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2021 offseason outlook: Ranking each position for Bears by need

The Bears will have plenty of tough moves to make this offseason, so let’s see which positions will likely be prioritized this year.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

With Super Bowl LV officially in the books, the 2021 NFL offseason is now underway for all 32 teams.

The season ended nearly a month ago for the Bears, who were eliminated by the Saints in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Since then, numerous rumors have run rampant surrounding their future plans, both for this offseason and in seasons to come.

Will they bring back Matt Nagy and/or Ryan Pace? Is Mitchell Trubisky going to be brought back in free agency? Are the Bears really in the running for Deshaun Watson? While the first question has already been answered, there are still plenty of questions surrounding the organization.

This offseason could prove to be a crucial one for Nagy, Pace, and several other key figures in the coaching staff and front office, many of whom finding themselves on the hot seat going into 2021. Between several key free agency decisions and a multitude of directions they could pursue in the NFL Draft, the Bears could go down many different paths this year.

To forecast where Chicago stands with the offseason underway, let’s break down each position on the Bears’ and rank them based off of need. The lower down on the list a position may be, the bigger the need it is.

In addition to this internal analysis, I will discuss potential free agency and draft options at each position. For the free agents, I decided to go with purely the top free agents at each position, whereas with the draft prospects, I chose to break down realistic targets based off of the value of that individual player, as well as how likely the Bears are to draft at that particular position at a certain point of the draft.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

14. Long snapper

Roster:

  • Patrick Scales (UFA)

Scales has been with the Bears since 2015 and has been incredibly consistent since then. It’s highly unlikely the team doesn’t re-sign him this offseason.

Free agents:

  • L.P. Ladouceur
  • Don Muhlbach
  • Morgan Cox
  • Jake McQuaide

Bears draft targets:

  • Thomas Fletcher, Alabama (Round 6-7)
  • Camaron Cheeseman, Michigan (Round 7-UDFA)
  • Ryan Langan, Georgia Southern (UDFA)

13. Kicker

Roster:

  • Cairo Santos (UFA)
  • Eddy Piñeiro (RFA)

The Bears have an interesting decision to make regarding their kicking position. Santos had a career year with an incredible 2020 performance, but he is a soon-to-be free agent who played fairly poorly prior to coming back to Chicago. Do they re-sign him? Signs point towards Santos staying with the Bears, but Piñeiro’s presence could also throw a wrench into things.

Free agents:

  • Younghoe Koo
  • Daniel Carlson (RFA)
  • Nick Folk
  • Ryan Succop
  • Zane Gonzalez

Bears draft targets:

  • Jose Borregales, Miami (FL) (Round 5-6)
  • Riley Patterson, Memphis (Round 5-6)
  • Evan McPherson, Florida (Round 6-7)

12. Punter

Roster:

  • Pat O’Donnell (UFA)

O’Donnell has been solid since he arrived with the Bears in 2014. He hasn’t necessarily been an elite punter, but he hasn’t been a bad one, either. With the little cap space they have and the other glaring needs on their roster, Chicago likely shouldn’t go outside of O’Donnell for their punting role.

Free agents:

  • Cameron Johnston
  • Matt Haack
  • Jack Fox (ERFA)

Bears draft targets:

  • Max Duffy, Kentucky (Round 5-6)
  • James Smith, Cincinnati (Round 6-7)

11. Running back

Roster:

  • David Montgomery
  • Tarik Cohen
  • Cordarrelle Patterson (UFA)
  • Artavis Pierce
  • Ryan Nall (ERFA)

With Montgomery coming off of an impressive Year 2 and Cohen locked in for at the very least another year or two, the Bears are unlikely to make the running back position a priority. Patterson will be a free agent, though, so they could look for a cheap back in the draft or free agent if he leaves, particularly one with kick return experience.

Free agents:

  • Aaron Jones
  • Chris Carson
  • Kenyan Drake
  • James Conner
  • Mike Davis

Bears draft targets:

  • Jermar Jefferson, Oregon State (Round 3-4)
  • Michael Carter, North Carolina (Round 3-4)
  • Khalil Herbert, Virginia Tech (Round 5-6)
  • Chris Evans, Michigan (Round 5-6)
  • Otis Anderson, UCF (Round 7-UDFA)

10. Edge rusher

Roster:

  • Khalil Mack
  • Robert Quinn
  • Trevis Gipson
  • Barkevious Mingo (UFA)
  • James Vaughters (ERFA)
  • Ledarius Mack (futures)

Mack remains one of, if not the best player on the Bears’ roster, and the team is financially tied to Quinn for 2021 after a disappointing season. Chicago has Gipson in the wings as a high-upside backup option, but if Mingo leaves in free agency, don’t be surprised if they bring in another face or two as depth pieces.

Free agents:

  • Shaquil Barrett
  • Jadeveon Clowney
  • Yannick Ngakoue
  • Carl Lawson
  • Melvin Ingram
  • Bud Dupree
  • Leonard Floyd
  • Trey Hendrickson

Bears draft targets:

  • Cameron Sample, Tulane (Round 4-5)
  • Janarius Robinson, Florida State (Round 5-6)
  • Daelin Hayes, Notre Dame (Round 5-6)
  • William Bradley-King, Baylor (Round 6-7)
  • JaQuan Bailey, Iowa State (Round 6-7)

9. Cornerback

Roster:

  • Kyle Fuller
  • Jaylon Johnson
  • Buster Skrine (cut candidate)
  • Duke Shelley
  • Kindle Vildor
  • Artie Burns (UFA)
  • Tre Roberson
  • Michael Joseph (ERFA)
  • Teez Tabor (futures)
  • Xavier Crawford (futures)

Barring some wild, unforeseen trade, the Bears are locked in at cornerback with Fuller and Johnson on the outside. The nickel is where things get interesting, though. Skrine is a likely cap casualty, and both Shelley and Vildor are still fairly unproven. Expect Chicago to go cheap at the nickelback position, but if they target any corners this offseason, it’s likely they will be slot specialists.

Free agents:

  • William Jackson III
  • Richard Sherman
  • Desmond King II
  • Mike Hilton
  • Shaquill Griffin

Bears draft targets:

  • Elijah Molden, Washington (Round 2-3)
  • Kary Vincent Jr., LSU (Round 4-5)
  • Tre Norwood, Oklahoma (Round 4-5)
  • Deommodore Lenoir, Oregon (Round 5-6)
  • Rachad Wilgoose, Wisconsin (Round 5-6)

8. Defensive line

Roster:

  • Akiem Hicks
  • Eddie Goldman
  • Bilal Nichols
  • Roy Robertson-Harris (UFA)
  • Mario Edwards Jr. (UFA)
  • Brent Urban (UFA)
  • John Jenkins (UFA)
  • Daniel McCullers (UFA)
  • LaCale London (futures)

The Bears have as intimidating of a defensive line as nearly any team in the league, especially with Goldman coming back to help boost their run defense. The starting three are basically set in stone, but there are plenty of questions surrounding their depth this offseason. With all but two of the interior defenders who took snaps for the Bears in 2020 set to hit free agency, they may have to go to the bargain bin or late Day 3 to shore up some depth.

Free agents:

  • Leonard Williams
  • Dalvin Tomlinson
  • Shelby Harris
  • Sheldon Rankins
  • Ndamukong Suh

Bears draft targets:

  • Alim McNeill, North Carolina State (Round 2-3)
  • Darius Stills, West Virginia (Round 4-5)
  • Payton Turner, Houston (Round 4-5)
  • Carlo Kemp, Michigan (Round 6-7)
  • Mustafa Johnson, Colorado (Round 6-7)

7. Inside linebacker

Roster:

  • Roquan Smith
  • Danny Trevathan
  • Josh Woods (ERFA)
  • Joel Iyiegbuniwe

Smith is coming off of a second-team All-Pro nomination, while Trevathan had a rocky, yet overall solid season and is locked in for 2021. The Bears don’t tend to sub out linebackers on defense, but their depth at the position is still poor, and they have no replacement plan for Trevathan down the line. A linebacker could be an option for them in the draft this year, but it likely won’t be a major position of focus.

Free agents:

  • Lavonte David
  • Matt Milano
  • Jayon Brown
  • K.J. Wright
  • Denzel Perryman

Bears draft targets:

  • Justin Hilliard, Ohio State (Round 4-5)
  • Garret Wallow, TCU (Round 5-6)
  • Tony Fields II, West Virginia (Round 5-6)
  • Grant Stuard, Houston (Round 5-6)
  • Derrick Barnes, Purdue (Round 6-7)

6. Tight end

Roster:

  • Cole Kmet
  • Jimmy Graham (cut candidate)
  • Demetrius Harris (UFA)
  • J.P. Holtz (ERFA)
  • Darion Clark
  • Jesper Horsted (futures)

With Kmet projecting as the Bears’ hopeful ‘Y’ tight end of the future, it does appear fairly unlikely they won’t go all-out in adding talent at the position this offseason. Don’t entirely rule out making a move or two, though: Graham is likely a cap casualty, and Chicago doesn’t have a ‘U’ tight end they can consistently line out wide. If the right value is there in the draft, they could draft a tight end in back-to-back years.

Free agents:

  • Hunter Henry
  • Jonnu Smith
  • Gerald Everett
  • Rob Gronkowski
  • Jared Cook

Bears draft targets:

  • Kyle Pitts, Florida (Round 1)
  • Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame (Round 4-5)
  • Kylen Granson, SMU (Round 5-6)
  • Quintin Morris, Bowling Green (Round 5-6)
  • Pro Wells, TCU (Round 6-7)

5. Interior offensive line

Roster:

  • Cody Whitehair
  • James Daniels
  • Sam Mustipher
  • Germain Ifedi (UFA)
  • Alex Bars (ERFA)
  • Rashaad Coward (RFA)
  • Arlington Hambright
  • Dieter Eiselen (futures)

Daniels’ strong 2020 pre-injury and Whitehair’s resurgence when placed at guard helps the Bears’ interior offensive line tremendously, while Mustipher’s solid play at center makes the interior much less of a need than it projected out to be several months ago. Given the latter’s relative inexperience, though, they may want to add a player who can push Mustipher for that final starting role.

