $6,598,281
  8. Dion Sims, TE: $6,333,333
  9. Bobby Massie, T: $6,100,000
  10. Charles Leno, T: $5,900,000

Other:

  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $42,025,379
  • Eighth pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for WR Kevin White

Three Needs:

1) Add multiple receiving threats: Only two players topped 25 receptions for the Bears a season ago. One was Kendall Wright, who led Chicago in both catches (59) and yards (614) but is now an unrestricted free agent. The other was a rookie running back Tarik Cohen.

The Bears fielded — by far — the worst pass-catching unit the league, making No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky‘s rookie campaign all the more difficult. Luckily, Chicago has the cap space and draft capital to revive its receiving corps under new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Finding roster space won’t be a problem, either, as both Wright and Dontrelle Inman are unrestricted free agents, Josh Bellamy is a restricted free agent, Kevin White and Cameron Meredith are coming off injury (Meredith is an RFA, too), while Markus Wheaton — who managed three receptions while earning $6MM in 2017 — will likely be released.

Even if we assume Bellamy, White, and Meredith will all return and be healthy in 2018, the Bears still need to bring in two or three new wide receivers over the next few months. Chicago currently ranks 12th in available cap space, but the club will almost certainly gain $11.5MM in room (and thus move to eighth in the cap space rankings) by trading or releasing quarterback Mike Glennon. As such, free agency should be the first avenue for the Bears as they seek to improve on their pass-catchers.

Chicago should compete at the top of the market, and that means the team’s initial calls should go to Jarvis Landry, Sammy Watkins, and a rehabbing Allen Robinson. Landry, notably, could potentially be targeting a Davante Adams-esque contract ($14MM annual salary, $30MM guarantees), which is a hefty total for a slot receiver. New head coach Matt Nagy didn’t use a typical slot receiver in Kansas City, so it’s unclear if Landry would be worth the deal he’s seeking. Robinson, meanwhile, should still generate a good deal of interest as he recovers from a torn ACL, but he will come at a much cheaper rate than Landry (and possibly on a one-year pact).

It’s not the end of the world if the Bears fail to land one of those aforementioned wideouts, but if they do, they need to hit the second tier of free agent receivers, a list that includes Paul Richardson, Terrelle Pryor, Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, John Brown, Mike Wallace, Danny Amendola, Donte Moncrief, and Brice Butler. Given his youth (age-25), Richardson is probably the only WR listed here that could eventually evolve into a No. 1 option, but that also means he’ll require a larger deal. Butler could be a particularly interesting, and Chicago could give him a clear chance to become a starter.

Even after (hopefully) adding an upper-tier pass-catcher, the Bears still need to take a few dart throws at low-cost options. Albert Wilson has spent his entire career working under Nagy in Kansas City, and though he’s never topped 45 receptions, he could theoretically offer scheme familiarity in Chicago. Jeremy Maclin could potentially be released by the Ravens later this year, and though he’ll be 30 years old when the season gets underway, he could be another target for the Bears given his time with Nagy in both Philadelphia and Kansas City. And Josh Huff enjoyed success under Helfrich at Oregon, so if he’s cut by the Saints in the near future, he could make for a worthwhile flyer.

After inking a few free agent wideouts, Chicago can still use the draft to supplement their offensive weaponry. The most obvious choice — and the only wide receiver worth selecting with a top-10 pick — will be Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, who totaled 2,781 yards and 19 touchdowns over three seasons with the Crimson Tide. Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN.com (Insider subscription required) sent Ridley to the Bears in his first mock draft of the year, while Luke Easterling of USA Today calls Ridley a “sharp route-runner” and a “constant threat to beat defenses over the top.”

Of course, the Bears have enough needs that their first-round pick won’t necessarily be used on a wide receiver. If that’s the case, Chicago could target player such as SMU’s Courtland Sutton (an excellent size weapon at 6’4″), Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk (whom Matt Miller of Bleacher Report calls the best slot receiver in the draft), or Indiana’s Simmie Cobbs. The Bears don’t currently own a third-round pick thanks to the Trubisky trade, so they’ll likely need to secure a wideout in the first two rounds.

2) Fill holes at cornerback: On the whole, the Bears’ passing defense was acceptable under coordinator Vic Fangio, as the unit ranked 14th in DVOA. The only problem? Chicago’s top two cornerbacks — Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara, each of whom played at least 80% of the Bears’ defensive snaps — are scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency in March, meaning the club could potentially have to find two new starters.

Whether or not the Bears can, or should, re-sign either Fuller or Amukamara depends entirely on asking price. Amukamara is still only 28 years old, but the NFL free agent market has deemed him worthy of only a one-year contract in each of the past two offseasons. Fuller, meanwhile, is a former first-round pick coming off the best season of his career, but he missed the entirety of the 2016 season with injury and has been up-and-down in his other NFL campaigns.

