The Bears head into free agency in a different position than years past. Coming off a 12-4 season and an NFC North championship, they have fewer roster holes to fill. But general manager Ryan Pace still will have plenty of moves to make as free agency opens March 13.
As the Bears sign players and others join new teams, the Tribune coverage team will track the moves and provide insight into what they mean. Check back often for updates.
The new league year began at 3 p.m. with 13 players from last season's team looking for a 2019 home in unrestricted free agency.
What it means: As the signing period opened Wednesday afternoon, slot cornerback Bryce Callahan is, by most accounts, one of the top 10 free agents league-wide who hasn't agreed to terms with a new team. The Bears are preparing to move on from him after agreeing to terms Monday with former Jets slot cornerback Buster Skrine.
The Bears did not submit a restricted free-agent tender to either safety DeAndre Houston-Carson or long snapper Patrick Scales, making them unrestricted free agents. It's possible they could return on relatively cheap deals.
The other Bears thrust into the open market without a home: receiver Kevin White; outside linebacker Aaron Lynch; tight end Daniel Brown; punter Pat O'Donnell; running back and special teamer Benny Cunningham; guards Bryan Witzmann and Eric Kush; fullback Michael Burton; defensive back Marcus Williams and defensive lineman Nick Williams.
Interior offensive lineman Ted Larsen returned to the Bears on a one-year contract.
What it means: Larsen comes back to the Bears to compete for a backup role. He played for the Bears in 2016, starting eight games, before going to the Dolphins for the last two seasons. Larsen, 31, has position versatility on the interior. He's also a tough, physical guy who plays with an edge--in a good way.
Eric Kush, who in 2017 signed a two-year deal to fill this swing interior lineman role, is out of contract. The Bears already have backup lineman Bradley Sowell under contract.
All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell will sign a four-year deal with the Jets.
What it means: Bell confirmed national reports with a tweet late Tuesday night, a reality check for Bears fans who spent the open negotiating period fantasizing about how he might elevate coach Matt Nagy's offense with his explosiveness and versatility out of the backfield.
Truth is, general manager Ryan Pace has no track record of high-level investments in the running back position. Also, Bell did not fit the earnest team-centric culture Pace, Nagy and players have lauded as a central force in the team's turnaround. Convincing evidence of the Bears' interest in Bell -- to any extent -- has yet to surface.
Furthermore, the Bears believe veteran free agent Mike Davis can play a prominent role because of his burst and lateral agility as a runner and good hands as a receiver.
NFL Network reported Bell's contract will be worth $52.5 million. That annual average of $13.1 million is less than what the Steelers reportedly offered him last offseason before he sat out the season.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the Bears will buy a big-name free agent using the estimated $13 million in cap space they created by restructuring the contracts of veterans Khalil Mack and Eddie Goldman.
The Bears agreed to a two-year, $10 million deal with former Patriots wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, according to multiple reports.
What it means: Patterson, who will turn 28 on Sunday, adds depth as both a receiver and a kicker returner for the Bears in a deal that guarantees him $5 million. In his only season in New England, he had 21 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns, 42 carries for 228 yards and a touchdown and 23 kickoff returns for 663 yards. Patterson's lone kickoff return for a touchdown in 2018 came against the Bears, and he gained 179 yards on four returns that day. The Bears spent most of the 2018 season trying to find the right solution on kickoff returns. A Vikings first-round pick in 2013, Patterson had 132 catches for 1,316 yards over four seasons and also spent a year with the Raiders.
Former Bears safety Adrian Amos is headed to the Packers.
What it means: After 56 starts over four seasons with the Bears, Amos will play for their NFC North rival. Bears general manager Ryan Pace had expressed interest in keeping Amos around after a 2018 season in which he had two interceptions, nine passes defensed and 73 tackles. But now they're in the market for another starting safety to play alongside Eddie Jackson. The Bears had drafted Amos in the fifth round in 2015, and he had three interceptions, 18 passes defensed and three forced fumbles in his Bears career. ESPN reported the deal was for $37 million over four years, with $14 million in the first year.
The Bears converted $13 million of Khalil Mack's base salary and roster bonus into a signing bonus, creating $11 million in salary-cap space, according to ESPN.
