Where Bears Upgraded Most in Free Agency

Ryan Pace's inability to bring in the right type of player in free agency last year hurt the team but it would appear he nailed several needs with low-cost free agents.
Author:
Publish date:

Ryan Pace's draft drew rave reviews from most website analysts and cable TV pundits.

The consensus was the B+ to A- range as a grade for getting a top quarterback and a top tackle in the first two rounds without giving up an excessive amount.

They needed it because free agency couldn't bring in much, with most of their salary cap cash eaten up by Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn and a franchise tag on Allen Robinson II.

Still, Pace made good use of his meager allowance for free agency. They brought in necessary players, some who might even take jobs from starters and some who will push the starters.

Here's where Pace got it right in the offseason, aside from his trade up on draft day to get Justin Fields.

5 WR Damiere Byrd

Even if Byrd doesn't wind up among the first three Bears receivers, this one was an important signing because it should light a fire under wide receiver Anthony Miller to pay more attention to details, like the playbook and the adjustments necessary on routes. Byrd is capable of winning the third receiver spot because of his combination of speed/route running. Miller should be the favorite because a player who knows the offense can operate faster. Byrd is resilient and has fought his way into playing time with two other teams. He's with his fourth team in four years. He'll provide a battle, at worst. At best, he could be good enough to get the Bears to trade Miller.

4 T/G Elijah Wilkinson

Every team needs a swing tackle, and not every team gets a swing tackle with the ability to start at guard as well. Wilkinson has done this. The Bears especially needed a tackle because the idea of starting a rookie at left tackle on Day 1 like they are doing with Teven Jenkins is sometimes wishful thinking. The problem is, Wilkinson isn't the ideal swing tackle because he's never swung to left tackle. He has always been on the right side. If Jenkins can't handle the assignment, Wilkinson better be able to play the left side as advertised. It's at least a bit of a gamble.

3. OLB Jeremiah Attaochu

They can't play Khalil Mack every down. They might not want to play Robert Quinn every down. You need a third edge player and in this case Attaochu fits perfectly because he's coming to the Bears after two years playing in the same defense now being used in Chicago by Sean Desai. Attaochu is not an ideal fit because he's much stronger rushing the passer than he is at dropping occasionally into coverage. In fact, he has been awful in coverage, allowing 11-for-11 when targeted in those two seasons with Denver in this scheme. He's not going to let Desai disguise much along the line of scrimmage or in the flats, and Quinn already is a liability because he doesn't drop off into coverage. The Bears have other players who can cover the pass, like Christian Jones. They needed someone to rush when Mack is getting a breather and Attaochu is it.

2. QB Andy Dalton

The Red Rifle might be a quarterback but he's not even the most important quarterback they brought on board this year, let alone the most important free agent. Dalton is a bridge quarterback and the Bears hope he does well but the bottom line is his time as starter ends when Justin Fields' time begins. Of course, now the question is when will this happen. It is going to happen at some point, so it's difficult to call Dalton the top signing.

1. RB Damien Williams

If the Bears had Damien Williams last year they could have won the first game they lost to Minnesota, the game they played without an actual backup running back. They might have even completed a comeback bid against Tennessee because they lost David Montgomery to a concussion late in that one. After Tarik Cohen's injury last season, the Bears had seven straight games without gaining 100 rushing yards and didn't get over 63 yards rushing in six of those. How much of a difference would it have made to have a change-of-pace back in those to give defenses something extra to think about? It's difficult to say. The Bears were trying to use a kick returner at running back, Cordarrelle Patterson. Although Patterson's listed position is receiver, he's never been able to play this spot and he wasn't a real threat as a receiver out of the backfield. Williams not only has been a solid ball carrier but has been a pass-catching threat coming out of the backfield, averaging 23 catches a year on only 207 snaps a year for 8.0 yards per reception. If Cohen isn't completely ready to resume play after his ACL tear, Williams can handle this. If it's time for Montgomery to rest, Williams can handle this. If there's a need to activate the run with a different type of back than Montgomery, Williams was a 4.45-second 40 guy who can break away. There is backfield depth this year after Pace failed to find the proper amount last year, and that was a critical mistake on his part.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven