The Chicago Bears vastly improved their roster over the offseason, with several free agent signings and draft picks figuring to take on substantial roles in the 2018 season. However, their approach to adding edge rushers was surprisingly nonchalant.
The likes of Aaron Lynch and Kylie Fitts joined the team, but the overall focus on the position was lacking throughout the offseason. Although free agency was wisely spent mostly on offensive weapons for Mitchell Trubisky, they only signed one free agent - the aforementioned Lynch - to play alongside Leonard Floyd off the edge. The Bears followed that up by waiting until the sixth round to address what was their biggest need heading into the draft, doing very little to fill up their massive hole at outside linebacker.
Now, the Bears are left with having the second-most important position on the football field as their biggest need. The group that they have in place has a little bit of potential to tap into, but has far too many concerns to project as a cohesive and formidable unit.
The best edge rusher on the roster, far and away, is Floyd. The 2016 first-round pick has the highest ceiling of any of his edge rusher colleagues, and he has proven that he can provide pressure on a fairly consistent basis. With this third season approaching, the six-foot-six, 250-pound Floyd finally has the chance to put it all together and use his rare athleticism to live up to his draft status.
Whether or not he can do so, though, is uncertain.
Floyd is a talented player who has all of the physical tools in the world to succeed. However, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy consistently: he has missed ten games in the past two seasons. That has affected his ability to put up impressive sack numbers, as he only has 11.5 sacks since he was drafted by the Bears. The production isn’t terrible, sure, but it hasn’t quite lived up to his being drafted with the No. 9 overall pick two years ago.
Granted, Floyd was seen as a project when he was drafted. The fact that he was able to put up seven sacks in his rookie season - especially considering the fact that he missed four games - surpassed the expectations of many. In doing so, though, he raised the expectations for the following season, which he did not live up to.
At this stage in his career, now’s the time for Floyd to prove his worth. If he doesn’t become a double-digit sack machine this year, then he likely never will.
The Bears will have to rely on a breakout season from the Georgia alumnus, because it’s highly unlikely that the rest of the edge rushers would be able to carry the load for him if he were to get injured or fall off.
Aaron Lynch has been unable to stay healthy over the past two seasons, and even when he has he hasn’t been very good. He had 2.5 sacks in that span and only played in 14 games. Despite that, the Bears gave a him a hefty - albeit heavily incentive-ridden - one-year, $6 million deal.
In doing so, they bet on the minuscule chance that he will revert to his 2015 form, in which he had 6.5 sacks. He’s already off to a poor start, as he suffered an injury early on in training camp. The signing would be an intriguing one had the Bears added him as a backup, but his assumed role in 2018 will be as a starter, or a key rotational pass rusher at the very least. Having to rely on him to be one of the most productive pass rushers on the team is an incredibly risky move that realistically has very little chance of paying off.
Joining Lynch is Kylie Fitts, who himself has had injury issues aplenty over the past two seasons. The rookie has potential to develop into a placeholder starter this season until the Bears presumably add a free agent or a high draft pick next offseason. But in order for him to do so, he will have to stay healthy, which he hasn’t been able to do recently: he played in just nine games in his final two years at Utah.
His addition admittedly isn’t as high of a risk as the signing Lynch since Fitts was a late draft pick, but it’s still a gamble at a significant position.
Akiem Hicks enters training camp as the best pass rusher on the team. The veteran, who is entering his eighth year in the NFL, can only do so much, though. 3-4 defensive ends, except for notable exceptions like J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald, typically aren’t looked at as premier pass rushers, and Hicks, even with his career-high 8.5 sacks last season, doesn’t quite fall into that category.
Chicago was able to address most of their needs over the offseason, and they look to be much stronger on paper than they were last season. However, their failure to make a splash at the edge rusher position could end up biting them. It’s up to the likes of Floyd, Lynch and Fitts to turn things around if the Bears want to be competitive this season.
Jacob Infante is a Chicago Bears writer at SB Nation’s Windy City Gridiron. He is also an NFL Draft writer at USA Today SMG’s Draft Wire. He can be reached through Twitter @jacobinfante24 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.