The Bears’ focus, along with the rest of the league’s, now turns to the draft, which represents an opportunity for Pace to acquire the kind of long-term, cheap assets that kickstarted this rebuild all those years ago. They’re needed. All those cheap assets that have morphed into the kind of players that pushed the Bears to the postseason aren’t going to be cheap much longer.
If Trubisky’s ascent continues — a big if — he’ll need a new contract in a couple years. Other key contributors on their rookie deals like safety Eddie Jackson, running back Tarik Cohen, and pass rusher Leonard Floyd will need new and pricier contracts in the years to come. In a pure football sense unrelated to money, the Bears need to hit on their draft picks to improve their team from a talent standpoint. They were a very good team in 2018. But they still fell short of capturing a playoff win. They need to get better.
The three remaining players should be key players again in 2019. One reason the Bears moved on from Howard and Amos? Cohen and Jackson play the same position as them, but they play those positions in entirely different and more valuable ways. Plus, they’re just a whole lot better than their former teammates.
Jackson is among the league’s best free safeties, getting named First Team All-Pro after his second season as a pro. In two seasons, he’s already registered eight interceptions and three touchdowns. Cohen, a 5-foot-6 running back, has tallied 1,892 yards and 11 touchdowns from scrimmage in two seasons. He’s averaging 6.1 yards per touch. He’s a near-perfect fit for the modern NFL and more specifically, Matt Nagy’s creative offense that (rightfully) places an emphasis on pass-catching running backs.
And then there’s Nichols, a defensive tackle who played in 14 games with six starts and recorded 28 combined tackles, three sacks, five tackles for a loss, and seven quarterback hits as a fifth-round rookie. Because he plays on the same defensive front as Mack and Akiem Hicks, Nichols’ production this past season was often overlooked. But if you turn on the film, he immediately jumps off the screen. He doesn’t just look like a future starter. He looks like a potential star in the making.
The Bears got significant production out of Amos, Howard, Nichols, Jackson, and Cohen last season for a combined cap hit of $4,647,308. That’s what gave them the freedom to commit $13.8 million in cap space to Mack after already committing more than $11.8 million in cap space to Robinson. Hitting on draft picks results in cheap rookies resulting in the financial flexibility to commit dollars and resources elsewhere.