Spending & saving: Analyzing the Bears’ moves in free agency
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The Bears can’t officially welcome new players to “Club Dub” until Wednesday. But deals still were made across the NFL after the negotiation window opened Monday. Here’s a look at what’s ahead for the Bears:
What’s up with Bell?
Of course, the Bears would have interest in former Steelers star Le’Veon Bell. He’s the versatile, explosive back that coach Matt Nagy needs for his offense.
But signing him requires meeting very specific criteria. It’s a layered decision.
What’s his price?
Bell sat out last season because of his contract dispute with the Steelers. He wasn’t going to play under a $14.54 million franchise tag.
Salary-cap space always is fluid, but the Bears aren’t flush with it. Acquiring and signing outside linebacker Khalil Mack to a $141 million contract changed their books.
What’s Bell’s mindset?
Missing all of last season was a business decision. The Bears understand that. But they’ve also established a culture of football-first players, starting with quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
What’s Bell’s fitness level?
Bell is a superstar who will need to get into superstar shape. He last played on Jan. 14, 2018 — a 45-42 loss to the Jaguars in the playoffs in which he totaled 155 yards and scored three times.
Signing Bell would be an interesting decision on both sides. It undoubtedly would mean the end of Jordan Howard’s time with the Bears. Bell, Howard and free-agent back Tevin Coleman are represented by the same agent, Adisa Bakari.
Why sign Buster Skrine?
Several days before the Bears beat the Jets 24-10 at Soldier Field on Oct. 28, Nagy was asked about his opponent’s strengths.
During a long answer, Nagy highlighted three Jets: safety Jamal Adams, defensive lineman Leonard Williams and nickel back Buster Skrine.
“He’s one of the better nickels in this league, if not the best,” Nagy said. “I mean, he’s good.”
Skrine is now expected to join the Bears after agreeing to a three-year contract worth a reported $16.5 million.
Parting ways with nickel back Bryce Callahan might not be a popular decision. But the Bears earned the benefit of the doubt after saying goodbye to injured wide receiver Cam Meredith last year after the Saints signed him to an offer sheet. The Bears had more medical information at their disposal.
The same applies to Callahan.
The Bears are concerned about Callahan’s durability. Skrine has missed five games in eight seasons; Callahan missed four last year because of an injured foot, including the Bears’ playoff loss against the Eagles. He has never played a full season.
The Bears had the same durability concerns with Callahan last year. It’s why they used an original-round tender on him when he was a restricted free agent. That prompted Callahan, an undrafted free-agent signing in 2015, to change agents.
The Lions also changed the market for nickel backs Monday. They made former Seahawk Justin Coleman the highest-paid nickel back after reportedly agreeing to terms on a four-year, $36 million contract.
Why sign Mike Davis?
The Bears also are expected to sign former Seahawks running back Mike Davis to a two-year, $6 million contract, but he shouldn’t be viewed as Howard’s replacement.
That player potentially arrives later on.
Davis was drafted in the fourth round by the 49ers in 2015. He broke out last season as the Sea-hawks’ third-down back. He gained 514 yards and scored four touchdowns on 112 carries. He also caught 34 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown.
Compared to Howard, Davis is a better pass catcher with more elusiveness and quickness in open space, which is what Nagy said he wanted in backs for his offense.
More important, signing Davis doesn’t preclude the Bears from drafting a back in the middle rounds, which is arguably the most prudent decision for them.
Sizing up the safeties
A saturated safety market didn’t prevent the best ones from receiving lucrative contracts.
Landon Collins agreed to terms with the Redskins on a six-year contract worth a reported $84 million, including $45 million guaranteed.
It’s a whopping amount that’s more in line with contracts for cornerbacks. Tyrann Mathieu also reportedly agreed to a three-year, $42 million deal with the Chiefs.
But those are numbers for the Bears to evaluate when it comes to extending Eddie Jackson’s contract after next season — not for Adrian Amos’ new deal this year.
Amos isn’t in the same tier as Collins and Mathieu, but the market still might provide him with more money than the Bears are willing to commit to him.
“Hard times don’t last,” Amos posted Monday on Twitter. “Life is full of ups and downs. Keep plugging away because regardless what’s for you is for you #blessed.”
Eye on the future
General manager Ryan Pace needed free agency in the early going of his Bears tenure, but his recent draft classes have changed that.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Pace stressed that the Bears were keeping future contracts in mind for their own players.
“You’re always talking about drafting and developing, and the best form of free agency is re-signing those players to contracts,” he said.
“We are forecasting ahead with some of these guys coming down the pipeline that we’re going to need to extend at some point.”
It was arguably Pace’s most important message from the combine, especially with teams spending lavishly this week.
Those “guys coming down the pipeline” start with center Cody Whitehair this year and later will include running back/returner Tarik Cohen, Jackson and Trubisky.