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Patrick Finley: Analyzing the Bears’ free-agent moves, the future and more

The Patriots' Cordarrelle Patterson spikes the ball to celebrate after returning a kickoff for a touchdown against the Bears in October. | Nam Y. Huh/AP photo

Chicago Sun-Times expert Patrick Finley breaks down the Bears’ first wave of free-agent moves and looks ahead to the work they have left to do: 

Ryan Pace’s free-agent spending has been …

Prudent and precise — as it should be. For the first time in his Bears career, the general manager didn’t need to overhaul his roster. Instead, he decisively replaced his only two outgoing starters with nickel cornerback Buster Skrine and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Return star Cordarrelle Patterson should fix the league’s worst kick return team, too.

My favorite move thus far has been …

To quote Nelson Muntz: Ha Ha. The signing of Clinton-Dix to a one-year, $3.5 million deal is a steal compared to the four-year, $36 million deal the Packers gave Adrian Amos. Clinton-Dix hasn’t been quite the same player since his 2016 Pro Bowl appearance. Still, there’s a like to like: he’s barely 26, has a first-round pedigree, is excited to play alongside buddy Eddie Jackson and will be motivated to earn a long-term contract, be it with the Bears or someone else.

How should the Bears fix their kicker issue?

Don’t anoint anyone. That’s what got them in this mess in the first place. Guaranteeing Cody Parkey $9 million is what kept him on the team despite his struggles. Instead, the Bears should keep an open mind. Grab a cheap veteran. Draft a college guy in the seventh round. Comb through every kicker cut by teams at the end of training camp.

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What will the Bears do with Jordan Howard?

Continue to gauge his market — maybe a team that missed out on a free agent would be more motivated to fork over, say, a fourth-round pick. If he stays, though, the Bears will need to be clear with Howard about his role. It’s natural for a running back entering his walk year to be worried about his carries — and how a dearth of them would affect  his 2020 free-agent value.

What is the Bears’ most overlooked area of need?

They still need a pass rusher to cycle in behind Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd. Pace has shown that he’s willing to pay a steep price to acquire two things: a quarterback and an edge rusher. Can he convince a veteran to take on a situational role on a team with Super Bowl aspirations?

Have the Bears given Mitch Trubisky enough help?

Bringing back his entire offensive line was a good start. But there’s still room for another receiver, running back and blocking tight end. Talk to me after the draft.

Are the Bears better today than they were the day the season ended?

Who knows? There are two major factors that will determine the Bears’ improvement: the growth of Trubisky and the team’s ability to trust its next placekicker. We can’t know the answer to either question in March.