Bears free agent news 2018: Updates on Chicagos latest roster moves

Bears free agent news 2018: Updates on Chicago\s latest roster moves
2018 Fantasy Football Free Agency: How will Allen Robinson fare with the Bears?
With some of the hottest available names agreeing to contracts ahead of the official start of free agency, Matt Harmon considers how each new receiver-team pairing will work, ranking them from the best fit to the worst.

Contract terms agreed to: Three-year deal worth $42 million, with roughly $25 million guaranteed.

Chicagos offense figures to go the way of Philadelphias – more aggressive and less identifiable. A healthy mix of Nagys West Coast offense and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrichs spread offense (just like the one Trubisky ran at North Carolina) should keep defenses on their toes. But it will also lead to Trubisky dialing up passes for several different players. Robinson might get more targets than his teammates, but new tight end Trey Burton, second-year burner Tarik Cohen, reliable receiver Cameron Meredith (whos coming off a torn ACL himself) and tight end Adam Shaheen, a physical beast, are certain to be regulars. Trubisky also has a tendency going back to his collegiate days to lean on the slot, a place where Robinson lined up just 17 percent of the time in 2015 and 2016.

No team had a more glaring hole on the wide-receiver depth chart heading into free agency than the Bears. Chicago was set to return a cast of unproven entities with a series of questions about their health. A big move at the position was destined to come.

The biggest issue is his receiving average. Robinson nailed down 1,400 yards in 2015 thanks to 17.5 yards per catch. Throwing out his one-game, three-catch 2017 “season,” Robinson has had under 15 yards per catch in every other campaign hes played going back to his last two years at Penn State. His speed could also be affected by his ACL injury, though thats a factor we wont know for several months. A projection of 13.0 yards per catch might be considered generous, but were putting some faith in Nagys playcalling and Trubiskys ability to make it happen.

Early Thursday morning, that move came. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Allen Robinson plans to sign with the Chicago Bears when free agency officially opens on Wednesday. The Bears will ink a No. 1 wide receiver for young QB Mitch Trubisky, while Robinson joins a team ready to make him a key piece in its offensive evolution.

We saw Robinson score 14 times in 2015… and just six in 2016. While that kind of inconsistency might lead to heartburn, it should please you to know that 18 of Robinsons 20 touchdowns were red-zone grabs. His elite-trait route-running ability combined with a more accurate passer should result in a good dose of scores. Six seems low and eight (one every two games) seems high, so well settle on seven.

Video: Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson Agree To Three-Year Contracts | SI Wire | Sports Illustrated

Last season, the Bears fielded an offense stuck in the mud of an era long since gone by in the NFL. Ultra-conservative passing supplemented the run-first, grind-it-out approach favored by John Fox-coached teams. Chicago decided to hit hyperdrive and accelerate into the 21st century with a pair of coaching hires. The team tapped former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy to be its head coach and play-caller. Nagy brought former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich to sit at his right hand as offensive coordinator. Both men were known for up-tempo, progressive spread offenses at their previous stops.

Robinsons catch rate is another concern. That number in Jacksonville was 52.6 percent, though to be fair that was with Blake Bortles. Trubisky should be at the very least a small upgrade at quarterback for Robinson, pushing the receivers projected catch rate up. Even if it jumped to 55 percent, it means 70 catches for Chicagos newest Bear. Good, but not great.

The way Nagy and Helfrich approach offensive design is a major reason why the Robinson signing is a tremendous fit. One of the biggest culprits in Robinsons down 2016 season lied in where he was targeted. Far too many of his 151 targets came on low-percentage throws deep down the sideline, as Next Gen Stats shows in the chart below.

An engaging receiver who averaged 76 catches and 1,141 yards in two healthy seasons before the injury needed to know three things in free agency: 1. Is the money right? 2. Will the coach use an offense that creates opportunities? And 3. Can the quarterback deliver the ball? The Bears checked all the boxes for a 24-year-old playmaker expected to be ready by training camp. A Detroit native who played in the Big Ten at Penn State, the Midwestern fit reportedly appealed to Robinson as much as his solid character reviews pleased the Bears.
2018 Fantasy Football Free Agency: How will Allen Robinson fare with the Bears?
2018 Fantasy Football Free Agency: How will Allen Robinson fare with the Bears?

