In the last two weeks, I’ve outlined both what the Bears need to add at WR this off-season and what players in free agency should fit that profile/the new offense. At the end of that work, I came up with the following two lists, suggesting that the Bears work to sign one player from each group.
Tier 1 (750+ yard receivers)
Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders (if cut)
Tier 2 (500+ yard receivers)
Albert Wilson, Kendall Wright, John Brown, Taylor Gabriel, Paul Richardson, Jaron Brown
Now I want to look at what types of contracts those players should expect in free agency to see how expensive these moves would likely be for the Bears. In order to do that, you need to compare the contracts signed by similar players (in both age and past production) who hit free agency in recent years. This gives you a general baseline for the ballpark a new contract should probably be in, though of course there are no guarantees this is exactly how it works out.
In an effort to be as accurate as possible, I also accounted for inflation, since the cap keeps going up every year. It’s jumped by about $10 million a year every year since 2015, and is expected to do the same again this year. Thus the comparable contracts were multiplied by the following scaling factors to get the predicted value, depending on when they were signed (some slight adjustments were made for greater/worse production):
- 2015: 1.24
- 2016: 1.15
- 2017: 1.07
Comparable deal: Marvin Jones (5 years, $40M, $13M guaranteed, signed in 2016)
Projected contract: 5 years, $46M, $15M guaranteed
For my money, Lee should be Chicago’s #1 target at WR this offseason. He’s been consistently solid as a WR2 for the last two years, much like Jones was before leaving Cincinnati for Detroit in 2016. Both will be 26 when the deal is signed, and the duo’s production was almost identical in their final two seasons of their rookie deal (though Jones did have more touchdowns). Jones has taken off with better quarterback play in Detroit, and I think Lee could do the same in Chicago.
Comparable Deal: Mohamed Sanu (5 years, $34.5M, $14M guaranteed, signed in 2016)
Projected Contract: 5 years, $40M, $15M guaranteed
Matthews and Sanu also share many similarities in their production through the tail end of their rookie contracts. Both seemed to have established themselves as solid WR2s in their third season before falling off dramatically in year 4 and entering free agency on a low note. That knocked Sanu’s price down a bit from what Marvin Jones got, but he still got a solid long-term deal. I expect Jordan Matthews should fare similarly, but bumped his total money up a bit because he had 3 years of solid production prior to his down 2017 season. Sanu only had 1.
Comparable Deal: Ted Ginn (3 years, $11M, $3M guaranteed, signed in 2017)
Comparable Deal: Brandon Marshall (2 years, $11M, $5M guaranteed, signed in 2017)
Projected Contract: 3 years, $14M, $5M guaranteed
Ted Ginn signed his contract in free agency entering his age 32 season and coming off of back-to-back years of right around 750 yards. Brandon Marshall was 33 and had just dropped from 1500 yards to around 750. Mike Wallace is entering his age 32 season and coming off a 748 yard season. This is the market for guys like Wallace, though I’m sure he’ll start out looking for more money.
Comparable Deal (low): Jeremy Maclin (2 years, $11M, $6M guaranteed, signed in 2017)
Comparable Deal (high): Pierre Garcon (5 years, $47.5M, $17M guaranteed, signed in 2017)
Projected Contract: 3 years, $27M, $15M guaranteed
Assuming he gets cut by Denver, Sanders is an interesting case. He’s 31 years old and coming off a down season, with only 555 yards, but he was rock solid for several years before that, and the Broncos didn’t exactly have an ideal QB situation last year. His drop in production from several straight good years to around 500 yards echoes Jeremy Maclin’s quite strongly before he hit free agency last year. Maclin had a good QB situation, so the factors aren’t exactly the same, but Maclin was also 2 years younger, which worked in his favor. I think that’s a low end for Sanders’ market this offseason.
On the high end, we see Pierre Garcon, who signed a sizable deal with San Francisco at the same age Sanders is now. Of course, Garcon was coming directly off a 1,000 yard season. I think Sanders likely sees a shorter deal than Garcon but similar annual value.
Comparable Deal: Kenny Stills (4 years, $32M, $17M guaranteed, signed in 2017)
Projected Contract: 4 years, $34M, $18M guaranteed
Both Stills and Richardson are burners who had quiet third seasons and finished with around 700 yards in year 4 before entering free agency. Stills had better production than Richardson in the first 2 years of his career, but overall I think they should likely be viewed similarly and will get fairly similar deals.
