INDIANAPOLIS – NFL free agency doesn't begin until the start of the new league year March 18, but the Bears have already made a handful of personnel moves since the end of the 2019 season.
This week at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, general manager Ryan Pace discussed signing safety Eddie Jackson to a lucrative extension, inking cornerback Tre Roberson and tight end Demetrius Harris, and releasing cornerback Prince Amukamara and receiver Taylor Gabriel.
Here's a look at those moves, in chronological order:
The Bears signed Jackson to a four-year extension through 2024. His rookie contract was due to expire following the 2020 season.
Selected by the Bears in the fourth round of the 2017 draft out of Alabama, Jackson has been voted to the Pro Bowl each of the past two seasons and already ranks fourth in Bears history with five defensive touchdowns, trailing only Charles Tillman (9), Mike Brown (7) and Lance Briggs (6).
"We talk about drafting and developing, and [Jackson] is a prime example of that—one of the elite safeties in the NFL that's just young and going to continue to get better," Pace said. "Beyond that, the leadership he brings to our team, he's a core part of our group. Ensuring that you're keeping your core together like that, that was a big focus. I thought [director of football administration] Joey [Laine] did a good job getting that contract done."
Since joining the Bears, Jackson has demonstrated the same leadership ability that he displayed at Alabama.
"Just coming from the program he came from, it's very natural for him," Pace said. "He's a natural leader. It's easy. He backs it up with his play. There are not many guys that have that kind of instincts and those kinds of ball skills. And also his football intelligence; he's a highly intelligent football player."
The Bears bolstered their secondary by signing Roberson to a two-year deal.
Roberson played for the CFL's Calgary Stampeders the past two seasons. In 2018, he helped the Stampeders win the Grey Cup championship, recording 54 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Last year he registered 41 tackles and seven interceptions—two of which he returned for touchdowns.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Roberson was considered the top CFL free agent this year and chose the Bears over offers from nine other NFL teams. Schefter also reported that the Bears gave Roberson the most lucrative CFL-to-NFL contract since the Dolphins signed pass rusher Cameron Wake in 2009.
Asked whether he feels Roberson could compete for a starting position, Pace said: 'I don't want to put a ceiling on him. He's an intriguing player [with] really good ball skills, really good anticipation and instincts. I'm not comparing him to [Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle] Fuller, but he has that style of play in how he can anticipate and jump routes."
Roberson grew up in Indianapolis and was named Indiana's Mr. Football in 2010, starring at Lawrence Central High School. He originally attended Indiana University, becoming the first true freshman to start at quarterback in school history.
Roberson spent three years with the Hoosiers, including one as a medical redshirt after he broke his leg in an early-season game. He then transferred to Illinois State for his final two years. In his first season at ISU in 2014, Roberson quarterbacked the Redbirds to the FCS championship game, where they lost to North Dakota State 29-27.
"He's a former quarterback, so the football intelligence is there," Pace said. "Our pro department takes a lot of pride in uncovering those guys in the CFL. Specifically, I thought Brad Obee did a good job in that area. We're excited to see that unfold."
The Bears signed Harris to a one-year contract, addressing a position that Pace said at the Combine is "an area of focus for us" this offseason.
The veteran tight end has appeared in 86 NFL games with 39 starts in six seasons with the Chiefs (2014-18) and Browns (2019), catching 72 passes for 754 yards and nine touchdowns.
Harris entered the NFL with the Chiefs in 2013 as an undrafted free agent after playing basketball in college at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a school that does not have a football team.
The 6-7, 230-pounder spent his first four years in Kansas City working with Bears coach Matt Nagy, who served as Chiefs quarterbacks coach from 2013-15 and offensive coordinator in 2016-17.
"Demetrius is a guy obviously Matt has background with from Kansas City," Pace said. "It's interesting his background coming in as a basketball player and then developing into more of what we see as like a 'Y' tight end. He has a lot of strengths as a blocker, while normally these basketball players you see them excel more as a 'U' athletic receiving tight end. Demetrius had strengths in the blocking aspect. We think he's still getting better. We think he can flourish in the scheme that we have."
The Bears released Amukamara and Gabriel, moves that created a considerable amount of salary-cap space.
Amukamara spent the last three seasons with the Bears, appearing in 44 games with 42 starts and recording 167 tackles, three interceptions, 49 pass breakups, four tackles-for-loss, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Gabriel spent the past two seasons with the Bears, playing in 25 games with 18 starts and catching 96 passes for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns.
"Those are all hard decisions that every club is trying to make this time of the year, Pace said. "Those guys did a lot for our team as players and as people for our culture. As we evaluate our roster and evaluate our cap, those are all decisions we have to look at."