Efficiency over exclamation points for Bears and NFC North


Efficiency over exclamation points for Bears and NFC North

Even after Alshon Jeffery’s signing chopped $14.6 million from the Bears’ available salary cap space, they still had the seventh-highest amount available entering Wednesday’s start of free agency (approximately $46 million).

Going by the average salaries dished out in the multi-year deals they gave Danny Trevathan, Bobby Massie and Tracy Porter, plus the one-year agreements with Jacquizz Rodgers and Nick Becton, figure there’s still somewhere in the range of $26 million remaining.  They might still like to add a tight end, a defensive end and a defensive back, and one of their reported targets up front, New England’s Akiem Hicks, remained unsigned as of late Monday night.  Also unsigned were two of their own free agents of note who could be candidates to return: tight end Zach Miller and defensive end Jarvis Jenkins.  The latter doesn’t figure to be back if they finalize something with Hicks.  Colts tight end Coby Fleener signed with the Saints (five years, $36 million), while the Chargers’ Ladarius Green landed in Pittsburgh (four years, $20 million).  So if Martellus Bennett’s future here is short, and Miller is seeking comparable money to what was set Wednesday, Ryan Pace will have to decide whether five-to-seven million dollars annually for Miller is worth it for a guy who was pretty fragile until last season.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

No one in the NFC North went on any wilder a spending spree than the Bears, but the Vikings had a comparable opening day.  They brought in nasty veteran guard Alex Boone, while also re-upping with their own guard, Mike Harris, who started 16 games on the right side.  They also signed Michael Griffin away from Tennessee, where he had 101 tackles in 2015, and figures to team with Harrison Smith at safety while sending Andrew Sendejo to a backup role again.

The Lions had a slightly quieter day, regaining some size at wideout following Calvin Johnson’s retirement in 6'2" Marvin Jones, who had 65 catches and four touchdowns for the Bengals opposite A.J. Green.  They also turned back to 32-year-old Haloti Ngata to anchor the middle of their defensive line.  They did, though, lose a talented special teamer to Miami in Isa Abdul-Quddus.  Veteran defenders James Ihedigbo, Stephen Tulloch and Tahir Whitehead remained on the market heading into free agency’s first night.

And then there’s the Packers.  All you need to know is GM Ted Thompson spent the day at Wisconsin’s Pro Day.  They’ve built their success through the draft and it looks like they’ll continue to do so, despite Julius Peppers’ unsuccessful pitch to former Bears teammate Matt Forte.  Some of their key defenders – Casey Hayward, Mike Neal, and B.J. Raji – were still looking for takers heading into Day Two.

Ryan Pace ranked among bottom-third of NFL general managers

Ryan Pace ranked among bottom-third of NFL general managers

Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace is having what many believe is his best offseason since taking the job in 2015, but after three seasons and only 14 wins, he needs a big year in 2018 to justify the confidence ownership has in him. 

According to a recent breakdown of all 32 general managers, Pace ranks among the worst decision-makers in the league.

No. 23: Ryan Pace, Chicago Bears

There’s only so much you can accomplish in one spring. The problem is that Pace let himself accumulate so many needs to begin with. He needs Trubisky and Nagy to springboard a fourth-year turnaround. 

The rankings didn't include six new GM hires, which makes Pace's positioning even more troubling.

Even though the Bears haven't seen wins on the field, Pace has done a solid job through three draft classes and appears to have the right coaching staff in place. His first hire, John Fox, was a calculated move by a rookie general manager to have an experienced football guy to lean on. Now, several offseasons later, the team is starting to take on his identity.

Despite all the talent Pace has added through the draft and the slow but steady transformation of the team's overall culture, it's a win-now business and if his blueprint doesn't start producing more wins than losses, it will be hard to justify more time and patience for his plan to develop.

Is Danny Trevathan's Bears' future in doubt after NFL Draft? 'It depends on how you look at it'

Is Danny Trevathan's Bears' future in doubt after NFL Draft? 'It depends on how you look at it'

The NFL Draft is a necessary evil if you’re a veteran player, especially if your team just drafted two players at the position you play and your contract doesn’t provide much job security beyond the upcoming season. 

That’s the spot Danny Trevathan is in now. The Bears nabbed Roquan Smith with the eighth overall pick in April's NFL Draft, then used their fourth-round selection on Joel Iyiegbuniwe. Both players are inside linebackers; the Bears could net $6.4 million in cap savings if they release Trevathan following the 2018 season. 

Trevathan, though, isn’t approaching 2018 like the writing is on the wall for it to be his final year in Chicago. 

“It depends on how you look at it,” Trevathan said. “For me, it is what it is, (Smith’s) a good player and he’s going to help us out on defense. You just want to go ahead and do your job and keep working. He’s a good player, just like we’ve all got some good players out here. But he’s … we got the right guy to fit our defense. He’s working his tail off and he fits in with our linebacker group.”

That Trevathan answered a question about the decision to draft Smith, specifically, in that manner isn’t surprising. The 28-year-old is one of the most respected leaders in the Bears locker room, the kind of guy who sets the tone for the rest of the defense (in other words: Exactly what you want out of a veteran inside linebacker). Trevathan offered plenty of praise for Smith not only as a player, but for how he’s approached his first few practices wearing a Bears helmet. 

“He's quick, instinctive, learns well,” Trevathan said. “He's just out here trying to get better. That's what I like about him. He's calling the call sheets out. He's learning the plays. That's what you want in him. You want him to come out here and be humble. You want him to work hard. I see that in his eyes, coming out here. It's a lot of lights on him. It's a lot of attention on him. But he's finding himself out here, coming out here and trying to make some plays.”

The reality, though, is that Smith may not be the one to take Trevathan’s job, if it comes to that. The best-case outlook for Iyiegbuniwe would appear to be that the Bears found a fourth-round steal who can pair with Smith as Vic Fangio’s long-term inside linebacking tandem. If “Iggy” proves to be that guy, then Trevathan could indeed find his place in Chicago in jeopardy. 

And, too, even if Iyiegbuniwe doesn’t quickly develop into a starting-caliber player, the Bears could still decide to cut ties with Trevathan if Smith proves to be elite. 

The best way for Trevathan to make sure he’s still here in a year, though, is to play a full 16-game season — something he hasn’t done since 2013, and he's missed 11 games since signing a four-year deal in 2016. 

But when Trevathan is on the field, his speed and physicality are a critical component to the Bears’ success. That won't change in 2018, at the least. 

"(He has) that veteran experience," coach Matt Nagy said. "We went against Danny when I was in Kansas City and he was at Denver so we always knew what kind of player he was. He has the demeanor to him, a focus, he's very serious when he's out there on the field and he'll have a great mentorship, he'll be a great mentor for Roquan."