BOCA RATON, Fla. — Whenever a draft selection is made or a free agent signed, it is invariably presented afterwards as exactly the player the team had targeted and wanted all along. So it was no surprise that GM Ryan Pace stated on Tuesday during the NFL owners meetings that, “We got the guys we were targeting.”
Typical. What you would expect him to say about linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and tackle Bobby Massie, their signings from other teams in 2016 free agency.
Except that something about these signings point to Pace being quite honest that these WERE in fact the targeted guys at the targeted need areas (free agency being precisely where you SHOULD opt for need rather than best-available, like in the draft).
Here’s the something, and it has left the Bears in very good shape roster- and salary cap-wise:
Notice when these signings occurred: Trevathan, Mar. 9, day one of free agency. Massie, Mar. 9, day one of free agency. Freeman, Mar. 12, day three of free agency. Hicks, Mar. 13, day four of free agency.
At the top of the list of exhibits: re-sign cornerback Tracy Porter Mar. 9, day one of free agency. More on that one in a moment.
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What the pattern says is that the Bears stayed out of the hysteria tsunami that produced jaw-dropping contracts for good-not-great players, yet at the same time moved almost immediately on certain players. And they got those without rupturing their budget. In other words, they really DID get guys they had high on position lists and still stayed out of cap hell.
“There were some guys [they’d had highly rated],” Pace said. “I just think you’ve got to be smart with it because if you put all your eggs in that basket, it’s going to be hard for that guy to live up to that contract. What if he gets hurt? There’s all these scenarios that can happen. I’ve said this before: I like how we kind of spread it out a little bit. And I think it reduces your risk a little bit.
“We have, ‘here’s Option A, B and C. First wave, first hour of free agency, things are going fast. I think that’s when I realize how disciplined we have to be with our plan and how much confidence we’ve got to have in our plan.”
The Porter Case Study
The Bears had designs on former Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins. The bidding exploded to $52.5 million over five seasons, and Jenkins signed on Mar. 9 with the New York Giants.
Later that same day, the Bears struck the deal with Porter: three years, $12 million. Clearly the Bears had Porter, their best defensive back in 2015, as a priority. They didn’t shop around after the bidding for Jenkins rose to “Stupid,” and went for one of their own at an affordable price.
What does that mean overall? Well, a growing expectation was that the Bears were not going to be able to afford to keep rush linebacker Lamarr Houston at his $6 million for 2016. All of a sudden, Porter is done and Houston, the team’s sack leader last season, isn’t a cap casualty.
“I was proud of the way we stuck to that,” Pace said. “So we were very confident where, ‘Hey, this is getting a little out of control here.’ Let’s go on to another option, or let’s consider another option that’s a better value for us.”