Free Agency 2016 began in earnest on Wednesday with myriad signings throughout the NFL. The Bears were active participants, not in terms of gross dollars, but in the more important measure, that of meaningful players.
Beyond the players themselves, the Bears finished Day One with four notable accomplishments:
1. Addressed specific needs
The offseason began with these among the Bears' needs: defensive line, inside linebacker, cornerback, right guard, backup running back, safety, tight end. Four of those seven received attention within the first 90 minutes of free agency:
Inside linebacker — signed Danny Trevathan from Denver Broncos for four years.
Cornerback — re-signed Tracy Porter, their best ’15 DB, for three years.
Right guard — signed RT Bobby Massie from Arizona for three years, freeing up Kyle Long for RG.
Backup running back/special teams — re-signed Jacquizz Rodgers for one year.
Defensive line, safety, tight end and other spots may yet be addressed. But reducing the needs list by four with some known quantities qualifies as a solid first two hours.
2. Improved draft options
The Bears under GM Ryan Pace are committed to the best-player-available philosophy. Typically they will have a smaller target group graded as worth a pick at No. 11 — their pick this year. Within that group of equals, need then becomes trump.
More than a few mock drafts over the past couple weeks would have the Bears at No. 11 grabbing an impact linebacker (UCLA’s Myles Jack, Ohio State’s Darron Lee, Alabama’s Reggie Ragland), tackle (Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley) or cornerback (Ohio State’s Eli Apple).
Any of those may very well be the Bears’ pick on Thursday, April 28. But the level of need in certain spots changed dramatically on Wednesday afternoon.
3. Groups upgraded
Moving Kyle Long to right tackle was not the choice of the two-time Pro Bowl right guard. It really wasn’t the Bears’ first choice either, just a step dictated by need after failures at right tackle. The Massie signing allows Long to move back to guard if that’s the choice. That projects to put a Pro Bowl guard alongside still-learning center Hroniss Grasu in a position group that functions optimally starting its five best, regardless of position.
“Kyle has some position flexibility,” GM Ryan Pace said last month at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I think with our offensive line when I look at that we’ve got some flexibility with some guys there. Our goal is to improve that position, but just acquire the best players and let it all sort out and start the best five.”
Massie was a member of an Arizona line tied for fourth in fewest sacks allowed (27) and No. 5 in sack rate. The addition of him at right tackle and Long at right guard upgrades protection as well as the run game to the right side of the offense. Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey just got better.
Trevathan was the leading tackler on an elite 3-4, Super Bowl defense last season. Regardless of what the Bears do with Shea McClellin at the other inside spot, the entire defense just got a boost from a player very familiar with the 3-4 scheme and John Fox, something few on the Bears defense were at this time last year.
4. Culture upgraded
The Bears made their hardest initial pushes on players with track records of winning: Trevathan, holder of two AFC Championship rings and a Super Bowl one from the 2015 season; Massie, starting right tackle for the Arizona Cardinals in three of the last four seasons, including last year through the loss to Carolina in the NFC Championship game.
Trevathan came into the NFL and into the Denver starting lineup under coach John Fox. He hits the ground running.