Grading the First Wave of Free Agent Signings and Offseason Moves by the Chicago Bears
Many columnists and fans alike have labeled the Bears as huge off season losers while others have hailed GM Ryan Pace as a genius. Why do we gravitate toward the extremes as sports fans (and in politics for that matter)? Let’s look at the timeline. It started with the Bears giving aging veteran TE Jimmy Graham $16 million over the next 2 years ($9 million guaranteed). Folks didn’t like that, and its a little rich for my blood, too. Oddly enough, an $8 million annual salary is also what current phantom TE Trey Burton is making. Yikes. Graham is way past his prime, and although he claims, “I’m still fast,” his play on the field over the past few years is indicative of a second rate TE. What people are not taking into account, however, is that the Bears have nothing but 4th and 5th rate tight ends on the roster. That makes the growth at the position tangible. Ryan Pace is familiar with Graham from his time with the Saints, where he became one of the game’s most recognizable names. Perhaps Pace was feeling a bit nostalgic when he sent the offer sheet, though, which is not a quality you like to see in your GM. In order to significantly upgrade the position, there was a really expensive TE1 option out there – former Falcon Austin Hooper who recently signed a whopping $44 million contract with the Browns. You guys can have him for that price.
Instead, the Bears put that money into upgrading the edge opposite Kahlil Mack by signing Robert Quinn for $30 million guaranteed, another figure north of what most thought to be reasonable for a 10 year veteran with inconsistent success. This is certainly a “going all in” move for the Bears who identified Quinn as their guy to push the defense to another level – one in which poor QB play won’t equal an automatic loss. Another significant component of the signing is that it pushes former 1st round pick, Leonard Floyd, off the roster. His time in Chicago was unsatisfying, mired with injury and lack of performance. Even though he was touted as an excellent defender against the run and in coverage, he was drafted to collect sacks and collect them in bunches. It never happened even with Khalil Mack on the opposite side who commanded triple teams most of the season.
The defense has an opportunity to be freakishly good this year (again) with that front 7 attack which is led by another FA signing – Danny Trevathan. Many questioned this move too because the Bears let budding superstar Nick Kwiatkowski walk on over to the Raiders for essentially the same amount of money. I relate to their frustration on this one. I wanted to keep Nick and let Danny finish out what will likely be his last contract with another team. Kwiatkowski is younger, more durable, and was a dominant playmaker at times for the Bears in 2019 after stepping in for the oft-injured Trevathan. The Bears actually traded up to select Kwiatkowski in the 4th round of the 2016 draft, and I love to watch homegrown talent develop and become mainstays on the team. Most people do. But Pace put a dollar value on the leadership experience of Trevathan, which was a mistake – especially for this team. The defense isn’t as young as they once were, and nearly everyone in the unit is now a seasoned veteran without the need of a watchdog or a RA RA personality to motivate them to focus and play hard. Several players should be able to step up as a vocal leaders, namely Eddie Jackson, Roquan Smith, and Akiem Hicks. Danny is still a talented linebacker that can play a big role if he stays healthy. I like him on the team, I just preferred that cat out of West Virginia.
The elephant in the room is obviously the trade for Nick Foles, the 2018 Super Bowl MVP. Its a nice line on the resume, but he has been a backup for most of his career. The Bears are guaranteeing something like 24 million dollars to him over the next 3 years and claim that he will “compete” with Mitchell Trubisky for QB1. That’s certainly on the fringe of starting money, but frankly, I can see why they ponied up the cash and 4th rounder to get him. While many claimed, “there were better options out there,” none of them were as safe and as steady as Foles who has experience in Nagy’s scheme, familiarity with all of the offensive coaching staff, and most importantly, a career 88.2 QB rating. You might be saying, “uhh that’s below average,” and you would be correct. So why is Foles’ rating the most important line on his resume if its below the league average of 88.6? Because when the Bears have a QB that posts a rating of 88.2 or better, their record is 11-2. That’s a very good record. Trubisky’s rating of 85.8 just isn’t cutting it, and the team doesn’t have any more time to let him develop based on their rapidly closing Super Bowl window.
Jimmy Graham signing grade: C-
Robert Quinn signing grade: B-
Danny Trevathan signing grade: B
Nick Foles trade grade: B+
Overall grade for the initial wave of free agency: B-