Royal, Rolle much-needed upgrades to Bears' roster

Wednesday afternoon at the introductory news conference for new linebacker Pernell McPhee, Bears general manager Ryan Pace was asked to prioritize the team's need at wide receiver, especially after the trade of five-time Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall.

“We are looking at that,” Pace said. “We are exploring that in free agency, (and) in the draft. There are guys, honestly, on our own roster that we could see having ascending roles. We'll add talent to our entire roster, but, yeah, we are looking at receivers.”

He didn't have to look too long or too far. Just a few hours later, Pace added veteran receiver Eddie Royal, who signed a three-year contract worth $15 million ($10 million guaranteed) to conclude his visit to Halas Hall.

The 5-foot-10, 185-pound seven-year veteran is nothing like the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall. Royal will fit best as a slot receiver in new coordinator Adam Gase's offense. He provides the Bears with the type of wideout they're lacking, as he has better quickness and speed than any pass catcher on the roster.

Royal does not present the big target that Marshall did, but he is adept at working the underneath areas in a defense. He is also expected to be much less of a distraction than Marshall was.

Royal's production last season with the Chargers (62 catches, 778 yards, 12.5-yard average per catch and 7 touchdowns) was similar to Marshall, who caught 61 passes for 721 yards (11.8-yard average) and 8 touchdowns.

Royal spent the last three seasons in San Diego, but his first four years were with the Broncos, so he'll be working with some familiar faces in Chicago. As a rookie in Denver, Royal had his best NFL season while working with Jay Cutler as his quarterback. He caught 91 passes for 980 yards. The next two seasons, Royal's position coach was Gase, and John Fox was the Broncos' head coach in Royal's last year in Denver.

Also late Wednesday night, Pace addressed the defensive side of the ball and the talent deficiency at safety that has existed for several years by adding three-time Pro Bowl pick Antrel Rolle.

“It's a difficult position to evaluate because instincts are such a high priority with the safety position,” Pace said Wednesday. “Instincts, ball skills, ability to tackle in space, those are things that jump out to me. But we want passionate football players. Guys that are physical, passionate football players.”

The Bears get all of that with Rolle. He will immediately upgrade the last line of defense, which was part of the reason the Bears were 30th in passing yards and 31st in average gain per pass play allowed in 2014.

Rolle is 32 but has shown few signs of diminished production. He has 9 of his 26 career interceptions in the last two seasons, and he's an iron man. The 6-foot, 206-pounder has started 80 straight games and 111 of the last 112. He has missed one game in nine seasons.

That's part of why the Bears are comfortable with paying Rolle $11.25 million over three years with $4.9 million guaranteed, including a $3.9 million roster bonus this year.

Rolle played more free safety over the last five years for the Giants, and that is where the Bears have struggled without a rangy, center fielder type who can make plays on the ball. Rolle had 14 interceptions for the Giants and made a huge impression on coach Tom Coughlin.

“He's an outstanding young man, and really I've never come across a player that was more interested in his team and trying to help his team be better in any way they could,” Coughlin said of Rolle last month at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Countless Tuesdays (traditionally an off day for players) Antrel was in my office with, ‘How can we get better? What can we do to get better?'

“Just thoughts going back and forth between coach/player, in terms of how our team could improve. I don't think I was ever involved with a player that was more sincerely interested in how his team could improve. And I admire that very much in him as a young man and a leader.”

• Follow Bob's Bears and NFL reports on Twitter@BobLeGere.

Former Pro Bowl strong safety Antrel Rolle (26), who has signed with the Bears, drew rave reviews from his former head coach, Tom Coughlin, for his play and his leadership. Associated Press
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