What it means: The Bears positioned themselves to potentially make a bigger signing with the added cap space available after restructuring Mack's contract, and the move doesn't affect what Mack is paid either. After agreeing to deals with nickel cornerback Buster Skrine and running back Mike Davis on Monday night, the Bears still have the need for a starting safety, a potential running back replacement for Jordan Howard, a backup edge rusher and maybe another target for quarterback Mitch Trubisky at wide receiver or tight end.
Former Bears wide receiver Josh Bellamy has agreed to a two-year deal to join the Jets, according to multiple reports.
What it means: Bellamy's stint in Chicago is set to come to a close after five seasons with the Bears. He had 76 catches for 999 yards and five touchdowns in that span and was a key special-teams contributor. In 2018, his seventh year in the league, he had 14 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. The deal reportedly is for $7 million, with $2.75 million guaranteed. Bellamy essentially confirmed the signing on his Instagram account, posting "J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS" to his story.
Former Jets cornerback Buster Skrine has agreed to a three-year deal with the Bears, NFL Network reported.
What it means: Entering his ninth season, Skrine, 29, landed a deal worth $16.5 million, with $8.5 million guaranteed, according to a report. He fills the Bears' need for a nickel cornerback with the impending departure of free agent Bryce Callahan. Skrine had three interceptions, three forced fumbles, 30 passes defensed and 222 tackles over four seasons and 59 games with the Jets. He was a Browns fifth-round pick in 2011 and started 37 games over four seasons with them, totaling a career-high four interceptions in 2014.
Former Seahawks running back Mike Davis is signing with the Bears, NFL Network reported.
What it means: Davis, 26, is coming off his best season of four in the league. He rushed for 514 yards and four touchdowns on 112 carries and caught 34 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown in 2018. The Bears have starters Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen on their roster for now but needed depth with the impending free agency of Benny Cunningham. The Bears reportedly were fielding trade offers for Howard at the NFL combine last week, but it's unclear what the addition of Davis means for Howard. Davis tweeted a Bears emoji with a smiley face on Monday afternoon. His deal is worth $6 million over two years, with a maximum value of $7 million, according to the report.
The Bears signed tight end Ben Braunecker to a two-year deal, Brad Biggs reports.
What it means: The Bears bring back a depth piece in a tight ends room that also includes Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen. Braunecker, who was set to be a restricted free agent, had three catches for 42 yards in 15 games and two starts in 2018 and also was a key contributor on special teams. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and will begin his fourth season with the Bears.
The Bears signed kicker Chris Blewitt after holding a tryout at Halas Hall, the team announced.
What it means: It's the Bears' second kicker signing this offseason, and Blewitt will join Redford Jones in competition for the job. Blewitt made 10 of 17 field goals in his senior season at Pittsburgh in 2016. He went to Steelers camp in 2017 but hasn't kicked for an NFL team. Blewitt won won Jamie Kohl's field-goal competition last month in Phoenix.
The Bears released reserve outside linebacker Sam Acho, the team announced.
What it means: The Bears could be in search of depth at outside linebacker after cutting Acho, who has been in Chicago four seasons. He tore his pectoral muscle in September and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve. Acho was a team leader who helped spearhead the Bears' social justice initiative and potentially could return on a more affordable deal.
The Bears will release kicker Cody Parkey at the start of the new league year, Pace confirmed at the NFL scouting combine.
What it means: The Bears are searching for a new kicker after parting with Parkey, who missed eight field-goal and three extra-point attempts in his only season with the Bears. The Bears still owe Parkey $3.5 million from the $9 million they guaranteed him last spring. They are expected to designate him as a post-June 1 cut, saving some salary-cap space for 2019. The Bears have kicker Redford Jones on board through a reserve/futures contract but are searching other avenues to create competition at the position.
The Bears restructured the contract of right guard Kyle Long to create salary-cap space.
What it means: Long took a pay cut in his base salary to save the Bears $2.9 million in cap space, according to NFL Network, but he can make back some of that through incentives. The new deal ensures Long would be back with the Bears in 2019 after his third straight injury-shortened season. The Bears now will bring back their entire starting offensive line next season -- left tackle Charles Leno, left guard James Daniels, center Cody Whitehair, Long and right tackle Bobby Massie.