Hoge: Thoughts On The Bears’ Early Moves In Free Agency

Cornerback Buster Skrine is now a Chicago Bear. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The first day of NFL free agency negotiations came and went without a blockbuster signing for the Chicago Bears, but general manager Ryan Pace still made a couple key decisions that will have a big impact on the 2019 season.

Despite rumors about interest in Le’Veon Bell (I guess you can’t completely rule it out until he signs elsewhere), Monday went about as expected for the Bears, who made smaller, but notable additions at running back and in the secondary.

Here are some early thoughts on what the Bears have done so far, keeping in mind that the week is still just getting started:

Who’s Here

CB Buster Skrine — The 29-year-old slot corner is entering his ninth NFL season already, so he brings a tough, veteran presence to the Bears’ defense. Skrine is small, but very physical. He’s a willing tackler against the run and won’t make many mental errors in coverage. On the downside, Skrine can get grabby at times and penalties have been an issue. Whereas Bryce Callahan was a very steady player, Skrine will be a little more boom-or-bust, but he fits the aggressive mindset of Chuck Pagano’s defense.

Back in October when the Bears were preparing for the New York Jets, Matt Nagy delivered a rather strong quote on Skrine: “He’s one of the better nickels in this league, if not the best. I mean, he’s good. He’s a good nickel in there.”

Skrine ended up in coverage on one of Mitchell Trubisky’s better touchdown throws of the season. Originally lined up farther inside, Skrine switched off to Anthony Miller and did a nice job to take away the corner route. Trubisky adjusted even better, however, throwing the ball inside to Miller’s back shoulder. Miller adjusted and made the touchdown grab. Good defense. Better offense. 

Overall, this a solid replacement for Callahan. Skrine has been the more durable player over the last four years, although he’s only managed a total of one interception over the last two seasons, compared to Callahan’s four. It will be interesting to see how the contract is structured. The deal is $16.5 million over three years ($8.5 million guaranteed), but the guess here is that the Bears will have an out after 2020. 

RB Mike Davis — At 5-9, 217, Davis is not Jordan Howard’s replacement. He could be an upgrade in the role that Taquan Mizell played in Nagy’s offense last season, however. Davis averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 112 attempts with the Seahawks in 2018, but also caught 34 passes, albeit for just 6.8 yards per reception. The money (two years, $6 million) indicates that Davis is going to have a decent role in the offense, but the Bears’ running back situation is still far from settled. 

TE Ben Braunecker — The Bears did not tender Braunecker at $2 million and instead brought him back on a cheaper two-year deal. He’s an ideal backup because he’s a core special teamer and a capable replacement on offense if needed. More importantly, he’s cheap.

Who’s Not Here (As Of Now)

CB Bryce Callahan — The addition of Skrine almost certainly means the Bears are moving on from Callahan, who was a great find as an undrafted free agent in 2015 despite struggling to stay healthy. 2018 was Callahan’s healthiest season as he played 13 straight games, but a broken foot cost him the final three regular season games and the playoffs. Callahan did just enough in 2018 to get his pay day (we’ll see where he ends up), but I’m not surprised the Bears are moving on. I had Callahan graded out as a solid starter, which he was, but Sherrick McManis proved to be a capable replacement late in the year. To me, this was an indication that with all the talent on the Bears’ defense, GM Ryan Pace could find a more than serviceable replacement at a lower cost. If Skrine can stay healthy, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him have one of the better years of his career in 2019 with all that talent around him. 

SS Adrian Amos — As of this writing, Amos had not signed with another team, but it would not be surprising to see the Bears move on for many of the same reasons as Callahan. Amos is also a solid starter who almost never delivers a poor performance, but he has also only managed three interceptions over four seasons. Those types of safeties are replaceable. That said, if Amos doesn’t get blown away with a big offer, I would bring him back. It took the Bears more than a decade to find a good safety tandem and they have that now with Amos and Eddie Jackson. There’s no reason to overpay here, but if Amos doesn’t get what he wants on the open market, the Bears know they have a durable safety who is comfortable in the defense.

WR Josh Bellamy — According to reports, Bellamy has agreed to terms with the Jets. At two years and a max of $7 million (according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport) that’s essentially the same money the Bears gave to Mike Davis. Bellamy is a good special teamer, but if a team is willing to pay him to catch footballs in their offense, well, this is a pretty easy call. The Bears can’t keep them all.

Still To Come

The Bears still have some cap space to work with and they’ll need to either re-sign Amos or find a new safety. I’m still intrigued by Tevin Coleman and T.J. Yeldon at running back too. Will a Jordan Howard trade go down in the next few days? Also, if there’s enough money left over, I’d take a strong look at Justin Houston. He’s 30, but still posted nine sacks and forced five fumbles in just 12 games last season. He could be very dangerous as a situational pass rusher, providing depth behind Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd. 

Final Thought

Late Monday night the Broncos reportedly made Ja’Wuan James the highest paid right tackle in the league, giving him a four-year, $50-plus million contract, according to Broncos reporter Mike Klis. This serves as a good reminder why Pace locked up Bobby Massie earlier this offseason with a four-year, $30.8 million contract and $14.5 million guaranteed. Offensive tackles are overpaid on the open market and I’m not even sure James is better than Massie. There’s no need to create more problems when both sides are willing to find common ground. The Massie extension is looking pretty good right now.

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also hosts “The Hoge & Jahns Podcast.” Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.

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