It should not come as a shock to say the Bears don’t look like a playoff contender this year.
That’s not to say fans should have expected them to be. This was clearly a retooling year, setting things up for a rebuilt roster for a new regime in 2023 and beyond. While there’s still plenty of an NFL season left to play, as Windy City Gridiron’s Lead Draft Analyst who provides little of value during the season, my eyes are always looking towards the future.
I’ve done mock offseasons before, but I’m unbelievably excited for the Bears’ 2023 offseason, so I’m doing one way too early. Is it because football is my escape from the cruel trap that is being trapped with my own thoughts? Maybe. I mean, no. Definitely not. You’re not my psychiatrist. Unless my psychiatrist is reading this, in which case, I think this is proof that I need an uptick in medication.
You know the drill. I’ll run a few projected trades, make some free agent signings and cuts, and then I’ll wrap things up with a 7-round mock draft to get to my 53-man roster. I’m writing this introduction last, and it’s late at night, so my brain is fried. Here is my way-too-early 2023 Bears mock offseason.
Starting cap space: 115,036,523
Bears get: 2024 fourth-round pick
Rams get: DE Robert Quinn
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell has the Bears trading Quinn to the Rams for two third-round picks, but I’d be stunned if they get that much in a potential deal.
Quinn’s contract, along with his decline in play to this point and his turning 33 years old this summer, hurts his trade value a bit. That said, the Rams desperately need help off the edge, and if there’s any team that can work some cap magic to take on Quinn’s contract, it’s the wizards in Los Angeles.
This frees up $9,762,500 of cap space for the Bears in 2023, as well as $17,237,500 in 2024. Los Angeles doesn’t have a fourth-round pick in 2023, but I’m a firm believer in acquiring future draft capital a year or two at a discounted value.
Bears get: WR Tee Higgins ($1.79 million cap hit in 2023), 2023 fourth-round pick (No. 120)
Bengals get: 2023 second-round pick (No. 33)
Of all the moves I’ll have in this mock offseason, let me clarify that this will likely be the most “pie-in-the-sky” of them all. This not only hinges on the idea of the Bengals being willing to trade Higgins, but that the Bears would be willing to pay him the massive extension that Cincinnati might struggle to give him. If given the opportunity, my answer to Chicago acquiring Higgins is a resounding “yes”. Losing the second-round pick stinks, but there are a few ways to recoup a second-round pick. Among them...
Bears get: 2023 second-round pick (No. 32)
Texans get: LB Roquan Smith on a tag and trade
It took me ages to decide what to do with Smith’s expiring contract. There’s no doubt that he’s a talented football player, but is he worth the massive deal it’s clear he wants? While this would be a blow to Chicago’s defense, I decided to tag and trade him. The Texans have cap space to take on Smith’s inevitable extension and his 2023 franchise tag, giving them the chance to make some big moves this offseason. They’ll also have two first-round picks that should be in at least the top 15, so if they truly wanted to, they could recoup a second-round pick by trading back.
DE Al-Quadin Muhammad ($4 million)
OG/C Lucas Patrick ($3.9 million)
These are the only considerable cuts I see the Bears making to free up cap space this year. Few other contracts that they have would save a notable amount of money, and both Muhammad and Patrick have fallen short of expectations through the first few weeks.
Updated 2023 cap space: $132,699,023
WR Tee Higgins: 4 years, $87.7 million ($21.9 million AAV), $58.5 million guaranteed
This won’t go into effect until the 2024 offseason. However, if you’re trading for Higgins, you’re keeping him for the long haul. It makes sense to lock him up quickly after acquiring him.
DT Armon Watts: 1 year, $2.09 million, $1.4 million guaranteed
Watts is a solid rotational defensive tackle who can stop the run fairly well. He’s perfectly serviceable as a backup.
WR Equanimeous St. Brown: 1 year, $1.9 million, $1.4 million guaranteed
St. Brown shouldn’t take on as big of a role for the Bears in 2023 as he is currently. That said, he’s a strong blocker along the perimeter and could be a pretty valuable backup.
