Projecting Contracts for the Key Free Agent Bears

| January 17th, 2019

The Bears have three starters – Bryce Callahan, Bobby Massie, and Adrian Amos – and a key role player – Aaron Lynch – who are all free agents this offseason. They’re tight up against the cap, so keeping all of them will be hard.

In order to prioritize which ones might be most important and attainable to hang onto, we need to understand how expensive their contracts are likely to be. Let’s look at each player one by one and look at the types of contracts signed by comparable players in recent years to get an idea for what to expect. All data is from Spotrac.

Bryce Callahan (27 years old)

Callahan’s contract is a difficult one to project because it is complicated by health. Callahan has been one of the best nickel backs in the NFL when healthy, but he’s only played 45 out of a possible 65 games (including playoffs) in 4 years, which should keep his price down a little bit. It’s also a bit difficult to parse out nickel back contracts from the other cornerbacks, as they’re listed generically together even though NFL teams clearly pay them differently. Nevertheless, here are four recent nickel back contracts that can help give us an idea of what Callahan’s market should be.

Harris’ deal sets the standard for nickels, but I don’t think it will have much bearing on Callahan. I’m sure his agents will point to it as what they’d like to get, but I don’t think teams view Callahan on Harris’ level, both because of health and big plays. Harris missed 1 game in 4 years before signing this deal and had 10 interceptions to Callahan’s 4.

The other three deals were all signed last year and should be more relevant. Colvin is probably a realistic best-case scenario for Callahan. He hit free agency last year coming off a breakout season with the Jaguars, who had the best defense in the NFL and got a lot of attention for it. Sounds familiar, right? Both players had injury problems too, as Colvin missed 16 games in his first four years. But he was coming off a season in which he had played all 16 games (and 3 playoff games), something Callahan has never done. That should help keep Callahan’s market down a bit.

Robinson and Robey-Coleman both got fairly similar deals, and I think that’s about what Callahan should expect. Callahan is better than either of them when healthy, but he’s also healthy less often than they are. The salary cap keeps going up, so with inflation we’ll say he gets a little more money than they did.

I will note, however, that the Bears should hope they can get Callahan re-signed for a deal like this before free agency starts and other teams can start talking to him. Once that happens, you never know if somebody desperate will overpay and price the Bears out. For what it’s worth, Spotrac’s projection for Callahan puts him at 3 years and about $7 million per year.

Contract projection: 3 years, $18M, $10M guaranteed

Bobby Massie (30 years old)

Projecting tackle contracts for non-elite players is hard, because tackle is a difficult position to quantify production. However, I took my best shot at it by looking at how other veteran good-but-not-great right tackles are getting paid. The results can be seen in the table below.

These all seem to fall in a pretty similar range, so the market is fairly set in terms of how much Massie should expect per year. He signed a contract for $6 million a year 3 years ago and has basically maintained his level of play throughout, so something along those lines can reasonably be expected again.

With the cap going up every year, a bit of inflation from that deal might happen, so maybe Hubbard’s contract (the most recent one) is the best comparison, though likely for a shorter period of time due to Massie’s older age.

Projected contract: 3 years, $21 million, $8 million guaranteed

Adrian Amos (26 years old)

Amos’ free agent experience could be an interesting one. Many fans seem to think of him as a borderline All-Pro safety thanks to some hype from Pro Football Focus last year, but I view him as more of a solid plug-and-play guy who does his job but isn’t a playmaker. As you can see below, his contract is going to look very different depending on which of those two evaluations NFL teams agree with.

It was a quiet safety market last year, and there are a bunch of decent safeties scheduled to hit the market this year, so I don’t think Amos is likely going to get the money he wants. If the Bears are able to get him for something around $4 million a year, maybe they think about it. But it might be best for both sides if Amos gets more money elsewhere and leaves. That would earn the Bears a nice compensatory pick and enable them to replace him with a cheaper veteran option who can compete with Deon Bush to be the least important starter on a great defense.

Contract projection: 5 years, $30 million, $12 million guaranteed

Aaron Lynch (26 years old)

Lynch was a solid rotational edge rusher for the Bears this year, but like Callahan his injury history caught up to him and he missed the end of the season. His stats ended up being very modest, as he posted 17 tackles, 3 sacks, 8 quarterback hits, and 1 interception in 353 snaps.

You might think he should be cheap to re-sign with modest totals like that, but edge rushers are expensive. He came to the Bears in 2018 on a 1 year, $4 million deal despite missing more than half of the games over the prior 2 years and only posting 2.5 sacks. His 2018 season certainly did nothing to hurt his value, so let’s look at some comparable rushers and recent contracts they’ve signed.

The annual money for Lynch is likely going to be somewhere between $4 and $6 million, but what will really matter for him, especially given his injury history, is the length of the deal and the guaranteed money. This could be his one shot to really get a decent pay day in the NFL, so a contract like what Malcolm Smith got would be great. I’m sure the injury history will keep teams leery of being tied to him long term though.

Realistically, the Bears are going to have a hard time paying Lynch as much as he could get on the open market. They just done have that kind of money for a role player. Unless he decides that he wants to stay here and takes less money to do so, he’s probably gone.

Contract projection: 2 years, $10 million, $5 million guaranteed

My Take

If I was Ryan Pace, here’s how I would handle the 4 players above:

  • I would be working very hard to sign Bryce Callahan and Bobby Massie to reasonable deals like those outlined above (or maybe slightly smaller) before free agency began.
  • I would tell Adrian Amos to shop himself in free agency and come back to me with the best deal he gets, which I will probably not end up matching.
  • I would tell Aaron Lynch that I appreciate everything he did this year, but unfortunately I don’t have the money to bring him back unless he’s willing to take a pay cut and offer him a 1 year, $2 million deal that is fully guaranteed. It’s his choice to either stay in a great situation with the Bears or go get more money elsewhere.

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