The NFL‘s new league year began at 3 p.m. Thursday, at which time free agency and the trade period opened across the league. As deals unfold and players change teams, the Tribune’s coverage team is keeping you up to speed with all the latest Bears transactions while also providing insight into what it all means. Check back often for updates.
- The Bears have agreed to a one-year deal with cornerback Prince Amukamara, per mutliple reports.
What it means: After failing to hit on the biggest cornerbacks in the market on the first day of free agency, the Bears reached an agreement with Amukamara early Friday. The 27-year-old cornerback was a first-round pick in 2011, selected 19th overall by the Giants. He has 57 career starts in his six seasons and will add experience to the secondary while helping to fill a major need for the Bears. Amukamara spent his first five seasons with the Giants and played last year on a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Jaguars. He has only seven career interceptions and has never emerged as an elite corner. But at this point, the Bears simply need more talent, depth and competition at the position and will pencil in Amukamara as a potential starter.
What it means: The Bears ended Day 1 of free agency without adding a starting cornerback. A year after they forced an all-time NFL-record-low 11 turnovers, they want to upgrade the secondary across the board. However, the top free agents did not take the Bears’ money at the start of the free agency. Stephon Gilmore (Patriots), A.J. Bouye (Jaguars) and now Ryan agreed to sign elsewhere. Yes, the draft is deep at cornerback, but the Bears still have many needs and not enough picks to fill them. In Brad Biggs’ column Thursday night, he dug deeper into why free agents didn’t choose the Bears.
What it means: Barkley wasn’t expected to re-sign with the Bears after throwing 14 interceptions in seven games last season. But the 26-year-old will have a chance to continue his development and build on his experiences. He joins 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who was the Browns’ offensive coordinator in 2014 when Dowell Loggains was the quarterbacks coach. Who you know in the NFL can make a difference. Brian Hoyer, Barkley’s teammate with the Bears last season, is currently the top quarterback on the 49ers’ depth chart.
What it means: Sims (6-foot-4, 271 pounds) is now the Bears’ highest-paid tight end by more than $3 million per year. That offers a sense of what the team expects out of the four-year veteran who’s known for his blocking. The former fourth-round pick out of Michigan State has serviceable hands, even if the Dolphins didn’t use him as a receiver often. He had 26 catches for 256 yards and four touchdowns last season, his first under coach Adam Gase, the former Bears coordinator. The Bears still have a crowded tight end depth chart, including Miller, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker and MyCole Pruitt. But they have tried to get younger there while breeding competition.
What it means: Wheaton (5-foot-11, 189 pounds) doesn’t have the resume to replace Alshon Jeffery’s production. But the former third-round pick did flash deep speed and an ability to score long touchdowns at times during his four seasons with the Steelers. Coach John Fox at the NFL scouting combine on March 1 explicity mentioned the Bears’ desire for long touchdowns. In other words, they wanted to get faster on the edges. Kevin White was supposed to offer that speed, but the broken left leg he has suffered each of the last two seasons bring that into question. Wheaton also adjusts well to throws that are off target. He had only four catches for 51 yards and a touchdown in only three games in 2016. He had surgery to repair the labrum in his right shoulder in January.
What it means: Jeffery’s exit from Chicago is significant, removing a proven difference maker from a receiving corps that is low on high-end talent and quality depth. Yes, the five-year veteran had dependability issues, missing seven contests in 2014 because of injuries and four last season after a PED suspension. In consecutive contract years, Jeffery averaged five catches and 78 yards in the 21 games he did play, totaling just three TDs. But the Bears weren’t exactly operating from a position of strength given their needs on offense. And losing Jeffery hurts, as he had 13 career 100-yard receiving games and busted out for 1,421 yards in a career year in 2013. That Jeffery chose to accept a one-year deal in Philadelphia is peculiar. The $14 million contract is roughly equivalent to the deal he played on last season under the franchise tag with the Bears. Now general manager Ryan Pace must elevate the urgency to address his needs at receiver with only Cameron Meredith and Kevin White locked in as major parts of the 2017 plans. The other receivers on the Bears roster: Eddie Royal, Josh Bellamy, Daniel Braverman, Rueben Randle and Dres Anderson. If defensive back was considered the Bears’ greatest need heading into the offseason, receiver may have just jumped to the top of the list.