Free agents:

  • Brandon Scherff
  • Joe Thuney
  • Corey Linsley
  • David Andrews
  • Austin Reiter

Bears draft targets:

  • Rashawn Slater, Northwestern (Round 1)
  • Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC (Round 1)
  • Trey Smith, Tennessee (Round 3-4)
  • Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater (Round 4-5)
  • Jimmy Morrissey, Pittsburgh (Round 5-6)

4. Safety

Roster:

  • Eddie Jackson
  • Tashaun Gipson (UFA)
  • Deon Bush (UFA)
  • DeAndre Houston-Carson (UFA)
  • Sherrick McManis (UFA)
  • Jordan Lucas

Though Jackson is coming off of a disappointing season, there is reason to hope that new defensive coordinator Sean Desai can get the most out of the two-time Pro Bowler in 2021, seeing as though Desai’s scheme will likely reflect Vic Fangio’s more than Chuck Pagano’s. Gipson played well at strong safety, but he is on track to hit the open market, as are most of the Bears’ safeties. Ryan Pace generally doesn’t make splashes at safety, so expect him to go cheap alongside the expensive Jackson.

Free agents:

  • Justin Simmons
  • Anthony Harris
  • Marcus Williams
  • Marcus Maye
  • John Johnson III

Bears draft targets:

  • Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State (Round 2-3)
  • Joshuah Bledsoe, Missouri (Round 4-5)
  • James Wiggins, Cincinnati (Round 4-5)
  • Jamien Sherwood, Auburn (Round 4-5)
  • Marcus Murphy, Mississippi State (Round 5-6)

3. Wide receiver

Roster:

  • Allen Robinson (UFA)
  • Darnell Mooney
  • Anthony Miller
  • Javon Wims
  • Riley Ridley
  • Dwayne Harris (UFA)
  • DeAndre Carter (RFA)
  • Reggie Davis (futures)
  • Jester Weah (futures)
  • Thomas Ives (futures)

Much of the Bears’ outlook at wide receiver depends on what happens with Robinson. If they can re-sign him, then receiver becomes a less pressing, but still moderate need. If not, then they find themselves with very little star power at the position. Whether they find their long-term starting quarterback in 2021 or defer until next offseason, they will need to help surround their eventual signal-caller with weapons sooner or later.

Free agents:

  • Chris Godwin
  • Kenny Golladay
  • Will Fuller V
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster
  • Antonio Brown
  • T.Y. Hilton

Bears draft targets:

  • Rashod Bateman, Minnesota (Round 1)
  • Kadarius Toney, Florida (Round 1)
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC (Round 2-3)
  • Amari Rodgers, Clemson (Round 3-4)
  • Jaelon Darden, North Texas (Round 4-5)

2. Offensive tackle

Roster:

  • Charles Leno Jr.
  • Bobby Massie (cut candidate)
  • Jason Spriggs (UFA)
  • Lachavious Simmons
  • Badara Traore (futures)

The Bears could actually cut Leno or Massie and free up significant cap space with minimal dead cap, but the former figures to have more job security for the upcoming season than the latter. Regardless, offensive tackle is a major need for Chicago that hasn’t been addressed through the draft during Pace’s tenure as general manager. It would be surprising if they came out of Day 2 without at least one new offensive tackle.

Free agents:

  • Trent Williams
  • Taylor Moton
  • Russell Okung
  • Alejandro Villanueva
  • Kelvin Beachum

Bears draft targets:

  • Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech (Round 1)
  • Samuel Cosmi, Texas (Round 1-2)
  • Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame (Round 1-2)
  • Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State (Round 1-2)
  • Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State (Round 2)

1. Quarterback

Roster:

  • Nick Foles
  • Mitchell Trubisky (UFA)

The quarterback position is, once again, a major weakness for the Bears this offseason. They find themselves with a fairly late first-round pick, not enough draft capital to trade up for a top prospect without completely bleeding themselves dry, and a fairly tight cap situation that could make it tough to haul in a trade option or free agent. It will be a challenge, but there is talent out there to be had at quarterback this offseason. The Bears will presumably take advantage of that in some capacity.

Free agents:

  • Dak Prescott
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick
  • Cam Newton
  • Jameis Winston
  • Andy Dalton
  • Tyrod Taylor

Bears draft targets:

  • Trey Lance, North Dakota State (Round 1)
  • Mac Jones, Alabama (Round 1)
  • Kyle Trask, Florida (Round 3-4)
  • Davis Mills, Stanford (Round 5-6)
  • Jamie Newman, Wake Forest (Round 5-6)