S DeAndre Houston-Carson: 1 year, $1.4 million, $1.2 million guaranteed
Houston-Carson has the Bears’ most special teams snaps this season and has been a reliable rotational defender for years. You can pay a little over the veteran minimum to keep him around.
WR N’Keal Harry: 1 year, $1.25 million, $650,00 guaranteed
I have no idea what Harry will be for the Bears’ offense. It’s a low-risk signing, so you might as well give him the chance to compete for a roster spot again.
- LS Patrick Scales: 1 year, $1.03 million
- LB Joe Thomas: 1 year, $1.03 million
- LB Matt Adams: 1 year, $1.03 million
- FB Khari Blasingame: 1 year, $965,000
- CB Josh Blackwell (ERFA); 1 year, $895,000
- CB Lamar Jackson (ERFA): 1 year, $895,000
I have decided not to re-sign David Montgomery. This pains me as a fan of his running style, but realistically, Khalil Herbert has been the more efficient running back in the Bears’ backfield this year. Considering that Chicago has bigger needs elsewhere, they could let Montgomery walk instead of paying him the big contract that another NFL team surely will.
Extensions 2023 cap hit: $7.77 million
Updated cap space: $123.13 million
Free agent signings
Note: I’m aware some of these players might not hit free agency, but they’re slated to do so as of this writing, so I’m putting them anyway. Shut up. Also, I’m using their AAV over the course of each player’s contract as the cap hit. I’m not smart enough to determine how to structure a contract, so these numbers will likely be off from what they’ll end up being in real life.
DE Yannick Ngakoue: 2 years, $28 million ($14 million AAV), $23.4 million guaranteed
He’s bounced around the league a bit, but Ngakoue is still a fantastic pass-rusher. He has had at least 8 sacks in every season he’s played in the NFL, he’s coming off of a 10-sack season with the Raiders in 2021, and he’s at 2.5 sacks for the Colts in 5 games. The Bears may not want to commit big-time money to him in the long term, but he’s an upgrade at edge rusher over Quinn’s performance based off of this year and season-to-season consistency. Plus, he overlapped in Las Vegas with Bears defensive line coach Travis Smith.
DT Javon Hargrave: 3 years, $36.8 million ($12.2 million AAV), $22.2 million guaranteed
The Eagles also have Fletcher Cox slated to hit free agency, and they have young studs Jordan Davis and Milton Williams waiting in the wings at defensive tackle. That said, it’s a fair assumption Hargrave hits the open market. The 2021 Pro Bowler would be a much-needed boost to their Bears’ defensive tackle room.
OT Jack Conklin: 2 years, $18 million ($9 million AAV), $11 million guaranteed
Conklin might come at a relative discount because of a serious injury he suffered late in the 2021 season. The Bears should take advantage of that and secure him as their starting right tackle. He has graded as above-average by PFF in two of the last three years, with 2020 coming with an even better “high quality” grade. Shoutout to Brad Spielberger from PFF for assisting me in coming up with this contract.
TE Foster Moreau: 4 years, $17.3 million ($4.3 million AAV), $8.9 million guaranteed
Cole Kmet will be entering the last year of his rookie deal in 2023, so Moreau serves as not only a complement as an athletic pass-catcher, but also a low-risk option at tight end who could outdo his eventual contract. He is a 9.47 Relative Athletic Score athlete who hasn’t taken on a massive role in the NFL yet, but leaving Darren Waller’s shadows could be an opportunity for him to shine.
C Garrett Bradbury: 1 year, $3.5 million, $2.1 million guaranteed
Admittedly, Bradbury hasn’t lived up to his first-round billing from 2019. He’s at a decent 66.0 grade through 5 games this year, however, and he’s an upgrade at center. As we’ve seen with acquisitions like Alex Leatherwood and N’Keal Harry, Ryan Poles isn’t afraid to take shots on athletic, disappointing first-rounders. It’s worth noting that Bradbury had an insane 9.96 Relative Athletic Score out of 10 coming out of N.C. State.
LB Anthony Walker Jr.: 1 year, $3.1 million, $2.6 million guaranteed
Walker will miss the rest of the 2022 season with a torn quad tendon, but the linebacker has been quite productive in his years with the Browns and Colts. He could come in as the MIKE linebacker and provide some stability, having worked in Matt Eberflus’ defense before.
CB Trayvon Mullen: 1 year, $1.5 million, $740,000 guaranteed
Mullen fits that same mold of depth options who are young, former early-round picks with athletic potential they haven’t quite reached yet. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds with long arms and legitimate speed, he’s a player worth taking a shot on for cheap.
WR Jake Kumerow: 1 year, $1.1 million, $300,000 guaranteed
Luke Getsy and Kumerow had brief overlap in Green Bay in 2017. This is more of Kumerow’s experience in a similar scheme to what the Bears run. He plays on over 60% on the Bills’ special teams snaps, so he’s worth bringing in as potential depth.
DE Ben Banogu: 1 year, $1.1 million, $670,000 guaranteed
Banogu didn’t live up to the billing of being a second-round pick from back in 2019. However, he is an elite athlete off the edge who has experience working with Eberflus in Indianapolis and plays a big role on special teams for the Colts now. He projects as decent depth and a solid special teamer.
Updated cap space: $72.83 million
7-round mock draft
Note: I used Pro Football Network’s mock draft simulator for this mock. It uses Super Bowl odds to determine the draft order at this stage of the season. While not a perfect approach, it is likely a better indicator of the final standings than the current 5-week sample size in an 18-week season.
I adjusted some of the trades to account for commonly accepted pick value. Also, keep in mind that picks in Rounds 4-7 would be moved back slightly after the implementation of compensatory selections.
Bears get: No. 4 pick, No. 14 pick
Seahawks get: No. 2 pick
I admittedly got offered more than this but adjusted it for the sake of realism. Will Anderson was the first pick to the Texans, and with the Panthers sitting ahead of them at No. 3, Seattle wanted to secure their guy at quarterback. In this simulation, that guy was Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.
Do the Seahawks do this in real life with how well Geno Smith has played? Maybe, maybe not. He’s a free agent after this season, and while his play has been commendable, he’s 32 years old and just now having the best season of his career. It wouldn’t be surprising if Seattle decided to go this route.
Round 1 (No. 4, via Seahawks): Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
I was stuck here between Jalen Carter, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Jordan Addison. While JSN has missed time due to injury this season, he was the best wide receiver in the nation in 2021 and is a fantastic athlete and route runner. Try telling me with a straight face that Tee Higgins, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Darnell Mooney isn’t a great trio for the Bears at wide receiver in 2023.
Round 1 (No. 14, via Seahawks): Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. went off the board before No. 14, but luckily for me, Peter Skoronski is my top offensive lineman, anyway. He’s a polished, mobile, intelligent and powerful blocker who should be able to step in at any offensive line position and excel, though he plays left tackle at the collegiate level.
Round 2 (No. 32, via Texans): Henry To’o To’o, LB, Alabama
Trading Roquan Smith is the hardest pill to swallow in this mock offseason, but replacing him with a versatile, young linebacker for cheap in the draft could ease the pain a little bit. To’o To’o is a great athlete for his position and has good closing speed, optimal agility moving around in space and a red-hot motor. He would be a Day 1 starter who plays MIKE in college but projects very well as a WILL in the NFL.
Round 3 (No. 65): Sedrick Van Pran, C, Georgia
I love the Eagles’ approach of continually spending early draft capital on offensive linemen. This has given them a great starting lineup with very good depth; second-rounder Cam Jurgens is a backup this year but has plenty of potential, and 2021 second-rounder Landon Dickerson was a backup last year before stepping into the lineup due to injuries around him.
Van Pran is a coordinated interior offensive lineman with very good weight distribution and pad level. He has a very strong core and blocks with a willingness to drive defenders into the ground. In the run game, he excels at blocking on the move and rolling his hips through contact. He projects as a very good system fit for the Bears and a future starter.
Round 4 (No. 101): Chase Brown, RB, Illinois
As of this writing, Chase Brown has 879 rushing yards and a 5.8 yards-per-carry average through 6 games. He is an explosive athlete with a low center of gravity who offers above-average ball-carrier vision out of the backfield. He, Khalil Herbert and Trestan Ebner could be a lot of fun together.