What it means: The expected move is a momentous occasion all the same. Since 2009, when the Bears acquired Cutler in a trade for three draft picks, Cutler captivated Chicago with a mix of talent and inconsistency that made him one of the most polarizing figures in the history of this sports town. That he holds most of the Bears’ passing records is more a testament to their losing ways in recent decades than a reflection of Cutler’s ability to lift the franchise to the great heights fans anticipated upon his arrival. Pace and coach John Fox left no doubt about their eagerness to move on from Cutler, jettisoning him at the first opportunity once no more guaranteed money remained on his contract. Releasing Cutler saves the Bears $14 million against the 2017 salary cap and leaves $2 million in dead money. With the impending acquisition of free agent quarterback Mike Glennon, a new chapter in Bears history has begun with new quarterbacks to drive the conversation.
What it means: The Bears need to improve their woeful takeaways total. They tied the NFL record for fewest in a season last year with 11. Demps had six picks and a forced fumble in 13 games last season playing behind one of the NFL’s best pass rushes. He turns 32 in June, a number that will cause some fans to flash back to the free-agent signings of Ryan Mundy and Antrel Rolle, which ultimately offered a limited payoff. It’s worth noting that this year’s draft class is considered deep in the secondary, particularly at cornerback.
- Cornerback A.J. Bouye agreed with the Jaguars on a five-year deal that averages $13.5 million per season and includes $22 million guaranteed, the Houston Chronicle reported.
What it means: The Bears were interested in signing Bouye, who is a good man-to-man coverage cornerback at 6-foot and who had a breakout season in his contract year with the Texans. With Bouye and Gilmore signed elsewhere, the Bears will have to work the lower tiers of the cornerback market in order to upgrade the position. They entered the offseason hoping to find a pair of new starters, with the understanding that anything they get out of former first-round pick Kyle Fuller at this point is a bonus. It’s a deep draft at the cornerback position, but so far free agency has provided the Bears no answers.
What it means: The Bears entered this offseason with every intent on adding two new starting-caliber outside cornerbacks to the roster and Pace planned to take a few swings at addressing the issue in free agency. But the Bears’ talks with Gilmore proved unsuccessful and the 26-year-old cornerback appears headed for New England to join the Super Bowl champs. Gilmore was a top-10 pick by the Bills in 2012 and totaled 14 interceptions in his five seasons in Buffalo. His move to New England will leave the Bears scrambling for contingency plans for a major area of need.
- Defensive lineman Cornelius Washington agreed to terms with the Lions on a two-year, $6 million contract that could be worth up to $8 million, ESPN reported.
What it means: Washington emerged last season as an athletic member of the defensive line rotation, playing 36 percent of the defensive snaps and at one point earning preference over third-round rookie Jonathan Bullard. When the Bears first drafted him in the sixth round in 2013, the organization wanted him to improve his hip flexibility in order to help his pass rush. Eventually, he became more violent taking on blocks, which allowed him to showcase his athleticism.
- Receiver Kenny Stills agreed to re-sign with the Dolphins, according to mulitple outlets. NFL Network reported it’s a four-year, $32 million deal that includes $20 million guaranteed.
What it means: The Bears would have considered including Stills in their replacement plan for Alshon Jeffery. Instead, Stills returns to the Dolphins, for whom he caught nine touchdowns and had 726 receiving yards in 16 games last season. He provides them a deep speed element the Bears lack.
What it means: The Bears have opted for the 27-year-old Glennon over the 31-year-old Hoyer, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation. Meanwhile, Hoyer is positioned for a reunion with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who was Hoyer’s offensive coordinator with the Browns in 2014. Hoyer distinguished himself last season as Jay Cutler’s backup, relying on a conservative approach in throwing six touchdowns and zero interceptions in six games (five starts). It will be interesting to hear the Bears explain their preference for Glennon, who figures to cost millions more than Hoyer. Don’t be surprised if the Bears tout the upside they perceive in Glennon, who has thrown 30 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in his career. He went 5-13 as a starter for the Buccaneers from 2013-14, his first two NFL seasons.
What it means: Because Taylor was scheduled to earn a whopping $27.5 million in 2017, there was a lingering question about whether the Bills would release him, and whether he would become part of the Bears’ search for a new quarterback. Well, new Bills coach Sean McDermott and Taylor opted to stay together by redoing Taylor’s deal. The Bills have gone 14-14 with Taylor as their starter over the last two seasons, while he has posted a passer rating of 94.2.
