As the NFL’s back-channel conversations move out of the shadows and take on the substance of actual numbers, the intentions of the Bears will take some sort of shape which may lack the fireworks of previous offseasons for GM Ryan Pace. But for a franchise suddenly vaulted into a place where Super Bowl odds are at least mildly interesting vs. laughable, even minor moves project to have major effects on the Bears’ efforts to establish that Matt Nagy and a first NFC North division title in nearly a decade were more than one-year wonders.
The reason: The playoff stumble against Philadelphia notwithstanding, the Bears are standing squarely in front of their window of opportunity and it’s wide, wide open. Pace effectively made that statement last offseason when he went all-in on Khalil Mack for his defense in much the same fashion as he had for what he believed to be a franchise quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky.
Meaning: A young Bears team is quite apt to find its targeted fixes among veterans on one-year deals (a tradition with Pace) rather than investing a huge portion of its available cap capital in top-tier, ascending talents.
In that context, and because every single available player is on the so-called “radar” of every single NFL personnel establishment, this CORNER of NBC Sports Chicago’s coverage is positing a short list of priority moves with reasonable chances of becoming final when contracts can be signed beginning Wednesday afternoon:
Running back: Mark Ingram and ...
Set Jordan Howard aside for the moment. The Bears weren’t willing to move him last year without a viable replacement alternative and they won’t now. The last thing Pace/Nagy want to risk is a backslide.
The popular usual suspects among attractive, younger options are Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, Tevin Coleman out of Atlanta and T.J. Yeldon in Jacksonville. But all will be expensive and looking for a financial commitment.
Ingram was drafted by New Orleans in 2011, when Pace was the Saints’ director of pro scouting. The tailback is 29 and has been largely supplanted over the past two seasons by Alvin Kamara as the featured back in a very good New Orleans offense.
Two significants: He is coming off a contract in the $3.5 million range, and he is durable, has averaged no less than 4.3 ypc in any of the past six years and nearly 41 receptions over the past five, and is coming off a “recovery” year marked by missing the first four games with a PED suspension.
But there’s a second part of the Ingram “plan:” Besides solving the immediate need for an upgrade at running back, and likely at an affordable, shorter-term price, it also takes any pressure off the draft. Pace is then more than free to add a running back in the fourth or fifth round, the ones where he found Howard, Tarik Cohen and Jeremy Langford in successive drafts.
Safety: Brian Poole
Word around is that Adrian Amos has been after a contract in the range of $10 million-per. That is not going to happen in Chicago. And the Bears have what one NFL observer termed a “generational talent” in Eddie Jackson, who is entering his third year and becomes the early favorite to be the priority re-signing after this year.
Poole (5-10, 211 pounds) is a physical box safety who has worked at safety, cornerback, linebacker and even defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons. He is a tier below an Earl Thomas, Landon Collins and a handful of others in a cluttered safety market but is perhaps the best fit in terms of skillset (3 INT’s last season) and price.
Slot CB: Bryce Callahan
For all of the pub swirling around the Bears’ incumbent nickel corner, Callahan has one scratch on the paint: health. He has not played 16 games in any of his four seasons because of a succession of injuries in the Alshon Jeffery tradition: three games to a broken foot last year, four in 2017 to injury, several to a hamstring in 2016 and three to a quad in 2015.
Talent is not an issue, but teams’ willingness to pay max money over multiple years is problematic, and Callahan may be one of a group of disappointed’s that result every year when dollars and years begin being discussed. The Bears want him in their defense but haven’t been willing to set the market. It may bring him back to them.