The Bears drafted their franchise quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky last year. That sets up exactly where their NFL free agency priorities need to be this year.
Looking at Chicago's biggest offseason team needs, many are related to helping Trubisky make a leap in Year 2, his first season with Matt Nagy. The new head coach and returning GM Ryan Pace, before their current seven selections in the draft, have a little more than $41 million under the salary cap to sign free agents of good value.
Defensively, the Bears look good in several areas because of the strong front seven they still have for coordinator Vic Fangio. The draft is a good way to build up depth as that side of the ball, with the exception of one position, goes on the free agency backburner.
NFL FREE AGENCY:
Top 25 players; best by position
Chicago, however, has a chance to have a special offense immediately under Nagy, and that requires being aggressive. A good model to follow is that of Super Bowl-champion Philadelphia, which went out and got key weapons for sophomore Carson Wentz — including former Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery — knowing it could round out elite line play.
The Bears have work to do in order to get Trubisky better protection while also overhauling the skill positions. Taking all that into account, here's a look at how they might fill their five biggest veteran needs with free agents in March.
Cameron Meredith, a restricted free agent, is coming off a major knee injury after a promising 2017 preseason with Trubisky. Kevin White, the No. 7 overall pick in 2015, simply can't be factored into any plans because of his injury issues. Former Steeler Markus Wheaton is headed to a release. The Bears' top three wideouts by default last season — Kendall Wright (unrestricted), Dontrelle Inman (unrestricted) and Josh Bellamy (restricted) — are also free agents.
For the Bears, that means looking at multiple free-agent options — in the cheaper second and third waves — in addition to thinking about further bolstering the position in the draft.
The Dolphins' Jarvis Landry got the franchise tag before he was traded to the Browns. The Jaguars' Allen Robinson is likely to be re-signed, and the fact that he like Meredith is recovering from a torn ACL would give the Bears some pause, anyway. The Rams' Sammy Watkins would be a good fit as a downfield threat in the West Coast offense.
But beyond that, the Bears aren't lost. The Seahawks' Paul Richardson and Colts' Donte Moncrief have untapped upside to work outside and also played in a West Coast offense in 2017. Nagy should have affinity for the Chiefs' Albert Wilson, who was a little underused under him in Kansas City. With Wright unsigned and Landry unavailable, the Bills' Jordan Matthews can be had on the cheap as a "big slot."
Sitting at No. 8 overall in the draft, the Bears will have their choice of young No. 1s. Keeping in mind SMU's Courtland Sutton is in play, the Bears should be more careful and calculated in spending on veterans here.
Adam Shaheen, a second-year second-rounder, could turn into something special for Nagy and Trubisky in the Travis Kelce vein. But as the Ashland product has an expanded developmental season, the Bears need a pass-catching veteran for Trubisky now. Zach Miller is a 33-year-old free agent coming off a scary leg injury, and Dion Sims is a good candidate to be released.
The Bears were attached to the Bengals' Tyler Eifert when he was a first-round pick in 2013. His durability issues are about to push him out of Cincinnati, but that could set him up for a low-risk, high-reward deal to be a potential red-zone target for Trubisky. Going a little younger out of a different West Coast offense, the Eagles' Trey Burton, 26, should have great appeal.
The Bears got a strong all-around fourth season from Charles Leno Jr. at left tackle. Bobby Massie, however, continues to be a massive liability at right tackle.
This is a need the Bears can certainly address with a Day 2 pick in the draft, but should they go the free-agent route and choose not to spend as much at wideout or tight end, the Patriots' Cameron Fleming and the Steelers' Chris Hubbard are worth considering.
Beyond those two, there's no one available with the potential to be a significant upgrade over Massie.
The Bears still have guard Kyle Long and center Cody Whitehair locked into the interior, but they have decided to part ways with left guard Josh Sitton before needing to pay him $8 million as a 32-year-old in 2018. Before the Sitton move, there already was a need for some inside depth.
Chicago may have a shot at the draft's best guard, Notre Dame's Quinton Nelson, at No. 8. Then again, Nelson's stock is on the rise to the point that landing him could require a trade into the top five.
With Nagy, let's hope the Bears are locked into targeting versatile Chief Zach Fulton. In that same range from West Coast schemes are the 49ers' Brandon Fusco and Jaguars' Patrick Omameh. A little cheaper and older are the Redskins' Shawn Lauvao and the Vikings' Joe Berger. The pool of free agents at this position is too good for the Bears not to dive in at least a little.
MOCK DRAFT 2018:
Bears go defense in Round 1
The Bears have to do something here with Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller becoming unrestricted free agents. They can diffuse some of that in securing restricted free agent Bryce Callahan. Marcus Cooper, however, isn't meant to be more than a backup and could be cut.
Fuller will be hard to re-sign, so the Bears will lead the pack of teams interested in signing Malcolm Butler. The Patriots corner would be a great fit in Fangio's hybrid coverage, as he can play both man-to-man and zone effectively.
The con of getting Butler would be more limited funds to upgrade the offense in free agency. Going a little lower here, the Rams' Trumaine Johnson and the Redskins' Bashaud Breeland are two solid options for the Bears' scheme. The Bills' E.J. Gaines and the Giants' Ross Cockrell are sleepers to watch should they hit the market.
The Bears might not go big at corner because the offensive needs, but that doesn't mean they can't afford to go back home with little to nothing in free agency.