By Bryan Dietzler
A lot has changed since we last checked in on the Bears and the free agency period. Several more players have been signed, some have not been re-signed and some have been let go or traded away making the team look different than it did last year. There are some new faces and some of the same old faces on this team and the Bears hope that this combination will make things better for them in the long run.
The following is a complete look at all the moves that the Bears have made during this offseason so far to include the signings they have made, the signings they haven’t made as well as any trades that may have taken place. Finally, there is a look ahead to what the Bears needs may be in the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft.
New Free Agents
The Bears have signed eight new players to the team that were with other teams in 2015. The biggest free agent signing of the period was their bringing in former Denver Broncos inside linebacker Danny Trevethan. The Bears had their eye on Trevethan prior to the start of the free agency period and did all they could to bring him in. If he can stay healthy he promises to be a very welcome addition to the team and should help bolster what was a weak linebacker group for the Bears last season.
Another strong addition to the team at the linebacker position this offseason was former Indianapolis Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Freeman will help make the linebacking corps even stronger and provide the Bears with some fine play at the position. Look for him to be a force at the position for the Bears next season and beyond.
There were a few other free agent signings that may seem minor on their face right now but could pay big dividends for the Bears in the long run. They got some help on their offensive line by signing guys like Ted Larsen, a guard and center formerly of the Arizona Cardinals, Bobbie Massie, a tackle formerly of the Arizona Cardinals and Manny Ramirez a guard and center formerly of the Detroit Lions. It would appear as if Larsen and Massie are going to try to work their way into the starting lineup this season and for the money that was paid to Massie you can almost bet that he is going to be a starter. Ramirez looks to give Hroniss Grasu a run at the starting center position as Grasu could take a little more time to develop. It will be interesting to see what changes the Bears have on their offensive line as they head into the 2016 season.
Some of the other free agent signings the Bears have had so far this season include bringing in kick returner/safety Omar Bolden formerly of the Denver Broncos. Bolden will help provide some depth on special teams and could even provide depth at safety. Speaking of special teams, the Bears ended up bringing in another long snapper to try to shore that position up. They signed former Denver Bronco Aaron Brewer to help them with their long snapping this season and he should do well in that role.
Finally, the Bears brought in former New England Patriot defensive linemen Akiem Hicks to help bolster their defensive line. The Bears had some concerns on their defensive line last year with injuries and ineffective play. The Bears could have done more to shore the lineup this offseason but they may choose to look towards the draft to put some pieces in place and get this part of the team ready for next season.
Overall the Bears signed some players in areas of need concentrating at the linebacker position and on the offensive line which were two areas of need. If they get any kind of solid production out of these free agent signings it will mean a lot for their season in 2016. One area, perhaps, they could have concentrated on a little more was the defensive line but they may work on this in the draft.
Free Agents Brought Back
Chicago brought back several of their own free agents during the offseason and a majority of these free agent players were solid in 2015 and should bring a lot to the team in 2016. Cornerback Tracy Porter may be the second biggest re-signing of the period (after Alshon Jeffery). He had a great year in 2015 and will be back, most likely as the starter, in 2016. Linebacker Sam Acho was brought back and could either start or contend for a starting position. It will be interesting to see what happens to him as training camp goes on.
Jeffery was the Bear’s biggest signing of the free agency period in terms of bringing players back. The Bears really needed to have him back due to the unknown they have with last year’s number one draft pick Kevin White. If Jeffery can be healthier than he was last year and productive he will make the Bears offense that much better and make the Bear’s front office look good for bringing him back. Hopefully they can get him signed to a long term contract.
Wide receiver and third down specialist (as well as punt returner) Marc Mariani was re-signed and will be back for another season. With the re-signing of Deonte Thompson, who will probably handle kickoffs this season, Mariani may be left out of both kick and punt returns (he may be off punt returns thanks to the signing of Bolden). It will be interesting to see what the Bears decide to do on special teams this training camp and during the next season.
The tight end position is going to look a bit different next year. The Bears traded starter Martellus Bennett away (more on that later) but did bring back two players at the position who should be active there next season. Budding star Zach Miller was brought back and after his breakout season in 2015 he should have a good season in 2016 as long as he can stay healthy. Chicago also re-signed Rob Housler as a backup tight end and depending on how well he does in training camp we may see a lot more of him next year.