Comparable Deal: Rishard Matthews (3 years, $15M, $5M guaranteed, signed in 2016)
Comparable Deal: Jarius Wright (4 years, $15M, $7M guaranteed in 2015)
Projected Contract: 4 years, $22M, $8M guaranteed
And now we get to Albert Wilson, a free agent from Kansas City who already knows Matt Nagy and his offense. I think it is very likely he ends up in Chicago, and the price shouldn’t be too steep. Wilson compares very similarly in both age and production to Matthews and Wright when they signed their 2nd contracts. They all had something of a breakthrough season just before free agency that saw them finish with around 550-600 yards after not doing too much before that. Add in some inflation for a higher cap and there’s a general guideline for Wilson’s contract.
John Brown and Taylor Gabriel
Comparable Deal: Torrey Smith (3 years, $15M, $0.5M guaranteed, signed in 2017)
Projected Contract: 3 years, $16M, $6M guaranteed
Torrey Smith signed with Philadelphia last offseason coming off of his worst season as a pro in San Francisco. He was 28 years old and over the past few years had seen his production drop from 1100 yards down to about 700 for 2 years, with only 267 yards in his final year before free agency. Consequently, his market was not what he had hoped, and he settled for a small deal with very little guaranteed money.
That looks eerily similar to John Brown, who will be 28 next year and has seen his production drop from 1000 yards to 500 yards to only 299 over the last three years. Unless a team really believes in Brown and gives him a nice deal (likely along the lines of what I projected for Richardson above), he’s likely going to sign something shorter like Smith did.
The same goes for Taylor Gabriel, who is going to be 27 next year and had only 378 yards last year after a few better seasons in his past (around 600 yards two of the three years before that). If he had hit the market a year ago, he’d be projected more like Albert Wilson, but his down season in 2017 means he is likely looking at a shorter, smaller contract. You could also make an argument for Gabriel getting a slightly smaller deal, more in line with Kendall Wright’s comparables below.
Comparable Deal: Chris Hogan (3 years, $12M, $7.5M guaranteed, signed in 2016)
Comparable Deal: Seth Roberts (3 years, $12M, $6.3M guaranteed, signed in 2017)
Projected Contract: 3 years, $13M, $8M guaranteed
Like Hogan and Roberts, Wright is a little older than some of the higher upside guys above (all 3 are 27 or 28 in their first season under a new contract). That limits their upside a little bit, and thus keeps their price down. All three of these guys are pretty well slotted in as 3rd or 4th WRs who can give you about 500 yards a season. The market for Wright seems pretty clearly set to me, though it’s always possible he (or any other of these lower-level guys) slip through the cracks a bit and end up signing a cheaper 1-year deal later in free agency like Wright did in Chicago last year (1 year, $2M, $1M guaranteed).
Comparable Deal: Marquise Goodwin (2 years, $6M, $4.5M guaranteed, signed in 2017)
Projected Contract: 2 years, $7M, $3.5M guaranteed
Goodwin hit the market last year coming off his best season as a pro, but that was only 431 receiving yards. This surpassed his combined total from his first 3 years, but it wasn’t enough to land him a meaningful contract. Still, he landed a prove it deal in San Francisco, and signed a nice extension after proving it with a breakout 2017. Jaron Brown should find himself in the same boat this summer. He had 477 yards in 2017 after not topping 229 in any of his first 4 seasons. That’s enough to warrant some interest, but not enough to make a serious financial commitment.
If the Bears sign one player from each tier listed above, they’re likely looking at an annual cap hit of roughly $10-15 million, depending on the specific combinations of players. That seems reasonable for the time being since their other top skill position players are all on cheap rookie deals.
All of these players should fit the Bears’ new offense quite well and help fill their hole at WR. If I had my choice, I would ideally grab Marqise Lee and Albert Wilson. That’s a bit more expensive of a pairing, but both guys are young, great fits in the offense, and productive. Together with Cam Meredith, they would give the Bears a rock solid top trio of targets for Mitchell Trubisky, and all three could be around for the next 3-4 years to provide him with continuity.
Another option that could make sense would be to sign an older vet like Emmanuel Sanders or Mike Wallace on a short-term deal, grab one of the second tier guys (Wilson seems the most likely to me given his familiarity with Nagy), and draft a rookie to groom behind Wallace. That would provide solid targets right now while planning for a future where Cam Meredith likely gets more expensive.
Given their relative prices, what’s your favorite combination?