We are ten weeks into the 2022 NFL season, and our Chicago Bears sit at a lowly 3–7 won/lost record. From the outside, that may look like this is a poor team, but as we all know, with a few officiating calls going the opposite way and a little luck, this team could very well be 6-4 or even 7-3.
Still, it is a rebuilding team with needs in several different areas, and this spring, the club can fill many of those needs through free agency and the NFL Draft. But let's not put the cart in front of the horse and deal with how front offices generally look at this situation.
The 2022 season still has seven games to go, and before making any solid decisions on the team's needs, they have to see how the current players finish out the season. Several players are on one-year contracts and others coming out of their original contracts, and a decision has to be made on who to re-sign and who to let go in free agency.
Trust me, there are players on this team that you feel have no future that will come on in the last half of the season, and the front office will decide they want those players in the future. There are also some young players who are on the practice squad that are developing very nicely, but we never get to hear about it. While we'd love to know, the coaches and front office aren't going to say who publicly. How will we find out? By the way the team goes after players next spring in the Draft and free agency.
Having been part of this process for the better part of my adult life, I have a pretty good idea how Bears General Manager Ryan Poles may attack the off-season.
Let's start with the offensive line. Yes, the offensive line needs to improve, but if you look at the situation closely, through 10 games because of injuries, they have yet to start what was going to be the starting offensive line. It seems like in each game, the starting five are different. With the offensive line, cohesiveness is very important, and that means the same group needs to play together.
Last March, the Bears signed former Green Bay center Lucas Patrick to a multi-year contract to be the starting center. To date, because of injury to himself and others on the line, Patrick has just over one quarter of one game at the center position. Patrick is currently on Injured Reserve with a foot injury, and it remains to be seen if he will play the rest of the season.
After Patrick was signed, I viewed eight games of Patrick last year with Green Bay. He was excellent at the center position all season. I have no doubt that going forward, he will be the Bears' starter at center.
I also feel that rookie Braxton Jones and second-year player Teven Jenkins are fixtures at left tackle and right guard. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Jones was a fifth-round steal and has a bright future. While he is going through rookie growing pains, he improves every week, and he will be a winning left tackle for the Bears. Jenkins, who was a tackle in college, is already one of the better guards in the NFL. His run blocking is outstanding, but he can be inconsistent in pass pro. That will come with added experience.
That leaves two positions to be looked at. At left guard, Cody Whitehair is a Co-Captain and a solid player but also an expensive player. The question the personnel staff has to answer is if he is worth what he is being paid. My gut feeling is he will be around for at least one more season. The Bears have two young players they are developing to be future guards, and they are Ja'Tyre Carter and Zach Thomas, who were drafted last April. Just because they have not had play time this season does not mean they aren't highly thought off by the coaching staff and the Front Office.
The other position of concern is right tackle. Second-year player Larry Borom won the job coming out of camp, but he has been inconsistent at best. Following Borom's injury a few weeks ago, veteran Riley Reiff has been playing at right tackle, and his play has been an improvement over Borom's. In my opinion, Borom is a steady backup who can play either tackle position, but he isn't good enough to be the full-time starter. With Reiff turning 34 in a few weeks, the Bears decision makers may not want to bring him back.
That means right tackle could be a priority position in either free agency or the Draft. There are a couple of potential free agent right tackles who could immediately step in and upgrade the position. The first is current Cleveland Brown Jack Conklin, who has been a solid starter in the League since his rookie year. Conklin is only 28 and is currently making an average salary of $14 Million. So, he may be able to be brought in at a reasonable price.
The other name I like is current 49er, Mike McGlinchey. Like Conklin, McGlinchey has been a starter since his rookie year and has played well in a similar scheme as the Bears play. The 49ers picked up McGlinchey's fifth-year option so they can either franchise him, work out a new deal, or he hits free agency. He will cost a large chunk of money, but still being that he is a right tackle, the contract should be doable. Like Conklin, McGlinchey is 28 years old.
The other area on the team that, in my opinion, is a huge need is the defensive line. Since the trade of Robert Quinn, there has been virtually no outside pass rush, so a quality edge pass rusher is needed. At present, there isn't much talent in free agency at the edge position, so I feel the Bears will attempt to draft a pass rusher in either the first or second round of the Draft. Who is available to them will be determined by where they are in the draft order, and we won't know that for two months.
Free agency presently has a number of defensive tackles that would upgrade the Bears' DLine. Whether or not they will be free agents in March remains to be seen. Assuming they are, any of the following players would upgrade the Bears' interior defensive line. The first is Washington's Da'Ron Payne. Payne is a very athletic DT who can play either defensive tackle position in the Bears' scheme. Next would be the Eagles' Javon Hargrave, who, like Payne, can play either DT position but is more suited to play the 3-tech. Last is Denver's Dre'Mont Jones, who, like Hargrave, is more of a 3-tech.
The best interior defensive lineman the Bears currently have is Justin Jones, who has come on in recent weeks. While Jones is playing the 3-tech position, I feel he is more than capable of playing either DT position.
If the Bears fail to sign any of the above players, they could look for a defensive tackle in the Draft, with the best being Georgia's Jalen Carter. If the Bears want Carter, they would have to be drafting in the top three positions in order to have a chance.
Many feel wide receiver is still a need position. I'm not so sure. The Bears just spent a second-round pick to acquire Chase Claypool. While he has only been here two weeks, fans are already complaining that he is not playing enough. Those complaining have no idea how difficult the Bears' offense is to learn. The passing game relies on sight adjustments depending on what the defense is doing, and it's not easy to pick this scheme up in a short period of time. Claypool will be an excellent receiver for the Bears, but it will take some time for him to feel comfortable in this offense. Claypool was acquired more for the future than for this season.
This past week in practice was the first time since camp opened in July that the wide receiver group as a whole has been totally healthy. What they do as a group the rest of the season will determine how strong a need wide receiver actually is.
I don't see the Bears trying to sign a veteran free agent unless they decide not to bring back some of the vets they currently have on 1-year contracts. I do see the Bears drafting a receiver but not before the third round. The wide receiver class is very deep, and most teams will be able to select a quality player at that position in the third round. As of today, I feel the first two rounds will be dedicated to big guys on the offensive and defensive line, depending on what happens in free agency.
Remember this, what happens in free agency directly affects what will happen in the Draft. Priority needs will change with each veteran signing.
I will begin profiling draft-eligible players here at Windy City Gridiron shortly after the season ends. I currently have written up more than 250 players for the 2023 Draft, so I feel very comfortable knowing that the overall depth of this class is good.