With only five picks in this week’s NFL Draft, general manager Ryan Pace told reporters this week that the Bears could sign 18-to-20 undrafted rookies.
“We spend a lot of work on that, making sure we nail that area as well,” Pace said.
NFL teams obviously aren’t permitted to sign undrafted free agents until after the draft concludes. But the recruiting process has already been underway for months.
“If you’re calling a college free agent [after the draft], if that’s the first time he’s heard from you right then, then you’re already way behind,” Pace said.
“A lot of our ‘30 visits’ are guys that we’re projecting as college free agents we’re trying to recruit. Us going out to colleges, spending time at their pro days or having private workouts are for those reasons, building relationships with their agents. The groundwork has to be done before then or you’re going to lose out.”
The Bears continue to communicate with the potential undrafted rookies they’re interested in signing throughout the pre-draft process and again late in the draft.
“That planning is going on,” Pace said. “It’s been going on, and it’s going on now. As we enter into the later rounds, the sixth round, you really start getting ready for that. Because when the gun goes [when the draft ends], it feels like the floor of Wall Street. It’s pretty intense. It’s happening fast.
“We know basically what we’ll be targeting in free agency. We know where we’re going to allocate money based on the value of the player. That’s an exciting part of it.”
Ten undrafted free agents who signed with the Bears the past three years remain on the roster: Defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris and tight end Ben Braunecker in 2016; receiver Tanner Gentry, outside linebacker Isaiah Irving and tackle Rashaad Coward in 2017; and cornerback Kevin Toliver II, tackle Dejon Allen, defensive tackle Abdullah Anderson, cornerback Michael Joseph and running back Ryan Nall in 2018.
In Pace’s first year as Bears general manager in 2015, three undrafted rookies made the initial 53-man roster: receiver Cameron Meredith, nickel back Bryce Callahan and linebacker John Timu.
“I think we’ve done a good job at hitting on some of those players in the past and I think we’ve got a great opportunity this year to do it even more because we’re going to have more swings at it,” Pace said. “I think also we’re a very attractive destination. And with potentially only drafting five players, there would be a lot of college free agents that would want to come here, too.”
Bears players practiced throughout the second week of offseason workouts at Halas Hall.