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The Layman’s Guide to Bears Free Agency: The Big Uglies

Have you ever gone into free agency and hear scores of names but aren’t quite sure who these players are? Well, you’re not alone.

Carolina Panthers vs  New York Jets
Andrew Norwell
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

As we get Back In The Saddle for the fourth installment of the The Layman’s Guide to Bears Free Agency, I am going to peer into the minds of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, and ask: who replaces Josh Sitton and do the Bears need another 5-technique? If you missed the first four pieces about the backup quarterback, wide receiver, “joker” tight end or backup running back positions, you can find them here, here, here, and here respectively.

One of my favorite football terms, which was coined by the late, great Keith Jackson, is referring to lineman as “big uglies.” As a former big ugly myself, it is sort of a badge of honor to hear that term. I once got Dick Butkus’ book signed and he made it out to “big hoss.” I don’t blame him though, I was 12 years old and was 6’2” and 225 lbs. Unfortunately, I am still 6’2” and would kill to be 225 lbs again! Big hoss is another endearing term that gives me that Sweet Emotion for those of us that love the battle in the trenches.

Since the Bears might already have their target on the offensive line—Zach Fulton—and I have already done a breakdown of his game, I am going to look at two players. One of those which is a premier player, one we can Dream On, while the other has been a bit of a disappointment but still has the traits to play in this offense. Since the offensive line seems like it’s almost a foregone conclusion, and there are no good tackles to speak of, I am going to throw another position that may or may not be addressed this off-season.

The Bears might not target a starter on the defensive line in free agency with the current talent on the roster. Akiem Hicks is playing at an extremely high level. Eddie Goldman is an above average nose tackle that provides some juice in the pass rush. Jonathan Bullard was a third-round pick that looks like he has the potential to be a good pass rusher in sub-packages. Roy Robertson-Harris took his first steps as a 5-technique last season and showed some flashes. The Bears like Rashaad Coward as well.

It has been well documented that the EDGE position, whether that be a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker, is quite thin this off-season. It might be in the Bears best interest to try and give the pass rush a boost from the avenues that are available to them. That could mean getting a 5-technique that can rush the passer like Hicks or drafting an inside linebacker that can blitz from the middle. If the Bears truly want to improve their pass rush and don’t want to pay the hefty price it will cost for an EDGE guy, then they need to be creative. They traded up last year for Mitch Trubisky and gave up a lot of picks but where do you Draw The Line with trading away picks?

I Wanna Know Why some of these players might be a fit for the Bears. Who knows, there might be another Hicks sitting out there, which would be a Sight For Sore Eyes. So let’s open Pandora’s Box and see which of these players can make their opponents look like a Rag Doll.

Note: I am only looking at unrestricted free agents in this series. There will inevitably be players available via trade and who are cut, but we simply cannot discuss those names without a massive amount of speculation.

Andrew Norwell

This is absolutely a premium free agent addition. He is young (26) and is coming off of an All-Pro season. The biggest reason that I think this is a bit of a pipe dream is simply the money it will cost to sign him. Spotrac has his market value at roughly 5 years, $12M AAV, and when comparing it to Kevin Zeitler’s contract, probably roughly $30M guaranteed. When you add in what Kyle Long already makes, that ends up being over $20M combined for the guard position. With all of the needs on this team, I simply don’t see it. But a guy can dream, right?

In this first video we get a glimpse of the sheer power that Norwell possesses. He fires out low and delivers a good initial punch. Once he is engaged, he has an excellent base and the way he engages his lower body—through his hips—is text book.

Generally speaking, your All-Pro offensive lineman are equal parts mauler and Mahler. If you don’t have enough finesse in your technique, there is a good chance that you will never reach those heights. Norwell does a great job of inviting the defensive tackle into his body, then using that momentum to deftly turn him aside. This is exactly what you want on a draw play.

Normally I wouldn’t show a block like this because it’s abnormal, but it is just really impressive. This is how an All-Pro offensive lineman with great athleticism can change your scheme. Carolina shows a heavy run look with an extra offensive lineman and a tight end to the right, while a tight end lines up at right tackle. Norwell pulls on this play to show a counter look, but Cam Newton pulls off the play fake. This is a really impressive block and allows your offensive coordinator to get really creative.

Nowell is a bit of a pipe dream in my opinion. While on the surface it seems to make sense, I find it hard to fathom spending that kind of money on the guard position. If this move were to happen, I would say that Bears fans are likely going to be very disappointed with the additions at wide receiver. But who knows, maybe Matt Nagy wants to run the ball more than we think and Ryan Pace believes he can find receivers in the draft? We shall see.

Xavier Su’a-Filo

The former second-round pick of the Texans has been somewhat disappointing in his career. I don’t know what it is for Su’a-Filo but it appears that it could simply be a matter of concentration. This would be a buy-low, high-upside signing. Clearly there is talent there and who knows, maybe Harry Hiestand is the guy to unlock that potential? If the Bears don’t end up signing someone like Fulton, and Norwell is too rich for their blood, this would be a nice consolation prize.

