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Right Back Where They Started, or Worse

The Bears spunt their tires and made a mess without much impact in free agency as they are right back where this all began despite the moves made.

A week ago the free agency chase began and the Bears began like a car losing an axle on a pothole coming out of the gates.

GM Ryan Pace couldn't have had a worse start than to be rejected by Pete Carroll in trade attempts for Russell Wilson, followed by Kenny Golladay signing in New York with the Giants and Kyle Fuller being cut due to cap constraints.

It's rather ironic, but Pace was speaking prior to free agency about what other teams are thinking when they make quarterback decisions when he revealed how things would progress with the Bears this free agency period.

"I think there’s so many things that go on internal with teams around the league and you never really know unless you're within those walls," Pace said. "And I've only been with two different clubs but there's things that have gone on behind the walls that no one else will know. And so you never really know what’s going on. 

"You just respect the process but you never really know the reasons behind those things so I really can't answer that in any detail."

Who can figure out why they did what they did with Fuller or even letting Akiem Hicks seek a trade before bringing him back? 

Since then it's been a gradual, steady fight back toward the pack for Pace. He succeeded in filling some needs while a few others persist.

There are things to do still, and mysterious situations to trace like why Russell Wilson's good friend Jimmy Graham is still on the roster, but by and large the bulk of free agency is ended.

There could be something coming at safety or slot cornerback yet before the draft.

Here are the Week 1 free agency marks for a team mired in mediocrity:  

Meeting Needs: B

The only omissions to date are safety and no doubt Pace would argue they have already been addressed, with Deon Bush signing and the fact they have a few others under contract on the roster's fringe like Jordan Lucas and Marqui Christian. These are both players who could just as easily be cut during training camp. They need to bring in a veteran and Tashaun Gipson remains unsigned. Also, the slot cornerback does have two candidates on board already in Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor but neither made anyone forget Buster Skrine last year when they played during injury situations. For better or worse, Andy Dalton's acquisition did meet a need, as did every other signing Pace made. The signing of Desmond Trufant met a need, although it didn't necessarily satisfy a need. Christian Jones and the other reserve signings were all needed due to players leaving for more money or not being wanted in Chicago.

The addition of running back Damien Williams is a colossal upgrade over their backup running back status of last year.

Talent Improvement: D

Pace has brought in a group of players who are not improvements in many cases. The quarterback move wasn't an improvement. People love pointing at what Dalton did in his first five seasons in Cincinnati as proof they've improved over Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. They didn't get Dalton from his first five years in the league. He is 33 now. His stats from the last four years haven't been as good as Trubisky's. In that time, Trubisky led two teams into the playoffs. Dalton struggled. Dalton's big strength over Trubisky was downfield passing but in the last four years he's had the same poor 6.7 yards per attempt as Trubisky, and in virtually all other categories Trubisky gets the checkmark: More accurate, better passer rating, fewer interceptions thrown and far more victories led. The lead Trubisky enjoys in all of those is wide. The area where Dalton gets Trubisky is touchdown percentage, 4.4 to 4.1. So Dalton doesn't satisfy the need. Desmond Trufant doesn't come close to satisfying the cornerback need when he has missed 25 of a possible 80 games with injuries, and was cut by his last two teams. The signing of right tackle Eijah Wilkinson went above and beyond satisfying needs because he's more than just a swing tackle candidate. He actually is good enough to start at two positions, like Germain Ifedi. The line has depth, and still a problem area at left tackle but free agency can't meet every need. One other need unmet is getting faster at wide receiver.

The talent level of the team's depth has been raised overall. Offensive line and the inside and outside linebacker moves appear to be improvements. Christian Jones is a definite step up, but the type of move Pace should have made last year. The defensive line addition of Angelo Blackson probably is the exception. He's fine, but they lost both Roy Robertson-Harris and Brent Urban while John Jenkins remains unsigned.

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Due Diligence: A-

Pace is in there swinging for quarterbacks. It's known he pursued Carson Wentz and Russell Wilson, checked into Jameis Winston and Ben Roethlisberger, and put his nose about everywhere else imaginable. He did this all while staring at a red salary cap ledger. The Golladay and Trent Williams flirtations proved they were keeping an eye on everything even without the resources to complete the deal.

Strategic Mastery: B-

Pace's one big concern starting both free agency and the quarterback hunt was not getting boxed in when there are options available. He set them into a good position where they could still quickly pivot to acquire Wilson, if that fantasy situation presents itself at draft time. The pursuit of Golladay was good strategy on two fronts -- it showed he was willing to take the team toward a big step up offensively while also getting Allen Robinson more focused on signing his franchise free agent tender. Even the Carson Wentz situation was excellent because he refused to give in and yield a first-round pick when some other better options were still to pursue, like Wilson and Deshaun Watson. 

Being forced to sign a quarterback he could have had last year by waiting until just after the draft or by trading for instead of trading for Nick Foles is more of an embarrassment than it is sound strategy.

Salary Cap Management: D-

With all due respect to cap man Joey Laine, he doesn't make the decisions. Pace does, and his big mistake came in adding Robert Quinn last year at a king's ransom while pushing the cost into the future. The money spent made it possible for Kyle Fuller to be forced out due to cap constraints. Losing a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback who is still in his 20s for cap reasons is inexcusable, unless there is a Pro Bowl player coming to replace him. Trufant hasn't been close to Fuller's level in over five seasons. The decision on Quinn very nearly cost them Akiem Hicks, as well. Why they seemed willing to hang onto Jimmy Graham and a few others when they could have saved cap space to prevent a Hicks departure looks ridiculous on the surface. This is a key defensive lineman reports suggest all of these strategic failures nearly led to a veterans locker room revolt. The conspiracy theorists among us have you believe they kept Graham because Wilson is friends with him and they thought they could still land Wilson. This is doubtful, but what a price to pay if true.

Overall: C

As usual, when everything adds up the 8-8 Bears are right back to being average. They're a mediocre team, and look possibly like 8-9 team in a 17-game schedule this year.

Even the remaining few weeks of free agency before the draft can do little to change this.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven