Bears

Bears entering free agency No. 3 under GM Ryan Pace with targets but also caution

Bears entering free agency No. 3 under GM Ryan Pace with targets but also caution

What's past is often prologue, and the past of Ryan Pace gives hints of how the Bears will behave in his third offseason as Bears general manager. But not necessarily clear hints.
 
Pace has moved quickly with starter-grade signings in his first two offseasons. He does come from a background primarily on the pro-personnel side of football operations, meaning he's spent much of his career scouting players already in the NFL. And arguably meaning that he should have more hits than misses with free agents.
 
"I think coming from New Orleans, my background had always been more in pro scouting," Pace said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. "So I've always been very comfortable in free agency and kind of understanding, ‘hey, free agency is dangerous. You're stepping through land mines, and you've got to be careful you don't step on the wrong one.'
 
"A lot of times, these guys are available for a reason, so you have to sort through that. But I'm comfortable in free agency because that's more of my background."
 
In that cautionary vein, Pace placed the requisite emphasis on responsible spending last week, noting that it is possible to recover from a player not signed but not always so with one signed at a wrong price, or one that simply cannot play not that he is no longer with a coach, team or system in which he'd flourished.
 
On whom, which positions and when will Pace and the organization spend first and most this offseason? Pace has never drafted a quarterback or signed a starting one, for instance; how will he navigate his first time in the most critical position in the sport?
 
The Bears have money to spend, some $52 million not including another $14 million once Jay Cutler's contract is terminated. But hosing down the NFL with money is not a viable course for a GM and coach seeking a dramatic reversal of a 9-23 first two years – even though the objective beginning with the start of the open-negotiating period on Tuesday and leading to the start of the signing period Thursday is to go hard after positions of need – quarterback, cornerback, safety, receiver – right away in free agency.
 
"Ideally with free agency we're addressing most of our needs, to allow the draft to be best player available, which increases your odds," Pace said. "We have [price] parameters set up for each guy, what we expect it's going to get to, and we have to know when we're going north of that number and when we might need to back away.
 
"Which can be hard, being honest, because you're competitive and you visualize certain guys being on your team. But once it goes north of the number, you've also got to be responsible and disciplined. It can be a challenge."
 
Pace's past
 
Under Pace the Bears have not been market-makers on the high end. Pace has gone after starters from winning teams, the Bears have paid them, and Pace's pattern is to make multiple moves early rather than sitting out the first wave of free agency.
 
His history:

2015 March 10 start
March 11 Sign LB Pernell McPhee, S Antrel Rolle, WR Eddie Royal
March 16 Sign G Vlad Ducasse
March 24 Sign DL Jarvis Jenkins, Ray McDonald

 

2016 March 9 start
March 9 Sign T Bobbie Massie, re-sign CB Tracy Porter, sign LB Danny Trevathan
March 12 Sign LB Jerrell Freeman
March 13 Sign DL Akiem Hicks
March 22 Sign TE Josh Hill to offer sheet (matched by Saints)

"Win now" mindset
 
The Bears under Pace have committed to the draft, with solid results from the 2016 class (Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, Jordan Howard) and, injuries notwithstanding, apparent promise in 2015 (Kevin White, Eddie Goldman, Hroniss Grasu).
 
But they signed solid veteran Brian Hoyer as Cutler's backup last season and drafted no quarterbacks for development for the second straight year, pointing to a strong belief that the team was expected to win sooner rather than later.
 
The strategy this week is expected to be adding a veteran starter at the top of the depth chart and commit to developing a young quarterback, presumably in the person of re-signed Connor Shaw and/or a draft pick. Whether that "veteran" turns out to be Hoyer, Jimmy Garoppolo, Mike Glennon, Kirk Cousins or a player to be discovered later will play out in the next few days.
 
Pace and the Bears also face a major financial decision with Alshon Jeffery, having opted against a second franchise tag and effectively letting market forces decide whether the veteran wide receiver is worth what he thinks he is, or what the Bears think. The two sides were some $5 million per year apart last year when the tag was applied. Jeffery is expected to command in the range $10 million per year this year after missing 11 games over the past two seasons.
 
Jeffery will be one of those situations Pace alluded to, with the Bears expected to drop out of any bidding once the price gets "north" of what they have set as his money parameters.
 
"Alshon is a fluid process as well," Pace said, "but whatever happens there, whether it's Alshon or whatever it is, we're going to be improving at that position."

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

Dion Sims is still here, which is the outcome he expected but perhaps wasn’t a slam dunk — at least to those outside the walls at Halas Hall. 

The Bears could’ve cut ties with Sims prior to March 16 and saved $5.666 million against the cap, quite a figure for a guy coming off a disappointing 2017 season (15 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown). But the Bears are sticking with Sims, even after splashing eight figures to land Trey Burton in free agency earlier this year. 

“In my mind, I thought I was coming back,” Sims said. “I signed to be here three years and that’s what I expect. But I understand how things go and my job is come out here and work hard every day and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove myself and just be a team guy.”

The Bears signed Sims to that three-year, $18 million contract 14 months ago viewing him as a rock-solid blocking tight end with some receiving upside. The receiving upside never materialized, and his blocking was uneven at times as the Bears’ offense slogged through a bleak 11-loss season. 

“The situation we were in, we weren’t — we could’ve done a better job of being successful,” Sims said. “Things didn’t go how we thought it would. We just had to pretty much try to figure out how to come together and build momentum into coming into this year. I just think there were a lot of things we could have done, but because of the circumstances we were limited a little bit. 

“… It was a lot of things going on. Guys hurt, situations — it was tough for us. We couldn’t figure it out, along with losing, that was a big part of it too.”

Sims will be given a fresh start in 2018, even as Adam Shaheen will be expected to compete to cut into Sims’ playing time at the “Y” tight end position this year. The other side of that thought: Shaheen won’t necessarily slide into being the Bears’ primary in-line tight end this year. 

Sims averaged 23 receptions, 222 yards and two touchdowns from 2014-2016; that might be a good starting point for his 2018 numbers, even if it would represent an improvement from 2017. More important, perhaps, is what Sims does as a run blocker — and that was the first thing Nagy mentioned when talking about how Sims fits into his offense. 

“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your Y-tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”

Bears logo ranked in bottom five of NFL in recent fan poll

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USA Today

Bears logo ranked in bottom five of NFL in recent fan poll

The Chicago Bears logo has withstood the test of time. In a sports era full of uniform changes, the Bears have maintained the classic orange 'C' for most of their nearly 100 years in Chicago.

Unfortunately, tradition doesn't equate to popularity.

Chicago's logo ranked 28th in the NFL, according to a recent poll of nearly 1,500 football fans. Only the Redskins (29), Bengals (30), Jets (31) and Browns (32) were worse.

I’m not sure how I feel about the underbite on the “C.” I can see how this would be a polarizing feature of this logo. I wish to an extent that it met up more evenly. I think they could have had the bottom meet up in a more even fashion and still maintained the sharpness, of the “C,” which I like. I don’t mind the point [ON THE BACK SIDE OF THE “C”], without the point it would be super boring. The point actually does add something from a design standpoint that makes it stand out.

Bears fans will take exception with the results. Wins have been hard to come by in recent seasons, but there's still something special about seeing the familiar navy and orange on Sundays in the fall. The 'C' is arguably the biggest part of that. Sure, it's not a complex design overflowing with colors, but it represents a long and storied history. 

It's interesting that each of the bottom five teams have struggled to string together winning seasons. On the flipside, teams like the Saints, Falcons, Rams, Vikings and Eagles rank in the top six. Maybe it's recency bias.

In the NFC North, the Lions rank No. 2 (which is a shocker) and the Packers are No. 20.