Grading Bears’ Free Agency Acquisitions and Trades
Kamil Krzaczynski - USA Today Sports

Grading Bears’ Free Agency Acquisitions and Trades

by - Correspondent -

CHICAGO — The Bears made several key moves during free agency that will determine the franchise's future. Some of these decisions were solid, while others left something to be desired.

Here are the grades:

D’Andre Swift - C

This free agency was arguably one of the best in league history for acquiring a running back, with Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard, Austin Ekeler, and Derrick Henry all available. Chicago was the first team to acquire a player in free agency, and it was D’Andre Swift—not Jacobs, Barkley, Pollard, etc. Adding insult to injury, Jacobs would end up going to the Green Bay Packers.

There are numerous bright sides to Swift. He is coming off the best season of his career with over 1,000 rushing yards and his first Pro Bowl appearance. However, his other seasons were mediocre with no more than 620 rushing yards. But, he has made up for that with his receiving yards; in 2021, he had a career-high of 452 receiving yards. Swift is also less expensive than other backs, making an average of $8 million per year whereas Jacobs is an average of $12 million per year.

Swift is also only 25 years old, meaning he should have a lot of years left and is younger than the big-name backs available. Thus, Swift is an investment in their future. That said, my biggest problem with this acquisition is that Derrick Henry was still out there.

Henry costs the same amount as Swift, and even though he is five years older, he is far more consistent. Every year since 2018, with the exception of 2021 where his season was cut in half due to injury, he has had over 1,000 rushing yards. He has led the league in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and rushing yards per game twice in his career. Despite being second in the league in rushing yards last season, last season was a little bit of a down year which could certainly be attributed to Tennessee’s lack of dual threat.

While not known for his pass-catching ability, Henry’s numbers are similar to Swift’s in regard to receiving yards. In fact, Henry has more receiving yards over the past two seasons than Swift. Perhaps Chicago was looking at who would be a better fit into offensive coordinator Shane Waldron’s system. However, sometimes you just have to take the better player when you are not willing to compromise on price.

Kevin Byard - A

After releasing safety Eddie Jackson, Chicago needed someone to step into his place. Signing Byard brought a veteran back into the secondary. He is a two-time Pro-Bowler and two-time All-Pro and while he may not be at his peak, Byard is still a solid safety that fills a void for Chicago and brings much-needed veteran experience.

Financially, he received a two-year, $15 million with an option for an out after next season; the Bears would then only be paying him $8 million. This is a smart contract for Chicago as it is cap-friendly and if Byard does not pan out how the Bears hope he will, then he can be released without it costing Chicago.

Gerald Everett - B

When you have tight end Cole Kmet, it is rather odd to give a $12 million contract to a tight end. However, this fits with Waldron’s offensive scheme to have two tight ends. So, from that perspective, it makes sense. With the Keenan Allen trade in mind, it also makes sense to have two new receivers that are familiar with each other. There is also a potential out after one year; in that scenario, he only makes $6.5 million. Thus, financially, this signing makes sense. The true grade for this trade will come out more when the season starts. But, looking at it right now, it seems solid in building the offense around Waldron’s scheme. However, there is a little concern about not spending Chicago’s money toward their greater needs as signing a tight end was not high on the priority list.

Jonathan Owens - A

With Jaquan Brisker and Kevin Byard as the starting two safeties, the Bears still needed to get some depth. Owens has gotten more playing time in the past two years, starting 28 games. Having someone with that kind of experience is essential to building depth. Further, his contract did not affect the salary cap all that much since his two-year contract is worth a maximum of $4.75 million, thus being another cap-friendly contract, allowing them to address other needs as well. Also, getting another safety for the purposes of depth was one of the top priorities for Chicago going into the offseason. This was a very good move for the Bears, even if Owens does not get as much playing time.

Offensive Linemen Depth - A-

Chicago added a few offensive linemen: guard Ryan Bates via trade prior to free agency, center Coleman Shelton, and guard Matt Pryor. All of these players are upgrades from what Chicago previously had, according to their PFF grades last season. Shelton has a lot of experience as a starter, while Bates and Pryor also have some experience starting. It was incredibly clear last season that the Bears needed an upgrade at offensive line.

These acquisitions are hopefully not all the Bears do, as they should still look to draft an offensive lineman, particularly a left tackle, since that is their weakest position on the line right now. If they do not draft an offensive lineman, then this grade would change to a B because they would not be in the best position they could be.

Keenan Allen - A+

In his introductory press conference, Allen said there were only two teams interested in him which is quite surprising given his elite talent. However, this is probably due to the money as he carries a $23.1 million cap hit. For a lot of teams, they could not afford that kind of hit. But for the Bears, they could, and this trade took advantage of that.

Keenan Allen has been a dominant NFL receiver pretty much every year he has been in the league, particularly in the past seven years as he has gone to the Pro Bowl six times since 2017. These are all things he accomplished as the No. 1 receiver on the team. However, with the Bears, he would appear to be a No. 2 behind DJ Moore. This No. 2 receiver is pretty expensive, with a cap hit over $7 million greater than Moore’s. Nonetheless, getting him for only a fourth-round pick is quite the steal for Chicago.

Justin Fields - B+

Justin Fields’ time in Chicago is officially over. It is a shame he never got to play in a strong offensive system, as he worked with former head coach Matt Nagy and former offensive coordinator Luke Getsy during his three years. His trade was to give him a better situation and a chance he would not have had with the Bears. Further, it was a statement of the organization's character.

Fields garnered MVP votes in 2022 because of his amazing running ability and over 1,000 rushing yards that season. Unfortunately, Getsy did not know how to use him and how to call an offense around him. Instead, the Bears offense frequently tried to make him fit a mold that he was never going to fit.

So, when it was time for him to leave Chicago, Fields had a say in what team he went to, and despite the fact that other teams made offers greater than a sixth-round pick, which has the potential to become a fourth-round pick, Fields went to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

From a business perspective, this was not a great move. Solely looking at it financially, the Bears should have gotten the most they could for him. However, this is a statement of their culture because they care about their players, even when they are leaving the team. Going to Pittsburgh gave Fields the best chance to learn, develop, and potentially become a starter once again. Culture, while something that you cannot see, is something that is paramount for the success of any organization and making moves that develop and strengthen your culture can be the most important of all.

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