Most of the mystery money in the shape of cap space from contract restructures for Eddie Goldman and Khalil Mack is still lying somewhere in a Halas Hall corner, waiting…just…waiting, waiting presumably for some roster purpose yet unseen.
An offhand guess is that general manager Ryan Pace has marshalled funds, borrowed from the future, anticipating a cut or player coming free elsewhere in the NFL sometime before Opening Day, and Pace will have the Bears positioned to strike. In 2016, that cut (in September, by Green Bay) was guard Josh Sitton.
In 2017 it was an August contract extension for left tackle Charles Leno. Last year it was the September trade for Khalil Mack, accompanied by the then-largest contract ever given to a defensive player.
In the meantime, though, the Bears went about their business well below the level of roster pyrotechnics in places like Baltimore (RB Mark Ingram, S Earl Thomas), Cleveland (WR Odell Beckham Jr., DT Sheldon Richardson, DE Olivier Vernon), Oakland (WR Antonio Brown, OT Trent Brown, S Lamarcus Joyner), WR Tyrell Williams), San Francisco (LB Kwon Alexander, DE Dee Ford, Tevin Coleman) and the Jets (RB Le’Veon Bell, LB C.J. Mosley).
A qualifier here is that of all those big-ticket teams, only the Ravens were in the 2018 postseason, and a one-and-done like the Bears at that.
But the question isn’t necessarily how much or on whom, but whether or not the Bears improved, because “you’re either getting worse and you’re getting better,” as Matt Nagy said in the postseason wrapup. They already have a young roster with an assemblage of rising players from whom performance jumps are expected, either from straight development or from second years in an offensive system.
And the conclusion from the signings of the week – S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, RB Mike Davis, C/G Ted Larsen, WR/RB/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, CB Buster Skrine – is that the Bears have in fact gotten better.
Were bigger options available? Of course. Landon Collins instead of Clinton-Dix? Davis or Bell? Larsen or Mike Iupati? Patterson or AB?
Clinton-Dix - The Bears had a not insignificant offer of an extension on the table for Adrian Amos last offseason and looked to have it done. Amos ultimately decided against signing and now he’s in Green Bay. But while Amos carries the better rep and perception, Clinton-Dix rates an edge in coverage, and Bears opponents threw on 61 percent of their snaps in 2018. Clinton-Dix has not missed a game in five seasons and had as many interceptions (three) in 2018 as Amos has had in four full NFL seasons.
Chuck Pagano is mildly unique in that he occasionally employs rotations in his secondaries. The Bears may not be done shopping for defensive backs, and Bryce Callahan has not gotten the play that was widely expected.
Davis - The career backup is not an upgrade from Jordan Howard. But he is from Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell, and that’s the apples-to-apples comparison.
Larsen - Eric Kush served as fill for a couple seasons but Larsen has been a starting center and guard, and is a size and performance upgrade over Kush or Bryan Witzmann behind James Daniels and Kyle Long.
Patterson - The NFL’s worst kickoff return team just got exponentially better, and neither Tarik Cohen nor Anthony Miller need be exposed back there anymore. With his 7.9 yards per carry and average of 31 catches per season, he should fit in just fine with an offense that throws touchdown passes to offensive tackles, hands off to defensive tackles for scores and fields a cluster of five defensive linemen in goal-line skill positions.
Skrine - A Callahan return shouldn’t be ruled out until he signs elsewhere, but in the meantime, Skrine does not represent a precipitous falloff in sub packages. Skrine has interceptions in five of the past six seasons and at least a partial sack in the last three.
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