This week will mark Ryan Pace’s first true opportunity to re-shape a Bears roster that went 12-4 and won the NFC North, a task made more difficult by the meager $16.75 million in cap space with which he has to work. While the Bears may not make nearly as much noise in free agency as they did a year ago, there still are plenty of intriguing storylines to follow over the next few days:
 
1. Will Jordan Howard be traded?
 
It would seem unlikely the Bears would deal Howard without a replacement lined up, though ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported last week the team is having ongoing discussions about trading its leading rusher in each of the last three seasons. Perhaps that means the Bears work out a deal for someone like Jacksonville’s T.J. Yeldon or New Orleans’ Mark Ingram, and then deal Howard on Wednesday when the new league year begins, if they are to trade him. 
 
Howard’s production slipped in 2018, with the 24-year-old averaging 3.7 yards per carry and never really looking like a good fit in Matt Nagy’s offense. Howard, though, remains a good running back and is only one season removed from coming off a two-year stretch in which he rushed for 2,435 yards. If the Bears can save about $2 million in cap space and acquire a Day 3 draft pick for Howard, a trade would make sense, presuming they re-invest that money into a free agent running back while also drafting someone to add to the depth chart. 
 
Conversely, the Bears don’t have to trade Howard — hanging on to him as a reliable short-yardage/goal line option would, too, make sense. But the Bears don’t appear likely to enter 2019 with Howard as their No. 1 running back, whether he’s on the team or not. 
 
2. Where does Adrian Amos wind up?
 
Per a report on Sunday, there’s a “robust market” developing for Amos, which could price him out of a return to Chicago. Amos is a solid, reliable player who teamed up well with Eddie Jackson over the last two years, but a deep safety market means the Bears would have other (and cheaper) options to replace the 2015 fifth-round draft pick. 
 
One line of thinking on Amos is that a loaded marketplace of safeties — led by Earl Thomas, Landon Collins and Tyrann Mathieu — could drive his price down. But if it doesn’t, the Bears may be happy to move on from him and sign someone else, and then also potentially use a draft pick on a safety as well. 
 
3. What about Bryce Callahan?
 
Callahan’s market will be fascinating to watch develop. The increased usage of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) means defenses are in sub packages (with at least five defensive backs) frequently, often more than they’re in base. For example: Of the 676 defensive snaps Callahan played in 2018, 610 were as a slot corner and 33 were as a box defender per Pro Football Focus. Those 643 snaps represent 57 percent of the Bears’ total defensive snaps, and that’s with Callahan missing 2018’s final three and a half games.
 
The point being: A slot corner is, nowadays, essentially a starting corner.  
 
Callahan, too, has proven to be one of the league’s better slot cornerbacks over the last two years. Opposing quarterbacks had an 80.5 passer rating when targeting Callahan last year, and he had two interceptions, five pass break-ups, two sacks and 13 total pressures in 2018. Those numbers represent the kind of versatile playmaking ability Callahan can bring to a defense. 
 
But Callahan has dealt with injuries every year of his four-year career, including the season-ending foot injury he suffered in 2018’s Week 14. Those durability concerns could affect his price, and could give the Bears an advantage as he hits the open market as no team will know his medicals better than they do. 
 
There also exists a school of thought that slot corner production is, to an extent, predicated on the play of a defense as a whole. Sherrick McManis’ solid play while filling in for an injured Callahan on the NFL’s best defense last year is a point in favor of this line of thinking. 
 
So all those reasons will make figuring out Callahan’s market one of the most interesting storylines of the week. 
 
4. Are the Bears in on any big-name free agents?
 
The short answer: Probably not. While the Bears could create more cap room by converting some of Khalil Mack’s 2019 salary into a signing bonus, or signing Chase Daniel/Danny Trevathan to a contract extension, those would have impacts on the team’s cap space in 2020 and beyond — which is also when Mitch Trubisky will carry a significantly pricier cap hit. 
 
But perhaps the market doesn’t develop for Landon Collins, the former New York Giants safety who could be an excellent in-the-box pairing with his rangy former Alabama teammate, Eddie Jackson. Or perhaps the Bears, coming off a 12-4 season with the reigning coach of the year, could convince one of the top free agents or biggest names in this year’s pool to take a short-term deal to chase a ring in Chicago. 
 
Again, it’s not especially likely. But as we’ve seen with Pace in the past, don’t rule anything out. 
 
5. What does the rest of the NFC North do?
 
Do the Green Bay Packers have any interest in Le’Veon Bell? Are the Minnesota Vikings able to improve an offense line that was a weakness in 2018? Will the Detroit Lions use their loads of cap space on a top free agent?
 
There’s plenty to watch this week around the NFC North, especially as the Packers have around $34 million and the Lions have about $31 million in cap space. The Vikings only have a little over $4 million in cap space and may not have the wiggle room to be active in free agency. 
 
Even if it turns out the Bears aren’t active in the coming days, expect their counterparts in the NFC North to be.