Culture club: What Bears’ free-agent signees said about winning atmosphere
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Buster Skrine has played on one winning team in his eight-year NFL career — and, even then, the 2015 Jets lost on the last day of the season to miss the playoffs. He had three coaches in four years as a member of the Browns and averaged a 5-11 record. After the Jets’ 10-6 year, they went 5-11, 5-11 and 4-12.
So the Bears’ new starting slot cornerback knew what he was looking for in free agency.
“I want to be in the playoffs and have a chance,” he said. “I want to know that when I’m training, I’m playing for something.”
That’s why he chose the Bears. The money is good — he’ll get $16 million, with $8.5 million guaranteed, on his three-year deal — but the opportunity to win a Super Bowl is greater. On Thursday, three of the Bears’ first wave of signees — who, while not superstars, all had options — reinforced general manager Ryan Pace’s belief that Chicago has become a destination.
“I’ve played on some teams with a good atmosphere, and I’ve played on some teams with a bad atmosphere,” said Skrine, who asked friends in the league about the vibe at Halas Hall. “But I just feel like the culture’s right.”
The culture change began with the hiring of coach Matt Nagy last year and was legitimized when Pace traded for — and paid — outside linebacker Khalil Mack. It was broadcast to the world each time the NFC North champions blared music inside “Club Dub.” The Bears won — and looked good doing it.
Skrine, though, remembered being impressed by Nagy’s play-calling. In the first quarter of the Bears’ 24-10 victory Oct. 28 against the Jets, Nagy caught his opponent in a cover-0 blitz and sprang Tarik Cohen for a 70-yard touchdown on a screen pass. In the third quarter, Nagy called the perfect play against a cover-3 — two in-breaking routes by the outside receivers and a corner route from slot Anthony Miller — for Miller’s four-yard touchdown catch.
“I definitely think a lot of players want to play for him,” Skrine said. “When you watch the Bears every week on ESPN, it looks like they’re having fun, and they’re winning.”
New return man Cordarrelle Patterson felt the vibe when he met with Nagy on Thursday morning.
“I felt like I knew him for 30 years,” said Patterson, who played for the Super Bowl champion Patriots last season. “It’s just the way he’s ready to work, man. It seemed like he was ready to work today. I could just sense that energy in him.
“Just the culture they’ve got, the swag they’ve brought in this whole entire year. The great year they had. The culture their coach brought in, I want to be a part of that culture.”
Former Seahawks running back Mike Davis considered the Bears’ roster before agreeing to a two-year deal.
“It’s always in the back of your head before you sign,” Davis said. “I don’t think anybody goes to sign with a team and just knows that they’re not going to make the playoffs or have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. This team has a lot of talent.”
That’s something that previous — and more-ballyhooed — Bears free agents haven’t been able to say.
“Khalil Mack is everything, man,” said Davis, whose Seahawks lost to the Bears in Week 2. “He’s everything as advertised. The entire defense is great, man.
“A great defense will take you a long way. And it played a big role last year with the guys going 12-4.”
For all the talk about good vibes, players want to play with stars. They want to win.
“He’s one of the best — if not the best — defensive players I’ve ever been around,” said Patterson, who played with Mack in Oakland. “Not just in a game but in practice, man. He’s a monster.”