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Bears free-agency primer: What to expect this week

The Bears are chasing a standout quarterback (and have been for 71 years), as well as a starting right tackle and safety. Their salary-cap crunch, however, makes that a tough — and maybe impossible — ask.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy are entering their fourth season together.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy are entering their fourth season together.
Nam Huh, AP Photos

The Bears will be busy.

Starting at 11 a.m. Monday, NFL teams will be able to negotiate with agents of soon-to-be free agents. They can sign them starting at 3 p.m. Wednesday, when all teams must begin the league year below the salary cap.

The Bears are chasing a standout quarterback (and have been for 71 years), as well as a starting right tackle and a safety. Their salary-cap crunch, however, will make that a tough — and maybe impossible — ask.

Here’s a primer for their week ahead:

Cap space

The salary cap this season is $182.5 million. With $7.5 million in rollover space from 2020, the Bears’ ceiling is $190 million.

The NFL Players Association’s public salary-cap report, however, still lists them as $22.4 million above the cap. They’ll be in compliance by Wednesday after restructuring deals for outside linebacker Khalil Mack, safety Eddie Jackson and center Cody Whitehair and cutting right tackle Bobby Massie.

They still could seek cap savings by extending cornerback Kyle Fuller and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks or by cutting tight end Jimmy Graham.

Ranking the Bears’ needs

1. Quarterback: This should be Items 1-11. The Bears have to find a better solution than Nick Foles, their only quarterback under contract.

2. Offensive line: The Bears don’t have anyone in-house they trust to fill Massie’s job.

3. Wide receiver: They’re at least one receiver short, and that’s if you assume — and maybe you shouldn’t — that Anthony Miller will make it to Week 1 on the roster.

4. Safety: In the last three seasons, the Bears have featured three starters next to Jackson. Unless they bring back Tashaun Gipson, it will be four.

5. Tight end: The Bears rightfully were encouraged by Cole Kmet’s rookie season.

6. Cornerback: The Bears need to replace slot cornerback Buster Skrine — perhaps with an in-house candidate, such as Duke Shelley or Kindle Vildor — but they also need depth outside after Jaylon Johnson missed a month with a familiar shoulder injury.

7. Defensive line: The Bears are bracing to lose Roy Robertson-Harris but will welcome back nose tackle Eddie Goldman.

8. Outside linebacker: Robert Quinn was disappointing last season. He and Mack have guaranteed — and expensive — 2021 salaries.

9. Inside linebacker: Roquan Smith is a star. Danny Trevathan’s contract is guaranteed.

10. Specialist: The Bears re-signed punter Pat O’Donnell and kicker Cairo Santos last week, but Cordarrelle Patterson — the NFL’s premier kick returner and a Pro Bowl punt-coverage man — will be a free agent.

11. Running back: David Montgomery eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in his second season, and Tarik Cohen will return after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Week 3.

Bears market

Below are Bears players slated to become unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents or exclusive-rights free agents Wednesday. The Bears have the right of first refusal on restricted free agents. Exclusive-rights free agents can’t negotiate with other teams.

Included is each player’s 2020 average annual salary, according to Spotrac.com. All players are UFAs, unless noted:

Offense

QB: Mitch Trubisky ($7.3M)

WR: Patterson ($5M), Dwayne Harris ($1M), RFA DeAndre Carter ($750K)

TE: Demetrius Harris ($1.65M)

OL: Germain Ifedi ($1M), Jason Spriggs ($825K), Rashaad Coward ($735K)

Defense

DL: Robertson-Harris ($3.3M), John Jenkins ($1.1M), Brent Urban ($1M), Daniel McCullers ($1M)

OLB: Barkevious Mingo ($1.2M)

CB: Skrine ($5.5M), Sherrick McManis ($1.2M), Artie Burns ($1M), ERFA Michael Joseph ($540K)

S: Gipson ($1M), Deon Bush ($1.4M), DeAndre Houston-Carson ($1M)

Specialists

LS Patrick Scales ($1M), RFA Eddy Pineiro ($578K)

Russell Wilson clues

The Bears are salivating over quarterback Russell Wilson, but will the Seahawks trade him? The clues we’ll look for this week:

•  Will the Seahawks sign offensive linemen? Wilson has been sacked 394 times in his first nine seasons, an NFL-record pace. The Seahawks could show their commitment to Wilson by paying up for blocking help.

• Will the Seahawks restructure his deal? According to the Tacoma (Washington) News Tribune, Wilson’s contract allows the Seahawks to convert his base salary into bonuses to create cap room in 2021, with or without his approval. They wouldn’t do that if they were planning on trading him.

• Will the Bears add a quarterback? The Bears won’t commit to a new quarterback — except for a stopgap, such as Ryan Fitzpatrick — unless they know for sure Wilson is staying put.

• Will the Bears keep Graham? The tight end is a cap-casualty candidate, but he’s also Wilson’s friend.

A home for Mitch

While the Bears might offer him the most direct path to a starting job, Trubisky isn’t likely to return for a fifth season. With their jobs on the line, coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace seem intent on upgrading — or at least doing something different — at the position. Here’s where Trubisky might end up:

1. Washington: The only team (besides the Bears) without a legitimate starter, Washington released Dwayne Haskins during the season and cut Alex Smith this month.

2. Broncos: Coach Vic Fangio knows Trubisky from his days as the Bears’ defensive coordinator. Trubisky is better than incumbent Drew Lock.

3. 49ers: If Trubisky is stuck as a backup, he might as well play for a bright mind, such as 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, and hope to impress in relief the way Marcus Mariota did last season with the Raiders.

4. Rams: Ditto.