ORLANDO, Fla. — When it came to pass rushers in free agency, the pickings were slim.
But Bears general manager Ryan Pace signed one of the best available because he still has one of the best defensive coordinators at his side. Aaron Lynch is here for Vic Fangio, and vice versa.
“[Their relationship] was important,” Pace said during the NFL’s annual meetings. “He’s a very talented player, and Vic knows him well from drafting him in San Francisco.
“There’s strengths and weaknesses in every free agency and in every draft. This free agency, we didn’t feel like there was a ton of outside linebackers, but Aaron Lynch stood out in a number of ways.”
Signing Lynch — even if it’s only a one-year, $4 million deal — doesn’t come without concerns. He hasn’t played well or much since his second season in 2015. Concerns about his weight and fitness turned into questions about his determination and desire to play.
But adding Lynch is a personnel decision rooted in the organization’s appreciation of Fangio. It’s part of the team’s reliance on him. Fangio is an invaluable cohort for new coach Matt Nagy, who not only will be installing a new offense but handling everything that comes with being a head coach for the first time.
“Vic’s been doing this for a long time, so I completely respect how he goes about things,” Nagy said this week. “I’ll be there for another set of ears and eyes to help him in any way possible. Just letting him do his thing. He’s had this top-10 defense. We want to continue to make that better each day.”
Nagy’s pairing with Fangio, 59, is obviously comparable to what the Rams have with coach Sean McVay, who’s 32, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, 70. In the early going, McVay was able to focus more on quarterback Jared Goff because of Phillips’ knowledge and presence.
Of course, the Bears’ retention of Fangio, who was first hired by former coach John Fox in 2015, was more complicated. He was the first head-coaching candidate. But Pace’s relationship with Fangio, which was followed by Nagy’s quick connection with him, helped secure his return.
Nagy, 39, said he wants to be a “sounding board” for Fangio, whose defense finished 10th in total yards, ninth in scoring, seventh in passing yards allowed and seventh in sacks last season.
“Can we communicate and can we agree to disagree?” Nagy said. “We both answered that question [in our first meeting]. We’ll be able to do that.”
To help Fangio, the Bears spent money on continuity, retaining cornerbacks Kyle Fuller (four years, $56 million) and Prince Amukamara (three years, $27 million) and outside linebacker Sam Acho (two years, $5.5 million).
Allowing defensive lineman Mitch Unrein to leave in free agency is offset by the improved play of Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, two younger players added by Pace.
“There was a communication process with Vic,” Nagy said. “Those are significant positions that we filled that we feel really good about.”
Adding a pass rusher in the draft is important after the releases of Willie Young and Pernell McPhee — two injury-plagued pass rushers who are still serviceable in depth roles — but Lynch is a start. He had six sacks for Fangio as a rookie for the 49ers. At 25, he’s a low-risk signing who fits the Bears’ youth movement.
“He definitely has the traits to be a very productive pass rusher,” Pace said. “You see signs of it, and he’s very comfortable in Vic’s scheme. Vic knows him inside and out.
‘‘So to get him here on kind of a one-year contract in a motivated state, we’re excited about that. We think there’s a lot of upside in that transaction.”