Every year around this time, NFL teams welcome their priority free agents to their new cities, and those free agents talk about how excited they are to be in their new city with their new team. It’s pretty standard stuff — of course everyone’s in a good mood after signing an eight-figure contract that gives them or adds to generational wealth.
But something felt different about how the five players the Bears introduced on Thursday at Halas Hall talked about their new team. These weren’t general platitudes about being happy to be here. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, Chase Daniel and Cody Parkey all, in one way or another, easily offered specifics to their excitement. And for each player, those specifics had a common thread: Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky.
“It was a good fit for me,” Robinson said. “When you look at the possible situations, once they hired coach Nagy, … You kind of see the offense that he runs, you know how everything gets run with the quarterback situation, being close to home, there were a lot of factors that played in my favor.”
“I had a few interests in free agency but about the Bears it was just Nagy’s offense, just his creativity and the things that he did when he was with the Chiefs,” Gabriel said. “I feel like for me it was a no-brainer, and coming from with Tyreek Hill and the things that he did with him to move him around and get him open, it was a no-brainer for me.”
“(Trubisky) did some really good things,” Daniel said. “I’m excited to dive in with him deeper and get started with him. From everything I’ve heard, everyone I’ve seen he’s a really great guy. So I’m ready to work with him.”
Ryan Pace has previously tried to swing for the fences in free agency, only to come up with some big whiffs. Cornerback A.J. Bouye turned down more money from the Bears a year ago to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, for example. And his instinct proved to be right: The Jaguars went to the AFC Championship game, while the Bears languished in the basement of the NFC North and fired their coach on New Year’s Day.
But the Bears proved to be a much better destination for free agents this time around, with a young, relatable head coach in place and a developing, well-thought-of quarterback running the offense. The money is important, but if these guys were getting relatively similar offers, that the Bears were able to effectively sell their upside and stability is important.
Why else would Burton, a guy who threw one of the most famous touchdowns in Super Bowl history and has the ring to show for it, leave for a team that’s lost 10 or more games in each of the last four seasons?
“You can never underestimate how important youth is and guys who are willing to learn and willing to get better,” Burton said. The oldest member of the Bears’ offense, it’s worth noting, is Daniel:
No problem…Us old(er) guys have to stick together!! https://t.co/OMp9BtwquO— Chase Daniel (@ChaseDaniel) March 15, 2018
It’s one thing to take the money, and it’s another thing to truly want to be with a team for reasons more than dollar signs. The feeling at Halas Hall today was that these players wanted to be here not just because of the money, but because they genuinely can see a winning future on the horizon.
And there’s another layer to this, too: Before Pace or any of the players filed into the media room, almost the entire Bears’ offensive coaching staff, as well as Nagy and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, grabbed seats along the wall. That shouldn’t be a lost note, especially as Pace talked up how good the communication has been between the front office, scouts and coaching staff in this process.
“One thing that was good this year was our alignment with coaches and just feeling that,” Pace said. “Matt does an unbelievable job of painting a vision for the player and then it’s up to us to go find those guys with our coaching staff, and I feel very aligned in that right now and excited about this.
“… When we’re all united, our coaches and our scouts in our vision for the player and how we feel about the player, let’s go get that guy and give it our best shot. And we did that. If you would’ve told me two days ago that, hey, I’d be coming here talking about these five players, we all would’ve taken that. The whole building’s excited right now.”
We’ll see if this excitement turns into wins — which have been scarce around these parts — come September. The most important factor in determining how successful the Bears will be in 2018 will be the play of Trubisky. But these five players are all here to help Trubisky grow, and they wouldn’t have signed here had they not had confidence in that growth under Nagy’s watch.
“(Nagy’s a) smooth dude, man,” Gabriel said. “I like his swag a little bit. It’s nice. Just his offensive mind. Meeting him the first time, it felt like I knew him for a long time, not just meeting him for the first time. I feel like we’re going to gel together and create a lot of things.
“… I looked up a few of (Trubisky’s) highlights on YouTube as well, and the guy can sling it, man and when we signed the other day, the fist thing I asked him was ‘How’s your deep ball?’ So I’m excited to be with him and excited to get in and play with him.”