The doors to NFL free agency officially open at 3 p.m. Wednesday. But Bears general manager Ryan Pace has already scratched off some of the most notable items on his shopping list during the pre-order phase by agreeing to terms with receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, tight end Trey Burton, kicker Cody Parkey and quarterback Chase Daniel. In addition, the Bears re-signed cornerback Prince Amukamara and outside linebacker Sam Acho while offering tenders to restricted free agents Cameron Meredith, Bryce Callahan and Josh Bellamy.
Indeed Pace's busy 2018 continues with the Bears positioning themselves to return to relevance. But just how much should we make of the team's recent transactions? Are they enough to finally spark an escape from the NFC North basement? And what's still ahead for Pace during this pivotal phase of the roster reload process?
Tribune writers Dan Wiederer and Rich Campbell offer their perspective and analysis in this edition of "Real Talk."
Dan Wiederer: You all know it's coming. So let's just get it out of the way right now. Here's my obligatory reminder not to get swept up in the hysteria and hyper-reaction of the NFL's March mania. How I've long viewed free agency has been well-documented. (Glorified garage sale, anyone?) And I made it clear again earlier this week that, while the Bears were in position to make notable improvements to their roster in free agency, it would still be a real long shot for them to suddenly become a perennial championship contender with a few days of free-agency splurging.
So I'll again implore everyone to retain proper perspective. Deep breaths. Steer away from Twitter for a few hours. Realize the steepness of this mountain the Bears are trying to climb.
And now … I'll do what you were least expecting. You have my permission to get excited, to feel encouraged, to believe that this week has been an undeniable success for Pace and the Bears.
The Robinson signing addressed the Bears' biggest need with one of the top players available on the market. The Burton addition adds even more firepower and versatility to Matt Nagy's offense. The new deal with Amukamara continues the trend of continuity on defense with yet another starter returning to a unit that showed great promise in 2017.
A window of opportunity seems to be opening for these Bears. And believe it or not, I'm allowing you for once to imagine the possibilities.
Rich Campbell: Bears fans and I are relieved to finally have your permission. What time should we be home for dinner?
I believe it is, in fact, possible to see both sides of free agency at once. It's possible to acknowledge how Robinson, Burton and Gabriel could upgrade the passing game and help Mitch Trubisky get Nagy's offense up and running, and at the same time maintain a healthy skepticism about the risks of free agency — risks Pace is the first one to trumpet.
What feels different right now is that you and I are both conductors of the wait-and-see train. But there's no need to wait in stamping Tuesday's acquisitions as an upgrade to the passing attack. That's simply a reflection of how broken and undermanned the group of pass catchers was in 2017.
That said, the 2015-16 versions of Robinson would be a tremendous asset for Trubisky. Big-bodied receiver with a wide catch radius. Detailed route runner who uses angles to set up defensive backs, and one who controls his body well. If he's healthy coming off reconstructive left knee ACL surgery and back to form, the Bears suddenly have a receiver defenses must game plan for.
Wiederer: Here's another reason the Robinson signing registers as significant. Because he chose to play for the Bears. Free agency is a two-way street. And a GM's desire to sign a player is only as meaningful as the player's reciprocated interest. Sure, Robinson will love cashing the Bears' checks — he'll reportedly take home $25 million guaranteed and up to $42 million overall over the next three years. But he also has expressed his intrigue in playing in the offensive system under new coach Matt Nagy, which promises to be much more creative and aggressive than the offense Bears fans had to live with under John Fox.
So we now have evidence that Nagy's offense and Trubisky's potential have made the Bears an attractive landing spot. Robinson's excitement in joining the Bears was matched by Burton, who threw out a first pitch at a Phillies spring training game Tuesday and emphasized his interest in playing in a Bears offense that figures to have similarities to the Super Bowl-winning attack he just left in Philadelphia.
"I wanted a young team that could win now," Burton said.
