Defining expectations for the Bears’ 2017 free-agent signees
The Bears’ priorities have changed. Their schedule is now full of pro days and pre-draft visits. It’s draft season.
Money still will be spent. Even with a draft, general manager Ryan Pace has a roster to fill out.
But the bulk of the Bears’ work in free agency is done.
Here’s a look at what the expectations should be for the nine players the Bears have signed so far:
Expectation: Starting quarterback.
Drew Brees. Or how about Brock Osweiler, Elvis Grbac, Matt Flynn or Scott Mitchell? They were all in their late 20s when teams signed them to be starters.
Brees, of course, is Pace’s baseline for evaluating quarterbacks after the two spent nearly a decade together with the New Orleans Saints.
In many ways, Brees, a Super Bowl champion and future Hall of Famer, is an unfair standard to be held to, and Pace surely knows that. But Glennon still was signed to start. His average annual salary of $15 million ranks 22nd among NFL starters. He’ll be under pressure to play well in a big market. For better or worse, he’ll be compared to Jay Cutler.
Since the end of the season, Pace has laid out a number of characteristics he wants from his quarterback. To that end, Glennon should be judged by his decision-making (see interceptions and turnovers) and his ability to lead (see Cutler’s turbulent past).
That might seem like too much for Glennon, but the Bears will hold him to a high standard. Most of his guaranteed money is paid out in 2017; he needs to earn the second and third years of his deal.
Expectation: Starting cornerback.
Cooper fits Pace’s profile for ideal free-agent signees. Familiarity? Check. He briefly played for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell in 2013 with the San Francisco 49ers.
Chip on his shoulder? Check. The 49ers waived Cooper, a seventh-round pick out of Rutgers in 2013, as part of their final roster cuts before that season, and the Kansas City Chiefs claimed him.
Emerging player? Check. He excelled during his only season with the Arizona Cardinals last year. A Pro Bowl alternate, he led the team with four interceptions.
One concern is that Cooper was part of a Cardinals defense that was No. 2 in total defense and No. 4 against the pass.
All of the above makes him intriguing. The Bears aren’t financially committed to Cooper, 27, past the first year of his three-year deal, but the length of the contract still indicates how much they like him.
Expectation: Starting cornerback.
Contracts don’t determine playing time. In 2015, Alan Ball barely played for Fangio and Donatell despite having a one-year, $3 million contract. Tracy Porter earned their trust.
Amukamara, 27, got $7 million for 2017 and currently accounts for the fourth-highest salary-cap hit among Bears players. His contract makes it clear the Bears have penciled him in as one of their starters, but Fangio and Donatell will make sure he warrants extensive playing time. He needs to reward the Bears’ faith in him. His ability to stay healthy matters, too.
Expectation: Top-two receiver.
Wright, the 20th overall pick in 2012, fell out of favor with the Tennessee Titans and coach Mike Mularkey over the last two seasons, and his production reflected it.
But the Bears are hoping a one-year prove-it deal — a staple under Pace — and reuniting Wright with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains will turn him into a valuable addition. In 2013, he had 94 catches and 1,079 receiving yards when Loggains ran the Titans’ offense — this despite having Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jake Locker at quarterback.
Wright also will be expected to make up for any difficulties Kevin White experiences in his return from surgery on his left leg.
The odds appear stacked against Wright, especially since Glennon is an unknown. But don’t underestimate the motivation of playing out a one-year deal.
Expectation: Starting safety.
Demps isn’t the second coming of Antrel Rolle, who was 32 when the Bears signed him and coming off five consecutive seasons without missing a game.
Demps is 31, but he didn’t distinguish himself as a starter until the 2015 season with the Houston Texans. Last year, he set a career high with six interceptions.
In other words, Demps is emerging later in his career, whereas Rolle seemed destined to tail off. A spate of injuries did in Rolle in 2015.
The Bears protected themselves through Demps’ deal, which includes only $5 million guaranteed for 2017, plus per-game roster bonuses. But if he stays healthy, Demps might the play-maker the Bears were missing at safety the last two years. He has 11 interceptions over the last four seasons.
Expectation: No. 2 tight end.
The Bears still have Zach Miller, but Sims’ deal says the Bears envision him being more than an in-line blocker. He was guaranteed $6 million at his signing.
Sims set career highs last season with the Miami Dolphins with 11 starts, 26 catches and four touchdown receptions.
The hope is that Sims’ experience with Adam Gase’s offense helps his transition. Loggains, who took over Gase’s coordinator job when Gase left to coach the Dolphins, has kept some of Gase’s philosophies in place.
Expectation: Top-four receiver.
Expectations should be low based off Wheaton’s production last season: four catches, 51 yards and a touchdown in three games. There also are concerns about his health after he underwent surgery for a torn labrum in December. So it can be argued the Bears overpaid for Wheaton with a two-year, $11 million deal.
But they invested in the 2015 version of Wheaton, not last year’s version. He had 44 catches for 749 yards and five touchdowns in 2015.
Wheaton’s challenge will be succeeding without Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and fellow receiver Antonio Brown. Emmanuel Sanders was able to do it after signing with the Denver Broncos in 2014.
Expectation: Reserve defensive lineman.
The Bears needed a capable backup behind nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who struggled to stay healthy over his first two seasons. Enter Jenkins, a 6-3, 359-pound brute who was drafted by the Saints when Pace was in their front office.
This weekend, the Bears also are meeting with lineman Ricky Jean Francois, who played for Fangio with the 49ers.
Expectation: Swing offensive tackle.
Compton, who has 10 starts over five seasons, said he plans to compete with tackles Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie for playing time. But don’t be surprised if the Bears add competition for him at swing tackle.