NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2021 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 17, meaning free-agent signings could be made official after that. The first round of the 2021 NFL draft begins April 29 on ESPN.
The Bears got an early jump on free agency by applying the franchise tag to wide receiver Allen Robinson II and re-signing kicker Cairo Santos and punter Pat O’Donnell. Strapped for cap space, the Bears still have plenty of holes to fill, primarily at quarterback and offensive tackle, where the club declined the option of right tackle Bobby Massie. Veteran Nick Foles was the only quarterback under contract for 2021. Chicago has made no secret of its interest in the high-profile quarterbacks pushing to be traded (Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson). The Bears' offseason will ultimately be judged on what happens at quarterback -- the position that has plagued the franchise for 70 years.
Here's a breakdown of every 2021 NFL free-agent signing by the Bears, and how each move will impact the Chicago Bears' upcoming season:
Andy Dalton, quarterback
Dalton signed a one-year, $10 million deal on Tuesday, with the chance to earn another $3 million in incentives.
What it means: The Bears had only one quarterback (Foles) prior to agreeing to terms with Dalton. As much as Chicago fans had been clamoring for the team to trade for Watson or Wilson, the Bears had to also explore more practical options. However, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Chicago made "a very aggressive pursuit" of Wilson, and the Bears were told that Seattle is not trading him at this time. (The Bears were one of four teams Wilson's agent named as a place of interest.) Dalton’s salary ($10 million, plus incentives) likely puts him above Foles ($6 million) on the current depth chart, although there is nothing to prevent the Bears from continuing to monitor the Watson and Wilson situations, or from drafting a quarterback next month. Dalton is a serviceable player who fits a glaring need. Is he the long-term solution? No, he is not.
What's the risk: The fear is that Chicago enters the regular season with just Dalton and Foles as its viable quarterback options. Both are older players, and Foles missed a lot of time last season with an injury. Also, Dalton’s days of being a franchise quarterback are over. He’s a placeholder, albeit a decent one. But the Bears need a long-term solution at the position. They still are without one. If the Bears are forced to go with Dalton (or Foles) and they struggle, the scene in Chicago will turn very ugly.
Desmond Trufant, cornerback
Trufant agreed to a one-year deal, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported.
What it means: The Bears needed to add another cornerback after releasing veteran Kyle Fuller for salary cap purposes. With last year's second-round pick Jaylon Johnson learning on the job, the Bears were looking for an experienced cornerback to play opposite Johnson. Trufant, 30, has made 103 career regular season starts and used to be one of the NFC's better cornerbacks.
What's the risk: Giving Trufant a one-year contract makes it a low-risk move. Trufant is 30 years old and played in six games last seasons. In 2019, Trufant appeared in only nine games for the Falcons. The Bears put themselves in a vulnerable position when they released Fuller, who two years ago led the team with seven interceptions. The biggest fear is Chicago counts on Trufant to be a starter on defense only to have him miss significant time with injuries. Younger cornerbacks Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor are also candidates to play, but are raw talents.
Damien Williams, running back
Damien Williams signed a one-year deal on Wednesday.
What it means: Williams is a good fit because of his familiarity with head coach Matt Nagy’s scheme. The veteran running back also overlapped with Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor in Miami. Williams appears to be a perfect change-of-pace back in Chicago’s backfield, which also features David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen. Williams brings experience and a championship pedigree. One could argue Williams is Chicago’s best free-agent signing of 2021.
What's the risk: Low. The Bears already have a formidable backfield with Montgomery and Cohen. It’s not as if Williams will be counted on to play a heavy snap load. Plus, the Bears only signed Williams to a one-year deal. This has all the makings of a safe and prudent free-agent pickup.