After the first wave of free agency, the Bears still have holes to fill

Sam Acho agreed to return to the Bears’ outside linebackers room. He’s just not sure, outside of Leonard Floyd and little-used rookie Isaiah Irving, who else will be there.

“We’re going to make additions in the draft, so it’s going to be young, right?” he said after signing a two-year deal. “We might make additions in free agency.”

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The Bears had better. General manager Ryan Pace spent the first wave of free agency locking up two receivers, a pass-catching tight end and a backup/mentor to put quarterback Mitch Trubisky in position to succeed.

Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd is one of the Bears' few sure-thing pass rushers returning next year. (Getty Images)

Now he needs to find an edge rusher to ensure other quarterbacks don’t. In a weak free-agent class — and with his No. 8 draft pick not a perfect match for college outside linebackers — that will be a tall task.

He’ll also turn his attention to the team’s other major need: the interior offensive line. The Bears could draft a starting-caliber center or guard and have Cody Whitehair play the other position.

Elsewhere in free agency, the Bears can use pieces at defensive end — Mitch Unrein signed with the Buccaneers — and the defensive backfield. Having started free agency with the second-fewest players under contract, they need depth on both sides of the ball.

Just because Pace has emerged from the deep end of the free-agent pool doesn’t mean the waters get any calmer.

He was reminded of that Wednesday, when the Bears wiped the top three names of last year’s free-agent class off their books — quarterback Mike Glennon, wide receiver Markus Wheaton and cornerback Marcus Cooper. That it came as no surprise is as damning as the players’ performance on the field.

It’s easy to forget that Glennon — who was told of his impending release last month — was actually considered one of the better free-agent quarterbacks at this time last year. Wheaton and Cooper, though, were somewhere in the second tier.

While Glennon pocketed $18.5 million for four starts, Wheaton and Cooper made $6 million apiece. Wheaton caught three passes all year, and Cooper’s blooper — he stopped at the 3-yard line while returning a blocked field goal 74 yards, fumbled and cost the Bears four points — will remain franchise legend.

The Bears saved $22.5 million in 2018 salary-cap space by cutting the three and wiping out most of their 2017 free-agent class.

Pace still has holes to fill with that money — particularly on defense, where he can help a unit that made strides last year.

At the end of the season, Bears defenders met with the coaching staff and admitted they needed to be better.

“If we were so great, we would have had more than five wins,” Acho said. “We have so much room to improve.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.
Email: pfinley@suntimes.com