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2020 Bears offseason outlook: Ranking each position by need before free agency

The Bears have a crucial offseason ahead of them, so let’s rank which positions are the strongest and which are the weakest.

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The 2020 offseason is officially upon us, and this one marks an especially important period for the Bears.

Coming off of an 8-8 season in which expectations failed to be reached, the team has quite a bit of soul searching to do as they prepare to retool their roster and attempt to make it back to the playoffs.

With a general lack of cap space and premier draft capital, the road to bringing the Bears back to the playoffs won’t be an easy task. However, it is certainly doable, and they will have a lot of talented players to choose from to help improve their roster.

As has been tradition over the past few years, I’ve gone through every position and ranked it in terms of how big of a need it currently is. In addition to my analysis of the current state of the Bears’ roster, I have also included a handful of draft prospects to keep an eye on, as well as some realistic free agent options when I see fit (this means no incredibly pricy names like Dak Prescott or, yes, Teddy Bridgewater, or top-tier free agents at positions that aren’t needs).

With that in mind, let’s begin.

15. Center

Current players:

  • Cody Whitehair
  • Corey Levin (UFA)
  • Sam Mustipher (futures)

There really isn’t a point in replacing Whitehair in the starting lineup.

The Kansas State alum has played in and started every game in his four-year career and has been a reliable piece along the Bears’ offensive line since his rookie year. Even through shuffling along the offensive line from center to guard and back again, he has been a rock solid blocker.

Chicago could draft a natural center and play around with moving the rookie or Whitehair to guard. As far as replacing the veteran goes, though, don’t bet on it.

Draft targets:

  • Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin (Round 2)
  • Darryl Williams, Mississippi State (Round 4-5)
  • Keith Ismael, San Diego State (Round 6-7)

14. Long snapper

Current players:

  • Patrick Scales (UFA)

The Bears have a handful of pressing needs this offseason. Long snapper is not one of them.

Granted, not much is known about Scales’ actual abilities, but he has been the team’s long snapper for Ryan Pace’s entire tenure as the team’s general manager. Given the Bears have stuck with him for five seasons—even after he suffered an ACL tear in 2017—expect him to stick around for a sixth.

Draft targets:

  • Blake Ferguson, LSU (Round 6-7)
  • Steve Wirtel, Iowa State (Round 7-UDFA)
  • Rex Sunahara, West Virginia (UDFA)

13. Defensive line

Current players:

  • Akiem Hicks
  • Eddie Goldman
  • Bilal Nichols
  • Abdullah Anderson
  • Roy Roberson-Harris (RFA)
  • Nick Williams (UFA)
  • Brent Urban (UFA)

Even with numerous players slated to hit free agency, Chicago should be in good shape at defensive line going forward.

Hicks missed 11 games in 2019, and his presence was missed along the defensive line. Granted, a handful of players had solid individual seasons—Goldman and Williams in particular—but the unit was notably a grade below their typical performance when the Pro Bowler was on the field. Robertson-Harris had a decent overall year, while Nichols didn’t develop as well as many had hoped in his second year.

Even if Williams and Urban leave in free agency, the Bears should still be able to re-sign Robertson-Harris, and the rest of their unit certainly doesn’t lack in talent. They could potentially draft a player if their board works out in such a way, but it won’t be a priority.

Free agent options:

Draft targets:

  • Benito Jones, Ole Miss (Round 5)
  • DaVon Hamilton, Ohio State (Round 5-6)
  • Josiah Coatney, Ole Miss (Round 6)
  • Darrion Daniels, Nebraska (Round 6-7)
  • Robert Windsor, Penn State (Round 7-UDFA)

12. Wide receiver

Current players:

  • Allen Robinson
  • Anthony Miller
  • Taylor Gabriel (cut candidate)
  • Riley Ridley
  • Cordarrelle Patterson
  • Javon Wims
  • Thomas Ives (futures)
  • Reggie Davis (futures)
  • Alex Wesley (futures)

For the most part, the Bears seem to be set at wide receiver going forward.

Robinson is coming off of a 98-reception, 1,147-yard season, so his status as the team’s No. 1 receiver is safe and sound. Miller caught fire late in the year and proved to be a more-than-capable complement to A-Rob. Chicago could cut Gabriel and save $4.5 million, and while the veteran is still a capable player, they might be willing to make the move with the talent they have at the position. Ridley and Wims didn’t see a lot of action this season, but both are young prospects with room to grow. Patterson remains more of a special teams ace and a gadget player than a full-time receiver.

If the Bears let Gabriel go, they will still have plenty of talent at wide receiver, but they’ll lack a true speedster who possesses the quickness that he has. They’d likely wait until Day 3 to add a speedy receiver, but if the value lines up for them to find such a player in Round 2, don’t rule it out entirely.

Free agent options:

  • De’Anthony Thomas, Baltimore
  • Justin Hardy, Atlanta
  • Trevor Davis, Miami

Draft targets:

  • Jalen Reagor, TCU (Round 2)
  • K.J. Hamler, Penn State (Round 2)
  • K.J. Hill, Ohio State (Round 3-4)
  • Devin Duvernay, Texas (Round 3-4)
  • Jeff Thomas, Miami (FL) (Round 6-7)

11. Running back

Current players:

The Bears didn’t light it up on the ground this year, but their changes this offseason will likely come through tweaking their gameplan and developing their current players instead of adding new ones.

Montgomery’s rookie season had its ups and downs, but he showed promise and put together some pretty decent overall production. Cohen didn’t provide much as a runner out of the backfield this year, and his ability to create yards after the catch was lacking. That likely won’t prevent him from playing a prominent role in the offense next year due to his athleticism, but it could prevent him from getting a second contract with the Bears. Nall saw too little playing time to prove much outside of special teams, where he did do fairly well.

The Bears won’t draft a running back high this year, and they certainly won’t spend big money on one in free agency. They could look for a power back in the form of a cheap veteran or a late pick, or they could even look to find an eventual replacement for Cohen in the offense. Regardless, don’t expect any significant changes.

Free agent options:

  • Brian Hill, Atlanta
  • Ameer Abdullah, Minnesota
  • Wendell Smallwood, Washington

Draft targets:

  • A.J. Dillon, Boston College (Round 4-5)
  • Antonio Gibson, Memphis (Round 5)
  • Joshua Kelley, UCLA (Round 5-6)
  • Reggie Corbin, Illinois (Round 6)
  • JaMycal Hasty, Baylor (Round 6)

10. Punter

Current players:

  • Pat O’Donnell

With O’Donnell under contract for another year, don’t expect the Bears to let him go this offseason.

He has been relatively average throughout his career, but the team doesn’t necessarily need to replace him. The only reason punter is this high on the list is because the Bears aren’t necessarily great at it, nor have they recently committed to a young talent at the position.

Draft targets:

  • Braden Mann, Texas A&M (Round 5)
  • Joseph Charlton, South Carolina (Round 6-7)
  • Tommy Townsend, Florida (UDFA)

9. Kicker

Current players:

  • Eddy Piñeiro

Truth be told, Chicago probably won’t make a change at kicker in 2020.

Piñeiro was inconsistent in his first professional season, but he showed signs of promise, which is more than any other Bears kicker over the past few years can say. He still has another year on his contract before he becomes a restricted free agent in 2021, so there’s no reason to let him go.

Still, Chicago could look for an undrafted rookie to throw in as competition during training camp. Piñeiro would presumably win the battle, but it couldn’t hurt.

Draft targets:

  • Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia (Round 5-6)
  • Tyler Mann, Georgia Southern (Round 6-7)
  • Dominik Eberle, Utah State (UDFA)

8. Inside linebacker

Current players:

  • Roquan Smith
  • Joel Iyiegbuniwe
  • Josh Woods
  • Danny Trevathan (UFA)
  • Nick Kwiatkoski (UFA)
  • Kevin Pierre-Louis (UFA)

The Bears face an interesting conundrum at the inside linebacker position.

Smith appears to be a mainstay of the defense for years to come, but the situation outside of him is murky. Trevathan has been a reliable starter for the team since 2016, but Kwiatkoski had a breakout second half of the 2019 season and is three years younger than the former. Odds are one of them will be brought back, but it is unlikely the team will be able to re-sign both defenders. This doesn’t even include Pierre-Louis, who himself impressed when asked to jump into the starting lineup on a one-year, prove-it deal.

The truth is, as long as the Bears bring back at least one of their free agents, they should be in decent shape, even if Iyiegbuniwe’s future prospects are looking dimmer by the day. Linebacker only ranks this high on the list because of the general uncertainty surrounding the position. As long as Kwiatkoski and/or Trevathan is re-signed, they likely won’t add more than a cheap vet or a late draft pick.

Free agent options:

  • Deone Bucannon, New York Giants
  • Darron Lee, Kansas City
  • Jatavis Brown, Los Angeles Chargers

Draft targets:

  • Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech (Round 2)
  • Akeem Davis-Gaither, Appalachian State (Round 4-5)
  • Francis Bernard, Utah (Round 5)
  • Cameron Brown, Penn State (Round 5-6)
  • Davion Taylor, Colorado (Round 6-7)

7. Offensive tackle

Current players:

  • Charles Leno Jr.
  • Bobby Massie
  • Cornelius Lucas (UFA)
  • T.J. Clemmings (UFA)
  • Dino Boyd (futures)

Whatever moves the Bears make at tackle this year, their starters will more than likely remain the same.

Leno had a decent 2019 campaign, and while it wasn’t as good as the year before, he didn’t play poorly enough to lose his starting spot in the long run. Massie also took a step back this past season, but the Bears don’t have an out in his contract for another year. Lucas surpassed expectations in Massie’s absence, but Chicago could still potentially look for a new swing tackle this offseason.

Don’t expect the Bears to spend big money on a tackle in free agency this year. They could draft one fairly early if there’s good value, but without a first-round pick, it’ll be tough for them to take advantage of the abundance of top-tier offensive tackle prospects in this year’s class.

Free agent options:

  • Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Philadelphia
  • Dennis Kelly, Tennessee
  • Cedric Ogbuehi, Jacksonville

Draft targets:

  • Austin Jackson, USC (Round 2)
  • Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn (Round 2)
  • Lucas Niang, TCU (Round 2-3)
  • Matt Peart, UConn (Round 4-5)
  • Hakeem Adeniji, Kansas (Round 4-5)

6. Safety

Current players:

  • Eddie Jackson
  • Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (UFA)
  • Deon Bush (UFA)
  • DeAndre Houston-Carson (RFA)
  • Kentrell Brice (futures)

The Bears saw some solid play at both safety positions this season, but their long-term outlook appears to be somewhat hazy.

Jackson secured the bag with a massive extension with a good 2019 campaign, even if he failed to replicate his All-Pro production from the year before. Clinton-Dix didn’t gel with him as well as Adrian Amos did, but the Alabama alum did have a good individual season of his own. Both he and Bush hit the open market this offseason, though it appears likely that the former chases a long-term, more expensive deal elsewhere.

This year’s free agent safety class has a handful of enticing players who could start on relatively cheap deals. Though the draft doesn’t feature the same level of depth, there are some Day 3 picks who could be worth a look.

Free agent options:

  • Tre Boston, Carolina
  • Karl Joseph, Las Vegas
  • Vonn Bell, New Orleans

Draft targets:

  • Brandon Jones, Texas (Round 2-3)
  • Jordan Fuller, Ohio State (Round 4)
  • J.R. Reed, Georgia (Round 4)
  • Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois (Round 5-6)
  • Shyheim Carter, Alabama (Round 5-6)

5. Cornerback

Current players:

  • Kyle Fuller
  • Prince Amukamara (cut candidate)
  • Buster Skrine
  • Kevin Toliver
  • Tre Roberson
  • Duke Shelley
  • Michael Joseph
  • Sherrick McManis (UFA)
  • Stephen Denmark (futures)
  • Xavier Crawford (futures)

The Bears have a few interesting decisions to make regarding their cornerbacks.

Fuller is coming off of another commendable season, but there could be a change of guard in the starting lineup alongside him. Cutting Amukamara would save the team $9 million, and given their current cap situation, they can use as much cap relief as they can get. Currently in a competition to replace him on the boundary are Toliver, who was solid in limited action this past year, and Roberson, a highly-touted CFL signing. Neither are particularly proven, but both have some potential to tap into.

The growing feelings is that the Bears will stick mostly with their current group of corners, potentially adding in a cheap veteran or a late-round pick to compete for the starting job alongside Fuller. While that could be a successful path, there is top-end talent in both free agency and the draft in case they want to splurge at the position.

Free agent options:

  • Logan Ryan, Tennessee
  • Bashaud Breeland, Kansas City
  • Jimmy Smith, Baltimore
  • P.J. Williams, New Orleans
  • Darqueze Dennard, Cincinnati

Draft targets:

  • Jaylon Johnson, Utah (Round 2)
  • Bryce Hall, Virginia (Round 2)
  • Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame (Round 3-4)
  • Michael Ojemudia, Iowa (Round 4-5)
  • Kindle Vildor, Georgia Southern (Round 6-7)

4. Edge rusher

Current players:

  • Khalil Mack
  • Leonard Floyd
  • Aaron Lynch (UFA)
  • Isaiah Irving (RFA)
  • Devante Bond (UFA)
  • James Vaughters (futures)

Chicago has a solid starting tandem at edge rusher, but the group as a whole could be much better.

Even coming off of a down year, Mack is still one of the league’s premier defenders and imposing presences. Floyd is a do-it-all, versatile defender who can do everything well except the most important part of playing edge rusher: sack the quarterback. The depth behind those two is very underwhelming, and one can only wonder when the Bears will finally try to add some better talent to their group of backup edge rushers.

