3 questions the Bears need answered to plan for NFL free agency


The Bears have one more week to hone their contingency plans for the start of the NFL’s legal tampering period March 16. Why contingency plans? Because there’s quite a bit of uncertainty still looming over Halas Hall, and the league, ahead of 2020’s free agency period. 

There are three major questions that need to be answered before the Bears can proceed with a plan. Consider these the biggest stories to follow leading up to Monday, March 16:

1. Is the new CBA ratified by the NFLPA?

The NFLPA on Monday extended its member voting deadline to midnight Saturday, meaning we won’t know until the wee hours of Sunday morning if the league will have a new collective bargaining agreement or not. 

For the Bears: It means they won’t know until Sunday morning if they’ll have an injection of cap space, which has been expected as part of a new CBA taking effect. 

Every team would get that likely windfall of cap space, so it could serve to drive prices up in free agency (cutscene: Austin Hooper skiing down a mountain of gold with Scrooge McDuck). But the trickle-down effect could help the Bears land a second-tier free agent they perhaps would’ve been hesitant to sign with the $25-ish million they currently have in cap space. 

The free agent market would look different without a new CBA, and not necessarily for the better in Chicago. Maybe some free agents would want to bet on themselves with short-term, high-priced deals — essentially banking they could get a bigger, longer contract in a year or two with a new CBA and TV deals looming. Those would all but price the Bears out. 

Also, it’s worth wondering if a contract extension for Allen Robinson is on hold until there’s some CBA certainty. It doesn’t make much sense for players to sign extensions now, when there’s a chance teams will have tens of more millions of dollars to spend in a few days. 

2. Where does Tom Brady go?

First things first: Not Chicago, though maybe he’ll pop into Oriole for a crack at their tasting menu

But Brady’s decision on where to play in 2020 could — with an emphasis on “could” — have an impact on who the Bears’ quarterback is this fall. 

Previously, we figured the only way the Las Vegas Raiders would move on from Derek Carr was if they were to lure Brady to Nevada. But SI’s Albert Breer dropped an interesting nugget on Monday that the Raiders might actually see not only Brady, but also Ryan Tannehill, as an upgrade over their incumbent quarterback. 

Tannehill, it seems, will only leave Tennessee if Brady decides to play for his good buddy Mike Vrabel. I wouldn’t expect Tannehill to be on the Bears’ radar, but perhaps there’s another door open if Pace wants to pursue a trade for Carr. 

Also: If Brady leaves New England, will the Patriots enter the bidding for Andy Dalton? Could adding Carr to the mix of available quarterbacks squeeze the market for, say, Teddy Bridgewater, dropping him into the Bears’ price range? 

It’s going to be fascinating to see what teams move on agreeing to terms with a quarterback during the legal tampering period, before Brady’s contract voids on March 18 and he can begin negotiating with other teams. 

Also: Keep an eye on if the NFL moves its franchise tag deadline from Thursday afternoon, seeing as the NFLPA’s decision on a new CBA won’t be made by then. Or, alternatively, if the Titans tag Tannehill before a CBA is or isn’t passed, perhaps it’s a sign they think Brady is staying in New England. Stay tuned. There’s a lot that impacts the Bears here. 

3. Who else gets cut and/or becomes expendable?

This isn’t specific to 2020, but will apply more this year to the Bears than in years past. Pace will have to get creative to upgrade his roster without loads of cap space or multiple high draft picks, and could do so after free agency’s first wave. 

Don’t discount the draft evaluations Pace and his front office did a few years ago — those will carry plenty of relevance in the coming weeks if, say, a player they scouted before the 2017 draft becomes available in a trade or is cut. 

Plenty of teams already made their cuts to free up cap space ahead of free agency — like the Bears did with jettisoning Taylor Gabriel and Prince Amukamara in February — but there will be more cuts in the coming days. Evaluating those options will be a part of the Bears’ plan, since finding a still-productive player on a cheaper deal (that won’t count against the comp pick formula) feels like a good way to build out this 2020 roster. 

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