I’ll assume Chicago agrees to bring back only one of Fuller or Amukamara, meaning the team will need at least more corner. Part of Fangio’s appeal — and why the Bears fought so hard to retain him — is that he can draw solid performances out of non-elite talents. Therefore, the Bears don’t need to search near the top of the free agent corners, meaning options such as Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler are probably off the table.

Even with a long list of available cornerbacks, Chicago probably still wants to stay relatively young on the defensive side of the ball, so players such as E.J. Gaines (age-25), Bashaud Breeland (25), Morris Claiborne (27), or Rashaan Melvin (28) could make sense for the Bears. Melvin, specifically, will be an interesting free agent case: he’s essentially the Case Keenum of defensive backs, a career journeyman who busted out with a breakout 2018 season (No. 17 CB per Pro Football Focus). His market value remains to be determined, but Chicago should make an effort to add him.

The Bears may also need to revamp their slot corner situation, although advanced metrics offer differing opinions on the quality of 2017 slot man Bryce Callahan‘s play. While PFF graded Callahan — who is a restricted free agent — as the No. 31 cornerback a season ago, Football Outsiders ranked Chicago 28th against opposing slot receivers. If the Bears decide to bring in a new slot cornerback, they could potentially target the likes of Patrick Robinson (Eagles), T.J. Carrie (Raiders), or Aaron Colvin (Jaguars), all of whom are coming off above-average campaigns.

There a few other cornerbacks who experienced little success in 2017 that could be of interest to the Bears. One is Tramaine Brock, who spent time in San Francisco with Fangio and current Chicago secondary coach Ed Donatell. Brock will be 30 years old next season and barely played with the Vikings last year, but he was a solid, full-time player from 2015-16. Meanwhile, the Saints’ Delvin Breaux was an excellent defensive back in 2015, but injuries have limited him to roughly 15% of the Saints’ snaps over the past two seasons. He’s a restricted free agent, so the Bears would either need to work out a trade with the Saints, hope that New Orleans non-tenders the 28-year-old Breaux, or sign him to an offer sheet.

3) Go young along the edge: The Bears ranked eighth in adjusted sack rate, 14th in sacks, and 15th in pressure rate last season without boasting a dominant edge rusher. That’s largely a testament to both Fangio’s ability as a schemer and the strength of Chicago’s defensive line (specifically interior lineman Akiem Hicks).

With the exception of 2016 first-round pick Leonard Floyd, the Bears’ edge rushers are getting old. Pernell McPhee is 29 and has dealt with numerous injuries, Willie Young is 32 and coming off a torn triceps, Sam Acho is a replacement level talent and 29 years old, and Lamarr Houstonis 30 and a free agent who likely won’t be back. Chicago needs another youthful edge presence to pair with Floyd in order to complete their defensive makeover.

The free agent market generally isn’t the place to find younger players, and the 2018 crop of available edge defenders is especially uninspiring. Kony Ealy, Alex Okafor, and Tank Carradine (a former 49er under Fangio) could all make sense for the Bears, but there are two other defenders who I’d target if I were Chicago general manager Ryan Pace: the Chargers’ Jeremiah Attaochu and the Redskins’ Trent Murphy.

Attaochu is only 25 years old and comes with a second-round pedigree, but he doesn’t have the overall track record that will make him a pricey addition this spring. He’s failed to top 20% playtime in three of his four seasons with the Chargers, as he’s been blocked by the likes of Melvin Ingram, Dwight Freeney, and Joey Bosa. But when he garnered 67% playtime in 2015, Attaochu managed six sacks, 21.5 pressures, and earned a 76.9 overall grade from PFF.

Murphy is a few years older than Attaochu, but he was actually selected three slots higher in that 2014 draft. He’d been a steadily improving player from 2014-16 before suffering a torn ACL that wiped out his entire 2017 campaign. That injury could potentially reduce Murphy’s cost and market, meaning the Bears could land him on the cheap. Murphy also has a four-game PED ban on his ledger.

In the draft, Chicago’s dream scenario would be North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb falling to the eighth overall pick, but not even the most devoted Bears fans think that is a realistic outcome. In fact, given the limited crop of collegiate edge rushers available in 2018, Chicago may be well-served waiting until Round 2 to target a pass-rusher. At that point, players such as Sam Hubbard (Ohio State), Clelin Ferrell (Clemson), or Marcus Davenport (UTSA) could come into play.

An interesting name to watch on Day 2 could be LSU’s Arden Key, who was once viewed as a top-10 prospect before leaving school, returning, and subsequently dealing with numerous injuries. “He’s built like Jason Taylor,” says Matt Miller of Bleacher Report (link via Ross Dellenger of the Advocate). “Exactly what you want a defensive end to look like.” If the Bears are willing to take a bit of risk, they could land a top-end talent for the price of a mid-rounder.

This article first appeared on Pro Football Rumors and was syndicated with permission.

PLAYERS: Mitch Trubisky
TEAMS: Chicago Bears
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