The Chicago Bears announced Wednesday they have re-signed five exclusive rights free agents: offensive lineman Alex Bars, inside linebacker Josh Woods, outside linebacker James Vaughters, tight end J.P. Holtz and running back Ryan Nall. NFL insider Tom Pelissero first reported that the Bears were retaining Nall last week, and none of the other four players retained came as much of a surprise.
Free agents signed under the exclusive rights designation must have three seasons or fewer in the league and they are only able to negotiate with their current teams. All five players re-signed by Chicago Wednesday are UDFAs.
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Bars in Particular Had a Memorable 2020 Season
Of the five players retained, Bars in particular stood out last season. The 25-year-old offensive lineman saw the field earlier than expected when he was thrust into the lineup Week 5 after starting left guard James Daniels went down with a torn pectoral muscle. The Bears signed the undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame in 2019, and he spent the first part of his rookie season on the practice squad before getting moved up to the active roster in October. He played sparingly in five games that year, but in 2020, injuries to Chicago’s o-line provided him an opportunity to showcase his abilities.
Clearly athletic, Bars showed a versatility that’s rare among offensive lineman. In 2020 alone, he played the bulk of his games at right guard, but he also spent time at left guard and, for the first and only time in his career, Bars started a game at center. He struggled a bit early on, giving up a few ugly sacks, but he eventually found his groove at right guard.
“It’s a tough situation to roll into if you’re Alex, coming in against that stout D-line,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said about Bars filling in, via Zack Pearson of 247 Sports. “I think that, again, effort-wise it’s good. There’s some technique things here or there. But for the most part, I was happy with how he (played). He had one or two in there — there was one in there that they got; that’s a part of this game. But I have a lot of confidence in him.”
“Alex is very, he’s a great kid, smart, tough, hard-working, does all the extra stuff,” o-line coach Juan Castillo added.
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A Bit About the Rest
The 27-year-old Vaughters is the oldest of the five players retained. He played in 17 games for the Bears over the last two seasons, 14 of which came in 2020. He registered 22 total tackles, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and 1.5 sacks last season. He was on the field for 23 percent of the team’s defensive snaps and 34 percent of its special teams snaps.
Holtz came to Chicago from Washington early last season, and he developed a solid role on special teams and as a blocking fullback-type on certain designed run plays. He played in all 16 games last season, starting one.
Nall, as we reported last week, has carved out a solid role on special teams and as a third-string running back. He had 294 snaps in 2020, playing on 65 percent of the team’s special teams snaps.
Woods spent the entire 2018 season on Chicago’s practice squad before making the active roster in 2019. He played 15 snaps that year before seeing his playing time increase in 2020. He played in 15 games last year, playing on 60 percent of the team’s snaps, and he also registered 14 total tackles while recovering a key fumble.