PHOENIX – Bears general manager Ryan Pace spoke to the media Tuesday at the NFL annual meeting in Phoenix. Here are three things we learned during the 15-minute session:
(1) After winning the NFC North with a 12-4 record in 2018, Pace sensed that free agents were more eager to join the Bears than at any other time since he was hired in 2015.
"This was the first free agency where I felt like players really wanted to be here, and you could feel it right out of the gate," Pace said.
Entering the offseason with 21 of 22 starters under contract, the Bears had fewer needs than past years. They also had less salary-cap space available. But that didn't deter them from signing six free agents from other teams in receivers Cordarrelle Patterson (Patriots) and Marvin Hall (Falcons), running back Mike Davis (Seahawks), offensive lineman Ted Larsen (Dolphins), nickel back Buster Skrine (Jets) and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Redskins).
With less salary-cap space. Pace said the Bears had to be more calculated in their approach, and he credited pro scouts Champ Kelly, Jeff King, Chris White and Brad Obee with helping land the players the team had targeted.
"I thought what was really great about it was immediately feeling how bad people wanted to be here," Pace said. "To be honest, sometimes you can be in a position where guys just flat out don't want to be there. Or if you want them, you have to grossly overpay. And this was a situation where guys really wanted to come here. And I just think it speaks to our culture, it speaks to [coach] Matt [Nagy], it speaks to the direction we're heading, and that was a good spot to be in."
(2) Pace is excited to see how Nagy—who's known for his creativity as an offensive game-planner and play-caller—utilizes the versatile Patterson.
Preparing for free agency, Pace and Nagy frequently discussed Patterson, who has scored 23 touchdowns in six NFL seasons with the Vikings, Raiders and Patriots—10 on receptions, seven on rushes and six on kickoff returns.
"We had a ton of conversations on him because he has a unique skill-set," Pace said. "He's kind of a Swiss Army knife. He's a very versatile player. To maximize his talent, you have to be using him in a versatile manner, so not just on offense but on special teams and everything that we do.
"There was a ton of discussion going into. 'How are we going to use this guy? What's his play time going to look like? Are we going to maximize his skill set?' We spent a ton of time on that. I know we were both excited at the end of it with the vision of how he'll be used."
(3) Despite signing two kickers this offseason, Pace is staying open-minded about creating competition at the position.
The Bears have signed Redford Jones and Chris Blewitt since the end of last season but are continuing to keep all their options open at the position. That means they could add another kicker before, during or after the draft, or could even wait to claim one off the waiver wire following final cuts.
"Right now we're all just very open-minded," Pace said. "We have two kickers on the roster now and we're open to continue to add competition to the position. The keyword is competition at that spot and doing creative things to make them feel that pressure and that competition."
Blewitt won a field-goal contest at a prestigious kicking camp in February and then signed with the Bears March 6 after a group tryout at Halas Hall. He kicked for four seasons at the University of Pittsburgh from 2013-16 but has never previously been on an NFL roster.
"We brought him in along with five or six other guys and right away he just clearly separated himself," Pace said. "Just the power and the pop in his leg is what jumped out in the workout, and you could feel his confidence, so we said, 'let's go ahead and add him and increase competition there.'"