Whether the Bears are that remains to be seen. That Burton believes them to be is notable.
Campbell: As the 2017 season neared its merciful conclusion, there was a strong conviction in certain pockets of Halas Hall that the Bears could surge into playoff contention in 2018 if they only hired a new coach and retooled their receivers. Some high-ranking members of the organization saw how the Rams turned their franchise around and believed the blueprint applied in Chicago.
I happen to believe that's a bit too optimistic. I prefer to, ahem, wait and see. The Bears have an inexperienced head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback. Their shortage of pass rushers threatens to disrupt the defense's three-year ascent. And their long-running injury epidemic has shown no signs of relenting. But I also understand the optimism, and I don't dismiss it.
Last season, the defense ranked 11th in the NFL in yards allowed per play. The offense was 11th in yards per carry. The passing game, which ranked dead last in yards per game in 25th in yards per attempt, was the weak link. Robinson, Burton and Gabriel should help that, and the Bears will continue to address it.
Then again, Robinson, Burton and Gabriel were allowed to hit the market by the Jaguars, Eagles and Falcons, respectively. As Pace insisted Feb. 28, you can't lose sight of why free agents are available in the first place.
Wiederer: Yes, yes. Wait and see. We won't know until we know. Free agency is treacherous waters. Blah, blah, blah.
You're being a real buzzkill here, Campbell.
What's next? Are you going to remind everyone that the Bears are probably still a long shot to climb above third place in the division this year? Are you going to impede the dreams of nine or 10 wins with reminders that the 2018 schedule includes five games against 2017 playoff teams? And that that doesn't include four more games with the Packers, Seahawks and suddenly surging 49ers? We've got six months until the season starts. Can't you hold off on tempering all the optimism and just use a best-case scenario lens to view this week's transactional victories?
As significant as anything to me right now is that Pace identified his franchise quarterback a year ago and then vowed to get him the help he needed. By first uniting Trubisky with Nagy and now by making good on promises to restock the offense with playmakers, Pace is enjoying a solid first three months of 2018. And don't forget about that top-10 pick and the other six selections the Bears have for next month's draft. I'm opening my mind up to the possibility of a major breakthrough this fall. You should try it.
Campbell: In early February 2017, I got married. In early February 2018, my wife and I had our first child. In both cases, I was entirely confident there would be no work conflict. So how about I promise you this: I'll leave my early February 2019 calendar clear at least until Halloween. How's that for open-mindedness?
Ultimately, the Bears' fortunes rest with Trubisky. If he's a baller, then the Bears' other shortcomings won't be as glaring or detrimental. What the Bears did Tuesday should give him a chance. And I think the timing is important. Surround him with capable players in the infancy of Nagy's new offense. Establish a group that can grow together from the start.
Wiederer: We've said since New Year's Day that the Bears' 2018 offseason would be tied to a three-word directive: Get Mitch help. Pace understood his responsibilities and has been aggressive in attacking those. For that, he deserves credit. And I agree with you. These latest moves give Trubisky a better chance of breaking through.
Now … Pump the brakes, man. You don't have to get carried away and leave your February calendar open. Now you're just being ridiculous. But perhaps we will again enjoy the privilege of covering meaningful games in December. That, as you know, would be marked progress for the Bears.
And if you're looking for the updated Pace to-do list after this week's activity? The Bears still need to enliven their pass rush. In a bad way. They could probably also use some added depth at safety, inside linebacker and on the offensive line. Successfully check all those boxes and, well …
Campbell: Fine, I'll book that second anniversary trip to Cancun. If you insist.
To be clear, I'm not ditching the wait-and-see approach. After all of the Bears' recent failures in free agency, how could I? But this year, after Pace bought from the top of the market, let's just say there's an increased impatience to the waiting. Suddenly, there's a greater pull toward seeing this offense come together on the Bourbonnais practice fields. And maybe the Bears will get back to scoring points at a respectable clip. It's about time.