The hibernating Bears haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2010 and its lone Super Bowl championship was captured 32 years ago on January 26, 1986. While multiple factors have caused the Bears’ enduring ineptitude, nothing has disappointed the late George Halas’ franchise more than its subpar drafting and foolish free-agent signings. General manager Ryan Pace has $48 million in salary cap space and seven draft picks at his disposal this offseason. Free agency commences on March 14 and the NFL Draft will occur from April 26 through April 28. Considering that the Bears have been sacked with the NFL’s eighth-hardest schedule in 2018, Pace will have a heavy workload this spring. Accordingly, below are the four primary players that Pace should aggressively pursue over the coming months.
Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson is generally considered this year’s second-best prospect. If the 6-foot-5, 330-pound Nelson is still available, Pace must select the powerful Nelson with the draft’s eighth selection. The 22-year-old Nelson, a consensus All-American, is an extremely polished lineman who would start from the outset and help protect quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Josh Sitton, Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair are all formidable blockers who can keep Trubisky insulated. Conversely, left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and right tackle Bobby Massie are liabilities that could stunt Trubisky’s growth. Nelson, who some scouts have compared to Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Allen, is a monumental upgrade over both Leno Jr. and Massie and he can adapt to play any position upfront. In a passing league, Nelson will have a tremendous impact and he has all the necessary traits to become a perennial All-Pro in the Windy City.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins has mainly underperformed since he was chosen by the Buffalo Bills out of Clemson with the fourth pick in 2014. Still, it’s hard to fathom that the 24-year-old Watkins isn’t ready to emerge as an explosive downfield threat. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Watkins, a two-time first-team All-American, is a gifted player who can accelerate Trubisky’s maturation process. As a member of the Bills and Los Angeles Rams, Watkins has caught 192 passes for 3,052 yards and 25 touchdowns in 52 games. Watkins, who completed the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, can spread the field and maximize his potential as a Bear. Watkins is an unrestricted free agent who Pace needs to acquire.
Defensive end Sheldon Richardson is an overwhelming force who can disrupt offensive schemes. The 27-year-old Richardson, a 2014 Pro Bowler who earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, is also something of a troublemaker and he can be an off-field distraction. Most insiders believe that the 6-foot-3, 295-pound Richardson will return to East Rutherford, New Jersey, to fly with the Jets. However, Pace can cancel Richardson’s flight to Gotham with a handsome contract offer. Richardson is at a crossroads and he could become an utterly-ferocious Bear.
Malcolm Butler is the best cornerback that New England’s fielded since Ty Law left the Patriots in February 2005. Inexplicably, despite his vast skill set, Bill Belichick benched the 27-year-old Butler in the Patriots’ 41-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. Consequently, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Butler is prepared to vacate Foxborough. Butler, a 2015 Pro Bowler and 2016 second-team All-Pro selection, can cover any receiver in the sport. Moreover, as evidenced by his game-winning interception in Super Bowl XLIX, Butler thrives in critical moments.
With the possible exception of Quenton Nelson, Ryan Pace can obtain any of the players listed above. This quartet of talented ballplayers have the abilities to make the Bears menacing again.