- Right tackle Ricky Wagner agreed in principle with the Lions on a free-agent deal that will ecclipse $9 million per year, NFL Network and ESPN reported.
What it means: Wagner had been linked to the Bears, but the Lions reportedly will make him the NFL’s second-highest paid tackle behind the Eagles’ Lane Johnson. The Bears’ reported interest in the former fifth-round draft pick out of Wisconsin was eye-opening, particularly because they signed Bobby Massie in the first hours of free agency last year. Massie’s deal was for three years, $18 million, and all $6.5 million of the guaranteed money was due in 2016. Massie improved as the season progressed. But with the Bears eyeing new quarterback Mike Glennon, who has a reputation for struggling against pressure, paying to upgrade the position would have been easy for the Bears to explain in that context.
- Former Bears receiver Brandon Marshall agreed to a two-year deal with the Giants, Newsday reported.
What it means: Six days after the Jets released Marshall, he stays in New York, close to his gig with Showtime’s “Inside the NFL.” However, as NFL Media notes, the show films on Tuesdays, which is a workday for the Giants, unlike most other teams. What’s a working man to do?! Marshall, an 11-year veteran, joins his fifth team in search of his first playoff appearance. The Giants were the NFC’s top wild card team in 2016 and, of course, boast a receiving corps that includes Odell Beckham.
- Tight end Jack Doyle re-signed with the Colts before becoming a free agent.
What it means: The Colts prevented Doyle from getting to the open market with a three-year deal worth $19 million, according to NFL Network. The Bears hope to upgrade and solidify their tight end depth chart this offseason, especially with Zach Miller coming off another foot surgery. Doyle, who turns 27 in May, would have been a candidate, given his receiving production (59 receptions, 584 yards, five touchdowns) in a breakout 2016 season. Instead, he helps set the market. It’s worth noting this year’s draft class of tight ends is widely considered to be deep.
- Teams began negotiating with pending free agents from other clubs at 11 a.m., but no new deals could be executed until 3 p.m. Thursday. Some players’ price tags will set during the 52-hour window as markets for all positions crystallize.
What it means: Just a few days removed from the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, where teams and agents began to feel each other out under the cloak of permissable business, negotiations will shift up a few gears. During this window last year, the Bears zeroed in on inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, positioning themselves for their biggest free-agent signing. This year, they head toward the new league year with $51.3 million of salary cap space and a sense of urgency to improve a roster that has won only nine games since general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox took over in 2015. The Bears’ hefty chunk of salary cap space is not set in stone. They could free up more than $20 million of additional cap space by releasing only a few players, including quarterback Jay Cutler ($14 million savings). It will be interesting to see how Pace balances his desire to avoid a spending spree that would lead to future salary cap problems with the reality that the Bears need to upgrade many positions on a roster that won three games last season. Remember, Pace favors spreading his spending out over multiple prospects rather than breaking the bank on one or two guys.
Catch yourself up on the Bears’ key storylines by reading Dan Wiederer’s free agency primer. Also, Brad Biggs’ 10 thoughts piece from the combine contains insight on receiver Alshon Jeffery’s status and many other relevant topics.
- The Bears re-signed tight end Daniel Brown to a one-year deal and re-signed a pair of exclusive rights free agents: cornerback Bryce Callahan and receiver Josh Bellamy.
What it means: All three moves were expected. The Bears hope to bolster the top of their cornerback depth chart so that Callahan can focus on playing the slot, where his ability to change to direction, his vertical jump and his sound tackling best help the defense. Bellamy has emerged as one of the Bears’ most reliable special teamers, and John Fox has come to love the high energy he brings to the team’s processes. Sure, Bellamy dropped some big passes in 2016, but his main role is on special teams. The Bears front office is optimistic about Brown’s upside as a receiver after he had 16 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown in six games last season. Brown was a wide receiver in college (James Madison), and it shows in the passing game. However, he’s still relatively raw as a blocker.
- The Bears re-signed a pair of exclusive rights free agents: quarterback Connor Shaw and long snapper Patrick Scales.
What it means: Both moves were expected, especially retaining Shaw, who spent the 2016 regular season on injured reserve with a broken left leg. The Bears are optimistic about him as a developmental prospect because of how he sparked the offense on multiple occasions in exhibition games last summer. They like his toughness and demeanor on the field.