Thursday, March 12, 2015

Small Splash, Big Score in Bears Free Agent Haul

The Bears made a splash in the first couple days of free agency. But it was the kind that gets high rankings for Olympic divers, not one of fans knocking down doors to get the newest jersey. The names Parnell McPhee, Eddie Royal and Antrel Rolle may not generate much excitement, but they are low cost and shrewd additions made by a front office that has its hands tied. 

Parnell McPhee (5-year/$38.75m/$15.5 guaranteed):

 With a new defensive scheme come older players best suited for a 4-3. General Manager Ryan Pace will have his hands full trying to find a way to add players more suited to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's 3-4 base defense. McPhee is a good start. Signed to a five-year $38.75 million deal with $15.5 million guaranteed, McPhee didn't start any games for Baltimore over the past two seasons, but managed to register 7.5 sacks in 2014. He is a fast, high-motor end that at just 26 years-old has a well of untapped potential. 

McPhee joins a group of pass rushers that includes Jared Allen and Willie Young. Both players are more suited for a 4-3 and will see their roles change dramatically. Allen was against a move to a 3-4 defense in Minnesota, but has said he is open to it this time around. And it's a good thing, because just like the Bears are stuck with Cutler for another year, they are also stuck with Allen and his $12.5 million in dead money. 

Eddie Royal (3-year/$15m/$10 guaranteed):

After the deal that sent Brandon Marshall to the Jets the Bears were left with a big need at wide receiver. Alshon Jeffery is slated to step up and become the Bears number one, but they would be without a legitimate number two and three. Eddie Royal presents a stark contrast to the skill set of Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. At 5'10" 182 pounds, Royal is a burner that plays most effectively in the slot. He has nowhere near the up-side that Marshall brings, but put up similar numbers in 2014. In an injury plagued campaign, Marshall caught 61 balls for 721 yards and 8 touchdowns. Royal hauled in 62 catches for 778 yards and 7 touchdowns. Marshall averaged 11.8 yards per reception while Royal averaged 12.5. The 28-year-old Royal has a familiarity with quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler was in Denver when Royal burst on the scene with a 91-catch 980-yard rookie season. Royal isn't likely to approach those numbers, but 50-60 receptions and half-dozen touchdowns is a reasonable bet. 

The Bears still have a need for another receiver unless they believe Marquess Wilson and his 6'3" frame can fill the void, that's a blind wager. I'd expect them to add another veteran free-agent or address the void in the middle rounds of the draft. 

Antrel Rolle (3-years/$11.25m/$10m guaranteed):

At 32-year-old old, Rolle is a football dinosaur. NFL players tend to burn-out quickly. Look no further than Brian Urlacher and Jared Allen. One year they are All-Pro caliber, the next they look like a shell of themselves. The good news for the Bears is Rolle does not play on the line and doesn’t take the beating that those players did. Rolle is not an in-the-box safety. His strength is manning center field and ball hawking. Rolle has nine interceptions over the past two seasons and wore a captain patch on some very good Giants defenses. After Marc Trestman's bizarre "different captain every week" strategy, bringing in a veteran presence that commands respect from his peers is an essential addition to a young defense that often times looks confused and out of place. And that's the big reason he is here. What the Bears get in on-field production is of secondary concern to the leadership they are adding. From a production standpoint, Rolle is stepping into some very small shoes left behind from Chris Conte, so at worst a lateral step is worth the addition. 

The Bears have a long way to go toward making sweeping changes. They are saddled with some bad contracts and no other team is willing to take on theBears burden. The front office added some veteran leadership, a new style but similar production at wide receiver and the first piece to a rebuilt pass rush. Spending on big free agents is a good way to make a quick fix, which is exactly what the Bears don't need. They need to wait out a couple of the bad contracts and then make the changes needed to wipe the slate clean. 

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