Bears Q&A: Has Jordan Howard's trade value changed? Is the secondary worse? What's left in free agency? How about another pass rusher?

The Tribune’s Brad Biggs answers your Bears questions weekly.

What does Jordan Howard’s trade market look like? Is it more likely he will be cut than traded at this point? — @shaneloew776

I don’t think Howard’s value for other teams has changed much now that we are one week into the new league year. Teams that went out and invested in a running back in free agency are less likely to be interested. But I don’t think his value has been reduced. I’ve said all along that I don’t think the Bears will be able to get a lot for Howard. Maybe I am wrong, but he’s coming off a season in which he was a pedestrian runner. He’s not very good out of the backfield as a receiver, and he’s entering the final year of his contract, so any team that trades for him will risk losing him after 2019 in free agency.

If general manager Ryan Pace is able to deal Howard, the Bears could include a draft pick to get a slightly better pick in return. I kind of doubt he will have a role in the offense in 2019, and I believe the Bears will look to pair a draft pick with signee Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen in the backfield. But at this point the Bears do not benefit from releasing Howard. They can let it play out and see what the draft brings them. They can take Howard to training camp and see how he looks. Howard should be motivated to put his best foot forward. But you have to believe that after the 2017 season he figured he would be in line for a new contract before the fourth year of his rookie contract, and now that seems rather unlikely. We’ll see how it shakes out.

After a decade of instability at cornerback and safety, 2018 finally saw promise. Now that promise has been replaced with “lost a step, takes bad angles.” I see the addition of Buster Skrine and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as a subtraction. — Bill R., Parts Unknown

Some folks believe the Bears have downgraded, and others believe they will be improved in the secondary. What the Bears did was replace strong safety Adrian Amos and nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan with more affordable options who have experience. Amos will have to be very good for the Packers and Clinton-Dix mistake-prone for the Bears for their play to be as disparate as their pay. Skrine has a much greater track record for durability than Callahan, and he’s being plugged into a much better defense than he’s played in previously.

The Bears already were snug against the salary cap, even after some moves to free up space. They couldn’t pay Amos $9 million per year with free safety Eddie Jackson likely headed for a new contract after this season. Good teams find ways to replace good players. The Patriots have done it for nearly two decades. I don’t think you can argue with the moves the Bears have made. They have to go out and perform. Let’s see what happens.

No interest in bringing Aaron Lynch back? Or too expensive? — @jasonloetterle

I believe the Bears would like to re-sign the outside linebacker. I would not be surprised if the Broncos and coach Vic Fangio have interest in him as well. One source suggested Lynch was seeking $5 million per season before the start of free agency. He might not get that. We’ll have to see where the market goes for him, but he’s definitely got interest. NFL Media reported he’s visiting the Colts and has already visited the Raiders and Seahawks. There still are some experienced players on the street who can fill the role. I imagine the Bears have a number in mind for what they want to pay a third outside linebacker.

What's Kevin White getting from the Cardinals? — @williamlkepper

They signed the Bears’ former first-round draft pick to a one-year deal with a base value of $1.5 million, including a $400,000 signing bonus. The deal is worth up to $2.5 million if White hits incentives for playing time, catches and yards. It’s basically a prove-it deal and a fresh start for White in a new offense.

The Bears have a lot of roster spots to fill. Which positions are the most critical right now? — @jalali_jan

Are we talking about spots on the 90-man roster or the 53-man roster? Sure, they have plenty of spots to fill on the 90-man roster. The team shows 62 players right now and that doesn’t include punter Pat O’Donnell, who is coming back on a two-year contract. So that leaves 27 players to be added. How many of those 27 project to truly compete for a spot on the 53-man roster? After the draft picks, I would say only a few. The Bears need a little more depth at outside linebacker. They need a little more depth at running back, and I’d add tight end to the list. They could probably use a few more bodies at cornerback. But I don’t know that they have “critical” needs. Not like they have the past few years. There are moves to make, though, and I would expect a slow trickle of signings in free agency as the team finds players at the price they want to pay.

Have you heard any word about Justin Houston and the likelihood he signs with the Bears? What are your thoughts on how he’d fit on the team and how his presence would impact Leonard Floyd? — @ilaxam35

Besides regular questions to the Mailbag for three weeks now, I haven’t heard Houston directly linked to the Bears. He was cut loose by the Chiefs before the start of free agency, and there hasn’t been a team that has stepped up with an offer Houston likes. He definitely will help some team this season, but it could be that the biggest contract the Bears want to give out in free agency to a player who isn’t their own (so remove right tackle Bobby Massie from this list) is the one that nickel cornerback Buster Skrine signed. If a team is going to pay Houston good money, it might not be the Bears. I would imagine Houston is seeking a front-line role, and the Bears might not want to give him that with Floyd in the mix. We’ll see what happens.

Did the Bears make a mistake going with Buster Skrine over Bryce Callahan and saving only $1.5 million per year? — @jtbarczak

As I understand it, Callahan’s camp made it known they were expecting a contract that averaged between $7-8 million per season. When the Bears learned that, they moved on, and that process led them to Skrine. Callahan would up getting a contract that averages $7 million per season from the Broncos, and the Bears landed Skrine on a contract that averages $5.5 million per year.