Round 4 (No. 120): Jalen Catalon, S, Arkansas
Injuries are an issue with Jalen Catalon, and the Bears don’t need a new starting safety with Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker manning the roost. That said, Catalon is a fantastic talent when healthy who’s worth taking a long-term flier on in Round 4. He’s intelligent, athletic and plays with a consistently high motor. Use him on big dime/nickel packages, use him up high, use him out of the slot or rushing off the edge. Just get him on the field.
Round 5 (No. 133): Zack Kuntz, TE, Old Dominion
Don’t make jokes about his name. He’s a 6-foot-8, 245-pound monster who’s very raw but has great ball skills and has good fluidity across the middle of the field. Players with his tools are worth taking on Day 3, and he would project as solid developmental depth for the Bears behind Cole Kmet.
Round 7 (No. 197): Willie Lampkin, OG/C, Coastal Carolina
Willie Lampkin is undersized for an NFL offensive line prospect at 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds. However, he has starting experience at both guard and center, he’s an aggressive blocker with a high motor, and he complements a technically-sound skill set with very good athletic ability. The worst case here is he competes for a roster spot, the best case is he becomes a valuable “6th man” lineman.
2023 cap hit of rookie class: $15.34 million*
*Cap hits for the 2023 draft class used with the prices for each draft slot in the 2023 draft for hypothetical reasons.
2023 Bears hypothetical 53-man roster
Note: Positional battles are indicated by slashes. The depth chart does not include futures deals, which would consist heavily of undrafted free agents and current practice squad members (Chase Allen, Zachary Thomas, Kellen Diesch, Isaiah Coulter, etc.). This doesn’t account for the idea of undrafted free agents making the team or current practice squad members making the 2023 active roster, but keep in mind that they’ll be in the mix.
QB (2): Justin Fields, Trevor Siemian
RB (4): Khalil Herbert, Chase Brown, Trestan Ebner, Khari Blasingame (FB)
WR (6): Tee Higgins, Darnell Mooney, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Velus Jones Jr., Equanimeous St. Brown, N’Keal Harry/Ihmir Smith-Marsette/Jake Kumerow
TE (4): Cole Kmet, Foster Moreau, Zack Kuntz, Jake Tonges
LT (2): Peter Skoronski, Braxton Jones
LG (2): Cody Whitehair, Alex Leatherwood
C (2): Garrett Bradbury, Sedrick Van Pran (Doug Kramer?)
RG (2): Teven Jenkins, Ja’Tyre Carter/Willie Lampkin
RT (2): Jack Conklin, Larry Borom
DE (4): Yannick Ngakoue, Trevis Gipson, Dominique Robinson, Ben Banogu
DT (4): Javon Hargrave, Justin Jones, Angelo Blackson, Armon Watts
LB (5): Anthony Walker Jr., Henry To’o To’o, Matt Adams, Joe Thomas, Jack Sanborn/Sterling Weatherford
CB (6): Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon, Kindle Vildor, Trayvon Mullen, Lamar Jackson, Josh Blackwell
S (5): Eddie Jackson, Jaquan Brisker, Jalen Catalon, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Elijah Hicks
ST (3): Cairo Santos, Trenton Gill, Patrick Scales
Cap space left for UDFAs and 90-man roster signings: $57.49 million
Is this a perfect practice? Absolutely not. Some of these contract estimations were done by me and me alone, and I’m hardly as qualified as the pros to tie a specific price tag to a player.
There’s also a chance that some of the players I signed in free agency sign extensions with their current teams, and that the Bears might not end up having the No. 2 overall pick to work with. Hell, the Bears could easily afford Roquan Smith in this scenario if they can come to terms on a reasonable agreement. I wouldn’t be mad at all if they did that.
In this process, I like to think I made Chicago’s roster significantly better through both free agency and the draft, all while stopping short of a Jacksonville-level spending spree that will likely harm them financially down the line.
That said, this was just a fun practice for me to look to the future, and hopefully it was fun for you all to take a look at some of the big names to keep an eye on this coming offseason. What would you do differently? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.
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