Allen Robinsons 2016 target chart from #NextGenStats. Didnt get enough work over the middle, too many low-percentage targets along the sideline

Signing Robinson to hasten the progress of Trubisky after 12 NFL starts was reminiscent of the Bears adding veteran Pro Bowl receiver Muhsin Muhammad in 2005 to aid quarterback Rex Grossman, who had made six at the time. The goal also resembles what the Bears were looking for in 2012 when they acquired Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall in an effort to surround quarterback Jay Cutler with as many weapons as possible. Big-time players often carry big risks, and Robinson is no different given that he tore his ACL last Sept. 10.

Mark Potash: Analyzing the Bears flurry of free agent agreements

The lack of use in the middle of the field caused over 50 of Robinsons targets in 2016 to come on plays where he had less than a yard of separation. Thats the most for any wide receiver over the last two seasons. If Nagy designs a similar offense to the one employed by the Chiefs during his tenure as offensive coordinator, that will not be an issue in Chicago. As Next Gen Stats quantifies in the chart below, no team created more space for its wideouts than Kansas City the last two seasons.

Video: Bears add WR Allen Robinson | SportsCenter | ESPN

Update to the chart I posted Thursday: Average yards of separation for all WRs at the QBs release for 2016, 2017 and the difference between years #NextGenStats

The addition of Robinson, an explosive Pro Bowl receiver coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, allows Pace to replace Alshon Jeffery a year after losing him for nothing to the Eagles — but better late than never. The ability of the Bears to sign Robinson, also coveted by the Jaguars, 49ers and others, speaks well of the reputation of the coach Pace hired, Matt Nagy, and the quarterback he drafted second overall, Mitch Trubisky.

WR Allen Robinson says hes signing with Bears

While the 2016 Jaguars ranked 30th in wide receiver separation at the point of the quarterbacks release, the Chiefs led the league with 3.63 and 3.59 yards the past two seasons. Robinson should find far more high-percentage targets coming his way in Chicago.

Gabriel played two years with the Browns to start his career and moved on to the Falcons after getting cut in 2016. He emerged as a big-play threat with seven touchdowns as the Falcons made their way to the Super Bowl. His productivity declined last season, but it still looks like an upgrade over much of what the Bears were working with offensively in 2017 and new coach Matt Nagy was part of a Chiefs offense that made plenty of big plays the last couple of years.

Creating more space with "layup throws" for Trubisky was already going to be a priority for the Bears in 2018. Most expect them to follow the Sean McVay plan. As a rookie in 2016, Jared Goffs tight-window throw rate was a league-high 25.9 percent. In McVays first season at the helm in Los Angeles, that figure came down to 14.3 percent (31st). In 2017, Trubisky finished 13th in tight-window throw rate (18.8 percent). That went poorly, with a 27.3 passer rating. Its an easy comparison to make, and a similar plan could set Trubisky on the same rebound path Goff strolled down in his second season.

They landed Allen Robinson with a three-year deal after the first day of “legal tampering” and now they are also expected to sign a four-year deal with former Falcon Taylor Gabriel. The news came from Gabriel’s former Browns teammate and current Joe Thomas podcast co-host Andrew Hawkins, who named Gabriel as the source for his scoop.

Nagy and Helfrich were already set to create a more favorable offense for their quarterback with their congruent spread-offense philosophies. Now theyve found a No. 1 wide receiver who is up to the task in assisting their efforts. The move is only made better by how desperately Robinson also needed to find a team ready to use his talents in a more efficient manner.

The Bears are also set to sign tight end Trey Burton and they’ll have a much different look on offense if all deals move forward as planned on Wednesday.

