Bears

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Bears

When the Bears backed away from the escalating prices for free-agent cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore, and safety Tony Jefferson, it wasn't entirely about the money.
 
The Bears had the cash and cap space to sign more than one of the consensus top players at positions of critical need for the Bears. But GM Ryan Pace had laid out well before the negotiating and signing periods arrived that the Bears would be aggressive but not desperation-driven to the point of squandering money.
 
And Pace explained another crucial factor in the Bears' step back from the apparent best available options at those positions. It lies in the 2017 draft class, considered one of the best ever for cornerbacks and including safeties graded so highly that they were expected to be gone within the top 10 – possibly one to the Bears at No. 3.
 
The strategy is one of integration; a barren draft class likely would have ratcheted up the Bears' efforts on the players they passed on.
 
"You try to balance [draft possibilities] out a little bit," Pace said on Friday in advance of introductory press conferences for the newest four Bears free-agent signings. "Obviously we say we're taking best player available, but when you know that there's a position in the draft that's extremely deep, I think you can think, 'Hey, there might be a chance to address that there,' especially if something gets way out of whack, price-wise in free agency."
 
Something did get out of whack price-wise when contracts for Bouye and Gilmore guaranteed the cornerbacks money in the range of $40 million. The position commands a premium but elite money spent on non-elite talent is a mistake that extends beyond that one position.
 
"I said this before: you can recover from the player you didn't sign," Pace said. "You can't recover from the player you signed at the wrong price. We have to recognize that. I think if you look at most good teams around the league, they're usually built through the draft. There are a couple exceptions here or there, but we have to be mindful of that. and it's easy, guys, in these moments to say, 'let's do this extreme thing here.' I think a lot of times when you do that you're paying a player that amount of money, it's almost impossible for that player to reach those expectations."
 
Additionally, the Bears invested fourth-round picks at cornerback (Deiondre Hall) and safety (Deon Bush), both of whom figured prominently in plans before suffering injury setbacks. Pace and the Bears targeted a cornerback (Prince Amukamara) and safety (Quintin Demps) and are expected to return to the draft for top-end talent for their secondary.
 
"I think the best thing about free agency is if we can address some of our needs again. it opens up the draft for 'best player available,'" Pace said. "And then when we do that, it's just increasing out odds."