How free agency will affect the Bears' draft

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The major wave of free agency have passed and while that doesn't mean that there still won't be big contracts handed out or big names switching teams, it means that for the most part the focus can slowly turn back to the draft. The Bears have shaken up their roster, mostly on the defensive side and now there is a better idea of the direction the Bears will go in the draft.

Since the season ended the Bears' front office has made priority number one improving the defense. At each and every press conference along the way Phil Emery has said things like the draft will be defensive-heavy, and Marc Trestman said that there will be a youth movement on that side of the ball.

As far as shoring up the defense in free agency the Bears have added a pair of defensive ends in Willie Young and Lamarr Houston, a pair of safeties in M.D. Jennings and Ryan Mundy, and they brought back a pair of their own defensive tackles in Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins.

These moves have improved the defense or, at the least, added competition to the position groups. The Bears have also managed to bring back their cornerbacks from last season in Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, as well as Kelvin Hayden who missed all of last season with an injury.

So with the focus for Chicago now shifting toward May's draft, which direction will the Bears go? The Chicago Tribune's Bears beat reporter Brad Biggs tackled this subject in an article Saturday night.

"When we make the next couple of moves, that will provide clarity in terms of what our draft moves may be," Emery said.

....

Emery lauded the depth at cornerback in the draft. The 33-year-old Tillman is a short-term option and a bridge to the future. Prioritizing the position in the draft will be paramount after declining to draft a cornerback last year.

....

Emery knows he cannot go that deep into the draft without a cornerback this time, and it is possible investments made on the line — a combined $19 million guaranteed to Houston and Young — will make cornerback a possibility in the first round. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, Ohio State's Bradley Roby and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller are first-round possibilities.

Now most everybody has been mock drafting and talking and thinking about defensive tackle in the draft, and Biggs does not dismiss that possibility. The Bears will certainly want to add more to that position and early in the draft, but the position group is deep.

More from Biggs:

The slew of signings on the line could lead the Bears to make their next major addition there via the draft. Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald is a disruptive three technique who has gotten considerable attention since the Senior Bowl. Emery has talked consistently about bigger being better, so maybe Notre Dame's Louis Nix would entice him despite knee issues.

There should be quality tackles available at different levels of the draft, and South Carolina's Kelcy Quarles and LSU's Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson might fit the profile in later rounds.

The big options for the Bears in round one have to be, in some order, CB, DT and S.

As mentioned earlier, both Emery and Trestman have said that they want to get younger on defense, so I decided to crunch the numbers and see what the average age of each position group is as of today. Each is rounded up to the nearest whole number:

S - 26

LB - 27

DT - 28

DE - 26

CB - 27

When examined then it would make the most sense that the Bears will want to add young talent at DT (plus that group has only three players currently). But looking behind the straight numbers, the age of the projected starters should be considered as well. If the Bears went out tomorrow their starting DTs would be Stephen Paea (25) and Nate Collins (26) while the starting three cornerbacks would be Tillman (33), Jennings (30) and Hayden (30).

In fact, of the eight CBs currently on the roster, there are realistically only four viable starters: the three mentioned and Isaiah Frey. The rest are special teams or camp bodies. Derrick Martin may be an eight-year veteran but he has only one career start. None of the others have a start and only C.J. Wilson has appeared in an NFL game.

The Bears have decent youth at DT with Collins and Paea - as well as an experienced veteran who will see a fair share of playing time - but not at cornerback, where the top three at the position are older than 30 and two of the three were injured last season; it would make an argument that perhaps CB should take priority over DT in round one.

Emery will likely bring in another DT in the latter stages of free agency with a fair share of veterans available and it will be addressed on the first two days of the draft. Getting to the quarterback is priority number one on defense but, as the roster sits right now, they have that in Collins and Ratliff. They do not have a young, promising CB.

There is still a long way to go, obviously, but with the hype surrounding Pitt's Aaron Donald (easily WCG's top choice at DT), he could be gone when the Bears get on the clock. Then say Louis Nix is gone too. In this scenario, let's say that a team passed on Darqueze Dennard to take one of the above mentioned, would the Bears rather take the no. 2 corner in Dennard or the no. 3 DT Timmy Jernigan?

There are a million scenarios that still need to play out but fans should not dismiss that the Bears could go CB before DT in the draft.

Would you be upset if the Bears got one of the two best CBs (Dennard or Justin Gilbert) in the draft over a DT other than Aaron Donald?

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