Before leaving for the NFL owners meetings in Florida, Bears general manager Ryan Pace discussed free agency and other key issues with ChicagoBears.com.
A look at the Bears transactions since free agency began March 9.
What was your plan heading into free agency and how well do you feel it was executed?**
"Free agency is risky, so you've got to be careful about putting all of your eggs in one basket and one player. So our plan was to spread it out, with a little bit more focus on defense, and that's how it played out. A critical piece is to have our guys stacked and ranked correctly, and our pro scouts did a great job of that. Let's say you've got a specific player targeted. Once he gets above a certain price point, you've got to be disciplined with stepping away and going to the next player, and we were able to execute that pretty well."
Most of the free agents the Bears have signed are in their mid-20s. How important is it to add players who are still in their primes and do so without breaking the bank?
"You're looking for guys that still have upside, that are still getting better. So obviously when they're 25 or 26, you're still hoping that they're [ascending]. But you've got to be careful. Players become free agents for different reasons. Most clubs are trying to retain their players, so you're trying to figure out, 'Why is he available?' It could be because the team has a lot of depth at the position or they have salary cap issues. You're just trying to navigate through that. You're always wary in free agency."
The first big free agent you signed was inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, a player who coach John Fox was familiar with from their time together with the Broncos. Why did Trevathan appeal to the Bears?**
"First of all, when you're signing players who come from clubs that we've been with, it reduces your risk. I almost look at Trevathan as signing one of our own players because John and his staff drafted him and they know him very well. He's athletic, explosive and instinctive; all the things we look for. But beyond that, he brings a ton of energy and passion in the way he plays. He has a physical style, but he also has a charismatic personality, which I think is good to have around here. And we always talk about recruiting sore losers. All of these [free-agent acquisitions] come from organizations where losing isn't acceptable."
Why was inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman a player the Bears targeted?**
"He's taken a unique path from a small college [Mary Hardin-Baylor] to the CFL and then to Indianapolis. But everywhere he's been at all those levels he's been highly, highly productive. His instincts stand out and he makes a ton of plays. He's consistent and he also has that demeanor that we're looking for."
How will adding Trevathan and Freeman enable defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to be more creative or flexible?
"There's just so much experience with both of those guys. They've both played a lot of NFL snaps at that position. So it gives [Fangio] some flexibility there. They've seen a lot in their years in the league and they're both athletic enough to do a lot of different things not just versus the run but in coverage as well."
The Bears agreed to terms with Akiem Hicks on a two-year contract on Sunday. Here's a look at the defensive lineman in both Patriots and Saints uniforms.
Another one of your free agent acquisitions, defensive end Akiem Hicks, is someone you're familiar with from the Saints. What stood out most about Hicks?**
"I think Akiem still has a lot of upside. His game really took off in the later part of last year with New England as he got comfortable in that scheme. When I think of Akiem I think of a guy with raw, brute strength and power. He's going to continue to work on his technique and pad level. But he can just overpower his opponent because he's so strong. He's also a good guy and a hard worker, so all those things hopefully will lead to continued improvement in his game."
Did you go into free agency looking for a tackle like Bobby Massie so you could move Kyle Long back to guard?
"We kind of let it come to us. We looked at guards and tackles. You watch both of those markets in free agency and certain positions just take off. It seems like every position in free agency each year can differ and sometimes [the price to sign a free agent] gets high real quick. We just felt like we identified a player [in Massie] that we liked. [Offensive coordinator] Dowell [Loggains] has done a good job of identifying traits that we're looking for offensively in each player and we felt that Bobby matched those traits for a right tackle. We want somebody that's tough and very strong and physical in the run game and has the size to do that, and Bobby definitely has that. Kyle has position flexibility, so now he goes back to guard and we're rolling."
The Bears agreed to terms with Bobby Massie on a three-year contract on Wednesday. Here's a look at the offensive tackle in an Arizona Cardinals uniform.
How will switching Long back to guard improve the offensive line?**
"It's just putting your best five out there. We've got grades on all these players and we put our five highest graded offensive linemen on the field, and it puts Kyle back at guard where he has more experience. But he played well at tackle, too. Again, he's a versatile player. We're excited about Bobby Massie and what he brings to the table, and then it puts Kyle at a position where we know that he's performed at a very high level."
There's been a lot of talk this offseason about how high the Bears are on running backs Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey. So why did the team pursue Broncos running back C.J. Anderson in free agency?
"You don't always go into free agency saying, 'Hey, we're definitely going to attack this position.' Sometimes there are unique players that come up that you say, 'OK, maybe we have a history with this guy and it's worth it.' I think back to New Orleans. We didn't go into free agency saying we wanted to sign Darren Sproles. It just kind of came to us. You've got to be open to that. So when he became available, it's something that we entertained. You can never have enough good players. So if you identify a good player, no matter what position, you figure out a way to put him in the mix."
One of the Bears' free agents you re-signed was Zach Miller. How valuable is he?**
"When we talk about the kind of teammates that we want here, Zach embodies that to a tee with his work ethic, his preparation and his attitude. He's just a pleasure to have in the building, and it's infectious just being around him. In addition to that, his game elevated last year. Credit him for staying healthy and doing all the little things and being proactive with injury prevention. We expect a big season from Zach. He's going to excel in this offense and we're really excited to have him back."
How will the moves you made in free agency affect your approach in the draft?
"We've got green magnets on our draft board where we have needs and we've been able to eliminate some of those green magnets through free agency. The best approach to the draft—and I know this sounds redundant—is taking the best player available, and it really puts us in position to do that and increase our chances of success in the draft."
What's next for the Bears in free agency?
"We're kind of in that second or third wave of free agency now. So now is when you start getting calls from agents instead of calling them. We've just got to be strategic with this part, too. It's kind of like the later rounds of the draft or college free agency. You can find good value here and that's kind of the point we're at in free agency right now."
What's the latest with Alshon Jeffery's contract situation?
"We know we have an extended period of time to continue to negotiate with him, and that's what's happening. The conversations have been cordial and productive, and they'll continue. I know Alshon's working hard and he's training and we're communicating with him on that. Everything's been going well."