First off, don’t look at the result of this play because it wasn’t good. The center gets flat-out beat on this play. If you watch Su’a-Filo at left guard, you see the combination block that is a crucial part of that zone blocking scheme. He does his job doubling the nose tackle and seals off the middle linebacker at the second level.

In pass protection, you see the the feet and balance. He does a good job of mirroring a smaller defender, which is something that you see a lot on his tape.

I have a soft spot for offensive lineman that just like to hit people. If I had to guess, this appears to be a run/pass option. The offensive line is in a zone blocking scheme but they know not to head down field in case of a pass. I like to see that Su’a-Filo makes his initial block and when the defender spins back inside, he looks to help his tackle out by giving the end a shove before turning back inside again.

As I mentioned, this is a bit of a reclamation project, but it is a worthwhile one. There is a lot to like about Su’a-Filo. He has good feet, a good base, a powerful punch, and he isn’t lazy, which is always a good trait in an offensive lineman. If the Bears are hellbent on keeping Cody Whitehair at center, which I don’t believe they are, they could certainly do worse at replacing Josh Sitton at left guard.

Muhammed Wilkerson

Now to flip over to the other side of the ball and take a look at a potentially open spot on the Bears roster. Wilkerson has a few things going for him. First off, he is a big name, and that is something that I believe Pace is looking to add this off-season. Secondly, he has had elite production in the past. The problem is, Wilkerson is two seasons removed from that elite production.

I find it a little strange that Wilkerson is essentially lined up as the nose tackle on this play. That said, this is vintage Mo. He has the quickness to get inside position on the guard that is trying to seal him off. He basically throws the guard off of him to make the stuff.

While the Jets play a 3-4 scheme, they definitely use different fronts than the Bears. Wilkerson is shaded to the inside of the tackle instead of being “head up” on him. It is not a huge deal but definitely something to point at as to the subtle differences. This play shows off the length and power that made him a household name. At the snap, he is able to essentially bench press the tackle, shed the block, and make the play.

This is the real reason to bring in Wilkerson. For the money that he is likely to command, he will need to get to the quarterback. He does a great job here of getting upfield and staying to the outside to turn the guard’s shoulders 90-degrees. This puts the play in front of Wilkerson as he invites Tyrod Taylor to step into that vacated space. This is a common pass rushing move for a 5-technique defensive end at the NFL level and Wilkerson does it well.

After watching Wilkerson, I don’t see anything from a physical standpoint as to why his numbers are down. He still has the length, strength, and athleticism to be a dominant player in this league. My guess is that this was purely a mental issue with him. Whether or not that was not wanting to be in New York any longer or he is losing passion for the game, who can say, but that is the biggest concern. Will a prove-it deal and a change of scenery be enough to get Wilkerson back on track?

DaQuan Jones

:insert heart-eyes emoji:

While sifting through names and watching tape for this, I fell in love...hard! If there was ever a signing that could—I am not saying will, I am saying could—be like the Akiem Hicks signing, this is it. There is a lot of Hicks in Jones’ game. He is also an ascending player that appears to be coming into his own right now. I might have a few more videos of him because he just kept standing out on film.

This is a poor block attempt by the center (and the tackle?) here but Jones is so quick through the line that neither the center nor the tackle can get a hand on him before he can knife through and make the play in the backfield.

This is one of those plays that reminds me so much of Hicks. Jones uses is length and strength to flow inside, read the back, disengage from the block, and make the play. He even tackles like Hicks.

This is basically the same thing as the play above but the back continues inside. Jones simply overpowers the blocker, sheds the block, and makes the play.

This is an awesome play. Jones side steps, then tosses aside the right tackle, the left guard swings around on a pull, Jones recognizes the counter, shoves off the pulling guard, and stuffs the running back for a loss. This shows his play recognition here to get underneath the guard trying to seal off the edge, and crashing down on the back inside.

This isn’t a great individual effort or anything like that, I am simply trying to illustrate the speed, burst, and athleticism for a 6’4” 322 lb man. It is impressive.

This is the same move that Wilkerson got the sack on above, but with a statue in the pocket, Jones wisely continues his outside rush. Tom wisely goes down before the hit because I have a feeling it would have been Savage...

This is a look that I would like to see the Bears run more, especially against immobile quarterbacks. This is a base 3-4 look but the 5-technique ends are really playing out at the 9-technique with the outside linebackers outside of them in a wide-9 alignment. Look at the head-of-steam that Jones is able to get before engaging with the guard on this play. He gives a dip/rip move at the end and finishes the play.

Again, I am not saying that this is the next Hicks but he has the ability to elevate his game to a higher level. Some players take a little longer than others, especially if you are miscast in the wrong system. While the Titans have run a 3-4 for the entirety of Jones’ career, the past two years under Dick LeBeau have seen him become a better player. For the likely price, I would prefer to take a swing at someone like Jones in free agency.

If I had my druthers, I would prefer the Bears look at some of the low-risk, high-upside players for the open line spots this year. If they are going to spend big money, they should do it at positions that make a larger impact like cornerback, edge rusher, or wide receiver.

As the off-season Train Kept A Rollin’ and moving forward, we will find out what the grand plan is for the Bears. If all goes according well, perhaps we can avoid more Seasons Of Wither for our beloved.