This year’s group of free agents features some quality pass-rushers, some of whom could be enticing for the Bears. The draft also has its fair share of edge defenders who could step in and fill in as rotational pass-rushers from time to time, so the team should have plenty of options to help boost their depth at the position.

Free agent options:

  • Shaq Lawson, Buffalo
  • Vic Beasley Jr., Atlanta
  • Jeremiah Attoachu, Denver
  • Vince Biegel, Miami
  • Benson Mayowa, Las Vegas

Draft targets:

  • Josh Uche, Michigan (Round 2-3)
  • Zack Baun, Wisconsin (Round 2-3)
  • Curtis Weaver, Boise State (Round 2-3)
  • Alex Highsmith, Charlotte (Round 4-5)
  • Trevis Gipson, Tulsa (Round 5)

3. Tight end

Current players:

  • Trey Burton
  • Adam Shaheen
  • Ben Braunecker (cut candidate)
  • Jesper Horsted
  • Eric Saubert
  • J.P. Holtz (ERFA)
  • Bradley Sowell (UFA)
  • Dax Raymond (futures)
  • Darion Clark (futures)

Regardless of your opinions as to why the Bears’ offense struggled in 2019, nearly everyone can agree that the poor play at tight end played a part in it.

None of the team’s players at the position topped 100 receiving yards all season, and only Burton caught more than 10 passes. The duo of Burton, a high-paid free agent signing just two offseason ago, and Shaheen, a second-round pick in 2017, disappointed mightily, and the Bears should not feel complacent with either of them as long-term starters. The ragtag group of players behind them proved to be ineffective, too. Braunecker could be released to save nearly $1.5 million, as he saw a very limited role in the team’s offense this season.

Luckily for the Bears, they’ll have quite a bit of talent to choose from to boost their tight end group. With some talent in free agency and a handful of potential starters available in the draft, there’s no reason they shouldn’t add at least one new face to compete for targets next fall.

Free agent options:

  • Austin Hooper, Atlanta
  • Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
  • Eric Ebron, Indianapolis
  • Blake Jarwin, Dallas
  • Greg Olsen, Carolina

Draft targets:

  • Brycen Hopkins, Purdue (Round 2)
  • Cole Kmet, Notre Dame (Round 2)
  • Adam Trautman, Dayton (Round 2-3)
  • Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri (Round 3-4)
  • Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic (Round 4)

2. Quarterback

Current players:

  • Mitchell Trubisky
  • Chase Daniel (UFA)

Expect to see the Bears execute an overhaul at quarterback this year.

Trubisky’s roster spot with the team will remain, but his status as the bonafide starting quarterback should not. He regressed in 2019, failing to build off of the flashes he showed in the previous season and instead amplifying his weaknesses.

Look for the Bears to sign a veteran free agent with starting experience or make a trade to push Trubisky and give him some competition. They probably won’t draft a quarterback early on, but drafting a Day 3 prospect as a cheaper alternative to Daniel might not be out of the realm of possibilities.

Free agent options:

  • Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
  • Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay
  • Marcus Mariota, Tennessee
  • Case Keenum, Washington
  • Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (if released)

Draft targets:

  • Jake Fromm, Georgia (Round 2)
  • Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (Round 2-3)
  • Anthony Gordon, Washington State (Round 4-5)
  • Cole McDonald, Hawaii (Round 6)
  • Nathan Stanley, Iowa (Round 6)

1. Offensive guard

Current players:

  • James Daniels
  • Alex Bars
  • Rashaad Coward (ERFA)
  • Ted Larsen (UFA)

Though it’s not as heavily debated a topic as the quarterback position, the Bears are extremely thin at offensive guard.

Opposite of Daniels, who had a decent season but didn’t take as big of a step as many had hoped, the team lacks an answer at the right guard position. Bars and Coward are two young pieces with some potential, but the former played just 12 offensive snaps all year, while the latter stepped in as a starter and showed he’s still a work in progress.

This year’s free agency class features a few potential instant starters at guard, but the Bears would likely have to pay a hefty price to sign one. The guards in the draft don’t exactly inspire confidence, either. Whatever strategy they choose, Chicago will have to get creative in fixing the position.

Free agent options:

  • Brandon Scherff, Washington
  • Joe Thuney, New England
  • Graham Glasgow, Detroit
  • Andrus Peat, New Orleans
  • Michael Schofield III, Los Angeles Chargers

Draft targets:

  • Solomon Kindley, Georgia (Round 2-3)
  • Shane Lemieux, Oregon (Round 4)
  • Ben Bredeson, Michigan (Round 4)
  • Logan Stenberg, Kentucky (Round 5)
  • John Simpson, Clemson (Round 5)