The Bears had to place a value on Callahan, and nobody knows him better than they do. They would have loved to have him back, but I don’t think they wanted to pay him more than what they paid for Skrine. Let’s see how Skrine performs with better talent around him in the secondary and a better pass rush than he played with for the Jets and Browns.

Do you think the Bears make any more moves in free agency? — @cdarieo

Absolutely. They’ve got five draft picks and will look to sign at least 15 undrafted free agents. So I think they could sign another six to eight players who are on the street right now. They’re not done adding.

Is it the GMs or the players who want to wait to sign with so many good pass rushing outside linebackers on the market? I don't remember waiting so long in free agency for valued OLBs. — @bearsdfense

The players would love to be signed yesterday. But they’d like to be signed yesterday at their price. The market slows down after 72 hours, though, and what we’re seeing now is the slow trickle as players evaluate their options and the offers they believe they can get. Teams have budgets, and they place values on players. If they value a player at $4 million per year and the player believes he’s worth $6 million, you get a standoff. Maybe a team budges and gives the player what he is seeking, or close to it. Maybe the player acquiesces and takes something closer to the team’s offer. That takes time. Sometimes players take visits and gather information. Sometimes teams bring players in to get information. It’s a process.

Why did Ryan Pace re-sign Pat O’Donnell? Based on the guarantees in his contract, is there a chance they bring in competition during training camp? — @drewburroughs

I haven’t seen how the numbers shake out in the punter’s two-year contract, which is reported to be worth $4 million. I would say there is a chance the Bears bring in a camp leg, but the guarantees in the contract — and there will be some — will make O’Donnell the favorite, at least at the start of any competition. O’Donnell improved last season, and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor appreciated some of the adjustments he made. There weren’t a lot of great punting options on the street.

Was availability the reason not to spend a little more on Bryce Callahan, or did he want to leave? — @geordiewendt

Callahan would have loved to return to the Bears, but he was seeking a payday. Remember, this is a guy who entered the league as an undrafted free agent. It’s not like he got a solid signing bonus as a draft pick. It’s a business for the players just as it is for the clubs.

Despite speculation that the Bears were interested in Le’Veon Bell, did they have the money to actually sign him? — @bradleykopec

Every team would love to add a talent like Bell, but I do not believe the Bears were actively involved in pursuing him. They entered free agency with a smaller stack of cash after the Khalil Mack deal last September, and that is understandable. Bell would have been problematic for the Bears from a salary cap standpoint too.

Are there any known plans on how they intend to address the need for a kicker? — @clunejonathan

Well, the Bears have Chris Blewitt and Redford Jones on the roster, and it would not surprise me if a veteran eventually gets a look. Multiple kickers might get looks before the end of training camp. The decision on a kicker is a long way from being over.

Will we see an increased role for Javon Wims and Anthony Miller this year? Will the passing game be even more of a focus in 2019? - @landon16470894

I don’t know that the passing game will be “more of a focus,” but I believe Miller will have a higher profile in the offense. Wims will have a chance to compete for a role, but nothing will be given to him. Cordarrelle Patterson and new speedster Marvin Hall will be in the mix. It should be a good competition at the bottom of the depth chart.

The RB, OLB, and TE rooms appear to lack depth. How do you see the Bears addressing these groups? More FA signings, draft or both? — @bearsdiehard68

All of the above. The Bears should be able to add a solid running back in the middle rounds of the draft, and it’s a decent draft for tight ends as well. At tight end, it appears the Bears plan to get much more from former second-round draft pick Adam Shaheen, and they could have an expanded role for Ben Braunecker. We’re not talking about positions where they need to add starters, and that’s a good thing. At this time a year ago, they needed starters at multiple positions. Two years ago, they had lots of roster holes. I think you will like the way things look by the end of April.

Think back to last offseason when 8-8 would have seemed like progress. … How important was the 12-4 season for Ryan Pace? Given how tight the Bears are to the cap this offseason, don’t you think his situation would be very tough if the team hadn’t had such a turnaround? — @dawestley

Pace and his staff were validated when the Bears went from worst to first in the NFC North, but remember, he signed a contract extension through the 2021 season before the start of last year. So, even if the Bears had been a .500 team in coach Matt Nagy’s first season, Pace would not have been in jeopardy. The trade for Khalil Mack changed a lot of things, including the salary cap, and the Bears appear positioned to compete moving forward. They had the breakthrough season everyone was waiting for, and now they’re in the thick of the NFC as a real contender.

Cordarrelle Patterson will of course return kickoffs. What about punts? — @greg_breen7

My bet is that Tarik Cohen is the primary punt returner once again. Patterson doesn’t have a lot of experience with punts. In fact, he’s returned only one punt in his career. Cohen was a Pro Bowl selection as a punt returner, and it wouldn’t make sense to remove him from that role.

Do you think Cordarrelle Patterson can actually become an start as a running back? — @issac_redmond

No. The Patriots used him some out of the backfield last season, and coach Matt Nagy will surely find some creative uses for him, but he’s a wide receiver. Not a running back.

bmbiggs@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @BradBiggs

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