I was satisfied with the Bears UDFA haul. Christian Jones was my #1 available player after the draft, Ryan Groy was in my top fifteen and I thought DeDe Lattimore was one of the most underrated linebackers in the draft, so I was pretty happy despite the fact that the Bears only ended up with three of the 89 available players I had graded as either draftable (46) or as priority free agents (43). Also it didn’t make much sense to me that they only got one of the top defensive prospects. UDFAs can choose to sign with whatever team they want and there might not be a team in the NFL with as many holes on their defense as the Bears. If you were a safety prospect would you sign with a team that already had decent starting safeties or a team that had Chris Conte and M.D. Jennings as your primary competition for playing time? So why did quality safeties like Kenny Ladler, Craig Loston and Dion Bailey not sign with the Bears? Why did MLBs like Max Bullough and Shayne Skov not choose the Bears when D.J Williams’ 1-year contract was all that was standing in the way of taking over at MLB for the team with the most prestigious history in the NFL at middle linebacker?
As happy as I was that the Bears ended up with Jones, Groy and Lattimore, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Bears missed an opportunity to make their roster better. This week about the half the teams in the league released the contract numbers for their undrafted free agents. Now I know why the Bears missed out on the top priority free agents. Each team had a UDFA budget of $80,236 and the Bears spent a league low (so far) $34,250. Not only were the Bears the stingiest team when it came to UDFA contracts, but they are one of the only teams in the league that didn’t cut anyone to make room for the best pool of UDFA talent in recent history.¹ I can remember a couple of mid-round prospects falling out of the draft every year, but this year there were 21 players available after the draft that I had given a 3rd-5th round grade² and so far all of these players (except Christian Jones) have signed for more than the $8k that the Bears were willing to spend on their top targets. I guess the Bears were happier than most teams with the players at end of their roster, but I’d be shocked to see Bears players like Tress Way, Sean Cattouse, Trevor Scott, Lawrence Wilson, etc,³ make a contribution to the team anytime soon. The only reasonable explanation (besides being cheap) is that the Bears weren’t as high on the talent level available as the rest of the league and the draft experts were. The roughly $50,000 they saved is nothing for a team with $127M worth of salaries, so hopefully the end of the Bears roster is much better than fans realize and will make more of an impact than Loston, Skov, Roberson, Jeffcoat and the rest of the top UDFAs will over the next few years.
The Bears actually did pretty well considering that they were offering less than market value for the top free agents. I broke down their UDFA spend below. The amount of signing bonus is a pretty clear indicator of how much a team values a player and also how good their chances are for making the roster. I’m not saying those with lower bonuses don’t have a shot to make the squad, but the money break down makes it pretty obvious who has an edge coming into camp. For the most part the numbers make sense but there was one significant surprise (besides how little they spent), which I will get to later in the post. Here is the full list:
G Ryan Groy, Wisconsin – $8,000
DT Brandon Dunn, Louisville – $8,000
LB Christian Jones, Florida St – $7,000
DT Lee Pegues, East Carolina – $3,500
RB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois – $3,000
G James Dunbar, Texas Christian – $1,500
MLB DeDe Lattimore, South Florida – $1,500
T Cody Booth, Temple – $1,000
LB Tana Patrick, Alabama – $750
The most surprising number on this list to me is DT Brandon Dunn for $8k. He wasn’t ranked highly as a draft option by me or in any of the major publications; CBS Sports didn’t even have Dunn in their top 65 DTs available and had both DT Lee Pegues (#34) and mini-camp invite DT Francis Bah (#37) ranked much higher. I was impressed with Dunn’s tape, he looks like a stout run-stopper. The Bears new assistant D-line coach, Clint Hurtt, was Dunn’s position coach at Louisville last season and he supposedly lobbied hard for Dunn. Hurtt knows Dunn better than anyone and the fact that he wants Dunn is a good sign. I think the fact that the Bears gave Dunn more than any of the other UDFAs except Ryan Groy (also $8k) increases Dunn’s chances to stick around this season at least on the practice squad.
I already mentioned that the Bears spent less than any other NFL team that has released their numbers so far, but as far as the Bears NFC North rivals go, the Packers didn’t spend over $5k on any one player but still spent almost $20k more than the Bears ($51k). The Lions spent $20k on one player, massive LT Cornelius Lucas, and $54k overall. The Vikings haven’t released their bonuses yet, but they signed a total of 15 UDFAs and 7 of my top 89 so I’m pretty sure they at least doubled the Bears spend.
For those of you who disregard the importance of undrafted free agents, here are a couple of statistics that might change your mind:
- In 2013 20% of NFL starters were undrafted free agents
- 39% of the Seahawks championship roster last year were undrafted free agents
- Last season 98 undrafted free agents made opening day rosters and another 33 made practice squads
* Above stats from www.football.com
Here are the signing bonuses for some of the highly ranked UDFAs that I thought the Bears could target (salaries are in thousands):
LB Shayne Skov (SF – $10), CB Marcus Roberson (STL – $15), RB Isaiah Crowell (CLE – $10),LB Denicos Allen (CAR – $12.5), T James Hurst (BAL – $9), WR Austin Franklin (STL – $17), WR Isaiah Burse (DEN – $12.5), C Gabe Ikard (TEN – $10), T Matt Patchan (TB – $15), G Anthony Steen (AZ -$12), DE Ethan Westbrooks (STL – $20 w/ additional $30k in incentives), TE Justin Jones (NE – $15), DE Chaz Sutton (TB – $15)
¹ The Bears did release P Drew Butler and FB Willie Carter after the rookie mini-camp to sign RB Senorise Perry & FS Marcus Trice
² UDFAs with a 3rd-5th round grade: Christian Jones, Shayne Skov, Rashaad Reynolds, Marcus Roberson, Antonio Richardson, Matt Patchan, Louchiez Purifoy, Max Bullough, James Gayle, Jackson Jeffcoat, Ethan Westbrooks, Anthony Steen, James Hurst, Brandon Coleman, Kelcy Quarles, Anthony Johnson, George Uko, Dion Bailey, Deandre Coleman, Kenny Ladler, Craig Loston
³Rostered Bears that could have been released: P Tress Way, WR Josh Bellamy, S Sean Catthouse, T Joe Long, TE Zach Miller (not the good one), LS Chad Rempel, DT Tracy Robertson, DE Trevor Scott, CB CJ Wilson, LB Lawrence Wilson. There were a few more as well, but you get the gist.