The Dolphins telegraphed for almost a year that they were ready to sever ties with Jarvis Landry. The move finally came to pass Friday, when Landry was sent packing to Cleveland for a pair of draft picks. Shortly thereafter, Miami identified a replacement for Landry in former Chiefs pass catcher Albert Wilson. The one-time undrafted free-agent signee enjoyed career highs in catches (42), yards (554) and touchdowns (three) last season as the Chiefs primary slot receiver. He will slide right into Landrys vacated position.

The way the Chiefs deployed Wilson last season was nearly identical to how Landry was used in Miami. Both players function in the same areas of the field, as Next Gen Stats shows us.

Gabriel spent the past two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. He enjoyed a strong 2016 campaign in Atlanta, catching 35 passes for 579 yards and six touchdowns, but took a step backward in 2017. The 27-year-old finished this past season with 33 receptions for 378 yards and one touchdown.

Average yards of separation: Wilson, 4.1; Landry, 3.2. Intended air yards on targets: Wilson, 6.4; Landry, 6.4.

Twitter LogoCopy Link IconChicago BearsReport: Taylor Gabriel to Sign with Bears After 2 Seasons with FalconsJoseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerTwitter LogoFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2018 CommentsComment Bubble Icon

Wilson was also a valuable player with the ball in his hands last season. Next Gen Stats developed a metric that measures yards after the catch adjusted for the separation a receiver has when targeted. In other words, receivers who beef up their YAC totals on "wide open" targets in space are dinged, and players who create more YAC are highlighted. Wilson ranked sixth-highest among wide receivers last year, averaging 1.91 separation-adjusted YAC per reception.

Gabriel is the second receiver from whom the Bears have received a commitment this offseason. NFL Networks Ian Rapoport reported Allen Robinson has agreed to a deal with Chicago as well.

Essentially, the Dolphins found themselves a steeply discounted version of Landry. Wilson will sign a three-year, $24 million contract with the Dolphins, while Landry carried a $16 million franchise-tag cost with him to Cleveland. While he might not approach the 100-catch totals Landry annually pushed for in Miami, Wilson will provide a great return on that investment.

Former NFL wideout Andrew Hawkins, who played with Gabriel on the Cleveland Browns, tweeted Gabriel confirmed the contract will run for four years.

Falcons WR Taylor Gabriel to sign 4-year deal with Bears

Contract terms agreed to: Three-year deal for $48 million, including $30 million guaranteed at signing.

Already laden with playmakers Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt, the Chiefs added another piece to Patrick Mahomes offense by agreeing to a deal with Sammy Watkins. On Tuesday morning, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the three-year deal will come with $30 million guaranteed at signing. Its a hefty commitment to taking another step offensively.

Considering the Bears wide receiver corps last year, does it really matter? Either player would be a huge upgrade. Robinson arguably has the higher ceiling, but also is the higher risk, coming off a torn ACL. At least Ryan Pace is in a little better position to roll the dice.

Does Allen Robinson make the Bears playoff contenders?

Watkins 2017 season with the Rams was widely viewed as a disappointment from a surface-level perspective. However, his 93.1 passer rating when targeted on tight-window throws was impressive. Operating in tight coverage was already a strength of the Chiefs entrenched top wideout; quarterback Alex Smith had a 99.0 passer rating when throwing to Hill in tight windows.

Hill developed true No. 1 receiver ability last season after operating as a gadget player in his first pro campaign. Yet, the Chiefs still maximize his value by moving him across the formation and locating him on downfield targets. Watkins, on the other hand, will fill in as a traditional X-receiver. Over 78 percent of his targets last season came when he lined up out wide, and he had a 122.2 passer rating on those throws. Hes also a better target on short-area throws than given credit for, with a 122.6 passer rating on targets traveling 10 or fewer air yards. Watkins ability to offer a complementary skill set to Hill reveals the true reason for this signing. The fit works, with the move getting downgraded only because of the cost, which was slightly on the pricey side.

The Chicago Bears were justifiably not content to just add Robinson to the wide receiver room. After securing the top outside wide receiver on the market, they turned their sights to former Falcons big-play weapon Taylor Gabriel. "Good Morning Footballs" Peter Schrager reported Tuesday that Gabriel will head to Chicago on a four-year deal.