When it comes to the running back position things are going to be different this year. Matt Forte is no longer a member of the team so that leaves Jeremy Langford as the starter. The Bears did try to bring in Broncos running back C.J. Anderson but failed so they are most likely set with the running backs they have at the position right now. They did decide to bring back one running back who missed a majority of last season with a broken arm. That player is Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers could be a third down option for the Bears this season and catch passes out of the backfield.
Some of the other players that the Bears brought back include offensive lineman Nick Becton, cornerback Sherrick McManis, safety Chris Prosinski and defensive lineman Mitch Unrein. Prosinski was a bit of a surprise because he didn’t play that well towards the end of the season but the Bears are bringing him back because they must see something in him they like. McManis is kind of in the same boat. Not an overall spectacular player but the Bears wanted him back so they re-signed him.
Players that Signed with Other Teams
The biggest name on the list of Bears that signed with other teams this offseason is Forte. The Bears decided not to bring him back for another couple of seasons so he signed with the New York Jets. What is interesting is that the Bears went after another running back in free agency and didn’t make the effort to re-sign Forte. Forte still has some production left in him and would still be a valuable asset but the Bears didn’t see it that way.
Chicago let it be known that they weren’t going to bring back offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod and he has signed with the Miami Dolphins. A player that played well last year but Chicago decided not to re-sign is defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins. Jenkins is headed to New York where Forte is going (the Jets). It’s tough that the Bears will lose him.
Another player that won’t be playing in Chicago next season is Shea McClellin. McClellin, who signed with the New Patriots had a much maligned career with the Bears. Many fans may be happy to see him gone but he just didn’t have a home in Chicago. Perhaps he can restart his career in New England and play better. Finally, one more player that won’t be coming back to the Bears in 2016 is linebacker LeRoy Reynolds. Reynolds signed with the Atlanta Falcons this offseason and the Bears may miss his depth although they should be able to find some help to replace him.
Forte will be the biggest loss of this group and the Bears will miss Jenkins. Hopefully the Bears will get a lot of production out of Langford and won’t regret letting Forte go. The others didn’t have much of an impact on the team and the Bears will probably not miss them.
Free Agents Not Re-Signed
There are several players that remain unsigned by the Bears or any other team for that matter so far this offseason. Some of those players include cornerback Alan Ball, guard Vladimir Ducasse, safety Sherrod Martin, center Will Montgomery and safety Ryan Mundy. The Bears haven’t made a single move to resign any of these players. Ball was kind of a bust last season as was Ducasse. Sherrod Martin may be brought back during training camp but he isn’t as strong as some would like him to be. It’s interesting that Chicago didn’t bring Montgomery back yet. He suffered a broken leg during the season last season but the Bears have brought in other help at the center position and have Grasu as well so they will probably not be bringing him back.
The Bears made one significant trade this offseason, so far and that was to allow Bennett to go to the New England Patriots for a draft pick. Bennett wasn’t a good fit in Chicago and was having his struggles off the field, for the most part and wasn’t meshing with the team. Chicago decided to let him go and have him seek his fortune elsewhere. Was this a good move by the Bears? Perhaps not. It leaves them without a top flight truly tested tight end so they may be seeking one in the draft this year. It’s too bad they had to downgrade the position because it was very productive for them over the past few seasons.
Speaking of the draft, the Bears go into this draft with several needs despite the fact they took care of some things in free agency. They probably won’t be as likely to select an outside linebacker with their first pick and may instead go for a solid defensive lineman with that pick to help bolster that unit. Further on down the line the Bears will probably take a look at a tight end a little early in the draft (probably not in the first round) and should be looking for some help at the cornerback position and some depth along the offensive line.
Of course the Bears could always select a linebacker in the draft and it’s very possible that they could do that just not, as mentioned, with the first pick. It depends a lot on how they feel about the current group of linebackers. They could add some depth or some players that they feel could eventually come in a start a few seasons.
It will be interesting to see what the Bears decide to do in the draft this year. There will be more coming on their draft strategy in later articles.
So the Bears had somewhat of a busy offseason adding several players and losing a few. The losses shouldn’t impact them much except perhaps for the loss of Forte who is going to be missed. The additions well outweighed the losses in this instance and the Bears should have a much more talented team in 2016 than they did in 2015. As long as these players can stay healthy (and health has been an issue for the Bears over the last couple of seasons) then Chicago should get good production out of these players. It should be a more improved and better season for Chicago in 2016.