Last week, the Chicago Bears signed veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez to a one-year contract. The initial reaction from fans is one of disbelief and disappointment. Just listening to the radio, the talking heads are spewing vitriol over this signing and decrying the general manager. They believed somehow this signing indicated that, not only was Sanchez going to be the anointed starter, but that it would prevent the Bears from drafting a quarterback.
Do all of these “experts” and fans truly believe that Mark Sanchez was brought in to compete for the starting job? Did we all forget that Pace just signed Mike Glennon just 19 days ago?
We all need to take a deep breath and look at this move as what it truly is: a backup or third-string quarterback who is here to mentor a young signal-caller. As has been widely reported, Sanchez was a positive influence for Dak Prescott last season. In fact, it is generally common for a team to sign veteran quarterback when their plan is to draft one.
This signing does not change the Bears draft plans, so let’s calm down about how this move somehow signals that Ryan Pace is “set” at the QB position. Like every other signing this off-season, the signing of Sanchez allows the Bears to take the best player available. Sanchez, like Demps, Cooper, Amukamara, Wright, Wheaton and Jenkins, is a depth signing. They are all veternas that can help the young talent that is already on the team, or who will be drafted in April.
The Bears have done a savvy job of bringing in veteran players on reasonable contracts. The misconception being that Ryan Pace “struck out” on free agency and some of these players are going to “block” a draft pick at the same position. I don’t agree with that assertion. Honestly, I believe it to be the exact opposite.
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Quintin Demps is 32 years old and has spent the majority of his career as a backup or special teams player. His upside is that he has excellent hands and tends to be around the ball. Let’s assume for a moment that the Bears draft a young free safety in the middle rounds. Demps would be an excellent “bridge” veteran to not only allow the rookie to learn, but to also gain invaluable knowledge from an experienced player. He is not a long-term solution, but rather a mentor for a potential draft pick.
Prince Amukamara is another player that has bounced around the league but has also had some success. As a former first-round pick, he has the pedigree and experience to help a young cornerback. The Bears roster is loaded with young corners. The oft-injured corner is on a one-year deal, which likely spells the end of Tracy Porter in Chicago. Porter and Amukamara are very similar players, but Amukamara is there years younger, and has been slightly healthier than Porter. The biggest difference is that Porter is a risk-taker and Amukamara is more of a technician, meaning that he is a better choice as a mentor than Porter would be.
Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton are a bit different than the aforementioned Demps and Amukamara. The Bears have lacked top-end speed at wide receiver, and both Wright and Wheaton have that in spades. Wright likely signals the end of the road for Eddie Royal, who will likely be cut once he can pass a physical, which will save $5 million in cap space. Wheaton is a similar player to what Johnny Knox was; he can flat-out fly. Both of these signings are the typical “prove-it” deals. If Wright works out as the slot receiver and/or Wheaton proves to be a viable deep threat, then you can sign them to long-term contracts.
John Jenkins is a purely a depth signing. With Eddie Goldman having missed 11 games in his first two seasons, Jenkins represents the kind of depth that the defensive line was sorely missing. This also allows Goldman to shift over to defensive end when the defense goes to a “heasy” or “goal-line” package.
Marcus Cooper is the lone exception to my assessment. His contract is going to carry some “dead” cap space into years 2 and 3. While not enough to keep the Bears from cutting him, it still appears as though the Bears view him as an ascending player. Cooper was originally drafted by the 49ers when Vic Fangio was the defensive coordinator and Ed Donatell was the defensive backs coach, so there is a familiarity between the staff and player. Clearly, there was something that the coaches saw on tape where they believe that he can be a solid, if not great, player for the Bears.
Mike Glennon is the ultimate “bridge” signing of the bunch. His contract is essentially a one-year deal, with a $4.5 million buy-out in the second year. This is yet another signal that the Bears intend to draft the quarterback of the future. Glennon is a player that certainly had some interest around the league and could surprise this season. In an offensive system that was kind to the turnover-adverse Brian Hoyer, it is possible that Glennon thrives in such a system. This is the perfect scenario for the Bears.
If you draft a quarterback that pushes for a starting role as a rookie and Glennon is playing well, this is where the plan comes together. In this scenario, heading into 2018, you have a second-year quarterback that is ready to take the reins of the offense, and a veteran on a cost-friendly contract as a trade chip. This is what the best teams do routinely. Look at what the Patriots are asking for the unproven Jimmy Garoppolo. Glennon is only a year older, has a lot more experience and will be under a reasonable contract for two more seasons.
I am asking that Bears fans take a step back for a moment to see the forest through the trees. Individually, these moves leave a lot to be desired, but when taken as a whole, the big picture begins to unfold. You see that Ryan Pace has positioned himself to take the best player available in the draft, regardless of position.
You begin to see a roster flush with veteran players at every position group. This allows for rookies to learn the systems in place and develop under the established vets before taking the field. Having a roster constructed this way also creates additional competition around the various position groups. Unlike in the prior two seasons, the rookies are going to have to earn their playing time, not just be given the position because there is nobody else.
The best teams in the NFL consistently bring in competition for their players. They draft replacements before the incumbent player needs replacing. They trade away assets that have grown too expensive or will become so in the future. The Bears are attempting to build their team in the image of the best organizations in the NFL.
This offseason represents the “fork in the road” – the proverbial “corner” that a team must turn in order to be great. It is time for the future to become the present.
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