As with the Robinson agreement, this is another move that shows Bears head coach Matt Nagy is committed to constructing an offense akin to what the Chiefs ran the last few seasons. Gabriel fits in well with Nagys brand of creative spread attack that provides space for the point-guard quarterback. In 2016, when he was last paired with another one of the NFLs top innovative minds, Niners coach and former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Gabriel averaged 3.2 yards of separation on his targets. Hell also provide the team with a player who can win in the open field. Gabriel ranked ninth among wide receivers last year, averaging 1.49 adjusted YAC per reception. This Next Gen Stats metric shows which wide receivers gain extra yardage beyond just what theyre expected to get based on the separation they had when thrown to.

The Bears hope that Gabriel and tight end Trey Burton will create matchup problems for teams in the short to intermediate areas, while Robinson dictates coverages as the No. 1. The move is a tremendous fit. Chicagos offense is already vastly improved over where it stood a mere 24 hours ago.

Contract terms agreed to: Five-year deal for $40 million, with $20 million in guarantees.

Bears GM Ryan Pace makes strong move landing Allen Robinson
Bears GM Ryan Pace makes strong move landing Allen Robinson

The Washington Redskins clearly needed to upgrade the wide receiver position, with Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson being the only two players on the depth chart with any tangible promise. The team swung big, as NFL Networks Mike Garafolo reported Tuesday that they are expected to sign former Seahawks receiver Paul Richardson to a five-year, $40 million deal.

Richardson broke out in 2017, playing 16 games for the first time in his pro career. Despite a twice-torn ACL being part of his injury history, Richardson remains a lethal downfield threat. The former second-round pick hauled in seven deep balls for 275 yards and three scores in Seattle last year. Hell join another great deep threat in Doctson, who, with Richardson, was in the top 13 in Next Gen Stats ranking of deep threats. While that might cause some to worry that their skill sets are redundant, Richardsons presence as the X-receiver should help Doctson avoid constantly running into No. 1 corners in press-man coverage as he looks to orchestrate his own breakout.

Washingtons move to sign another vertical receiver signals its looking to make sure Alex Smiths 2017 season was not an outlier but a sign of the future. Smith, who will take the reins at QB as a result of the trade Washington agreed to with Kansas City in January, led all quarterbacks in deep-ball yardage (1,248) and passer rating (134.7) by a decent gap. Doctson and Richardson operating on the outside will give him a fighting chance to at least push for the top 10 in 2018, even if a No. 1 encore is unlikely.

Richardsons addition is unlikely to change the course of Washingtons passing offense in the way an addition like Allen Robinson might have. But he will solidify their three-wide receiver set. The move will be judged by Richardsons ability to stay healthy and help Doctson unlock his potential with the tactical leverage his deep speed provides.

Contract terms agreed to: Two-year deal for $12 million, with $8.25 million in guarantees.

Well, the always-eager-to-spend Dolphins will drop some of the money they saved from swapping Albert Wilson in for Jarvis Landry by signing Danny Amendola. In poaching his services from New England, the Dolphins will have acquired yet another slot receiver.

wide receiver group” alt=”Bears adding Taylor Gabriel to wide receiver group”>
Bears adding Taylor Gabriel to wide receiver group

Miami obviously wanted to revamp its wide receiver room, and the Dolphins are on their way to doing so. Yet, its worth wondering if theyre bringing in two players who are both most effective when used on the interior. Amendola saw 87 percent of his targets when lined up in the slot last season.

Amendola is a solid role player who came up huge in clutch moments for the Patriots during his time there. Perhaps Adam Gase just wants him in a young wide receiver room as a stabilizing veteran presence. But Miami still doesnt have a true No. 1 wide receiver to dictate coverage on high-leverage outside routes and win contested passes. It appears the organizations holding out a last string of hope that DeVante Parker can still be that player. However, the Dolphins quarterbacks posted a miserable 14.9 passer rating on tight-window throws to Parker last season.

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