So where do the Bears find themselves coming out of the first full week of free agency, knowing there still are a number of good players to fill real needs for them, but possibly hamstrung by the salary cap?
Let’s start with my wish list.
I believe Tyler Eifert would have been a much better gamble than Jimmy Graham, but with Graham, Trey Burton and Demetrius Harris all here they aren’t bringing in another veteran tight end.
Andrus Peat would have been a home run at guard before electing to re-sign in New Orleans, and now the cupboard is relatively bare here, but former Bears Ted Larsen, Eric Kush, Tom Compton and Patrick Omameh all are worth a look.
Cordy Glenn and Jason Peters are the only clear upgrades over Charles Leno remaining at tackle, and Peters is 38 years old. However, neither is likely to break the bank, and Peters at 37 was much better than Leno and has history with almost the entire Bears offensive coaching staff – including head coach Matt Nagy and O-line coach Juan Castillo.
Reshad Jones, Tony Jefferson, Eric Reid and Eric Weddle all are more accomplished and would appear to be better fits at safety with Eddie Jackson than Deon Bush, although Jones is 32 and Weddle 35. At this point, none are going to get rich this year, and Jefferson, at 28, could fit like a glove for the next few years.
If general manager Ryan Pace and Nagy want one more pass rusher, Markus Golden definitely is worth a look and a perfect No. 3 with Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, although the Bears late in the week did retain Isaiah Irving, who has flashed.
Firm information this close to the beginning of free agency is hard to find until all of the new signings contract details are available through the NFL Players Association, but both sites tend to agree that before the signings of Bush, Irving and long snapper Patrick Scales, the Bears had about $2 million remaining in cap space – the second least in the league.
Although that is a concern, it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. Teams can exceed the salary cap before the start of training camp but must be in compliance before the regular season begins (we won’t know the exact date until we see the new collective bargaining agreement).
It will be a bit stunning if the Bears do not try to work out an extension with wide receiver Allen Robinson – which should clear at least $6 million to $7 million in additional cap space this year – and renegotiations with Akiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Goldman and Burton easily could clear another $10 million or more.
With all of that as your backdrop, the Bears easily should be able to afford another two or three of the above mentioned talents, and the question becomes which of them could have the biggest effects and be the best fits.
My first choice is easily Peters, because even at 38 he likely would be a big upgrade over Leno, at least this season, and this coaching staff knows exactly what to do with him.
Leno could stay as the swing tackle, or they could save another $2.7 million against the cap by waiving him.
My second choice has to be Jefferson, who reminds me a lot of former Bear Tony Parrish.
Bush had a great training camp last year and probably has earned a crack at the starting lineup. My concern is that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix actually played very well last year, but as the same type of safety as Jackson he left the Bears occasionally short against the run, and I fear Bush could cause the same issue.
My third choice is Golden. With a healthy Hicks up front, Mack, Quinn, Golden and Irving all taking turns rushing the passer and Jefferson next to Jackson, I firmly believe the defense could be better than it was in 2018.
I know the offense is needier, but with Peters solidifying things up front and two second-round picks, plus the work already done, the offense could be vastly improved, too, if all of the coaching changes are for the better.
• Hub Arkush is Shaw Media’s director of football content. Write to him a email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.