The Bears obviously haven’t had enough recent success with their own first-round draft picks, so GM Ryan Pace continues to stockpile other teams’ castoffs with the hope of perhaps catching lightning in a bottle.
And with expectations tempered, we’re here for low-risk shots on pedigree and potential in fresh starts, especially with Pace very much shopping the bargain bins now after a somewhat surprisingly lavish beginning to free agency.
Germain Ifedi became the Bears’ latest former first-round reclamation project Wednesday, signing a one-year deal, like those done earlier in the week for Barkevious Mingo and Artie Burns (and for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Prince Amukamara and Kendall Wright, among others, earlier in Pace’s tenure).
But Ifedi’s arrival is the most notable such signing this offseason for a couple reasons — it was the Bears’ first addition to their most disappointing non-QB position room a year ago, and he likely finds himself penciled-in as Chicago’s new starting right guard, while Burns and Mingo are probably depth reinforcements.
If Bears fans are expecting Ifedi to be the savior of their offensive line, much less the set-it-and-forget-it right guard they’ve so sorely missed since Kyle Long’s beastly first two seasons, they’re probably poised for a letdown. While he logged a ton of snaps (4,000+) in Seattle and brings starting experience at guard and tackle, Ifedi was wildly inconsistent — his penalty penchant notwithstanding.
We scanned the first round of the past 13 drafts and found plenty of guys who enjoyed successful stints after moving on at the end of their rookie deals from their initial clubs, but none necessarily who reached and sustained a different level of play.
Remember, though, Idefi signed a one-year prove-it deal, so what would the best-case scenario for him in 2020 look like? (Because can’t we all use a few more best-case scenarios to think about these days?)
It might be the 2019 season for Ereck Flowers in Washington. After being consistently awful at tackle and guard with the Giants, who selected the then-20-year-old redshirt sophomore from Miami No. 9 overall in 2015, Flowers reinvented himself last season in Washington under longtime O-line coach Bill Callahan. He started all 16 games at left guard and was perhaps Washington’s most consistent blocker, leading the offense in snaps and looking a lot more comfortable inside than on an island.
Flowers’ unexpected flourish came in Year 5 at age 25 after some well-documented issues protecting the blind side for Eli Manning. Ifedi will be in his fifth season, at age 26, after leading the league in penalties two seasons ago at right tackle. Both players developed early reputations after being overdrafted for physical superiority but unrefined and undisciplined play.
As for Flowers now, he just signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins that reportedly averages $10 million annually and guarantees the first two years. That’s a long ways from working on a one-year prove-it deal last season after being cast off by his second O-line needy club.
Again, best-case scenario for Ifedi, and the worst-case is that he can’t beat out Rashaad Coward, Alex Bars and a to-be-determined rookie challenger. But it’s worth reminding that this is a unique time in the NFL, with the offseason already scratched by the coronavirus pandemic and training camps and the regular season happening at all, never mind on time, is anything but certain.
Ifedi’s experience and untapped upside, then, is a smart gamble by Pace, who no longer has any dangerous holes to fill on the depth chart and won’t have his best-available-player draft mantra compromised if, say, a speed receiver or cover corner who’s too good to pass on falls into the Bears’ lap at No. 43.