If you have watched the Chicago Bears in recent weeks, it's evident that their biggest need going into 2023 is to upgrade the defensive line both at end and tackle. We looked at defensive end last week, so today we will look at defensive tackle.
Looking at the roster now, I feel only one player (Justin Jones) is a lock to make the roster next year. There are others who have flashed, like Armon Watts and Mike Pennel, but both of them are out of contact following this season, and it's no sure thing the Bears will try and re-sign them.
There are two areas of player acquisition that the Bears can use to upgrade the interior defensive line: veteran free agency that begins in mid-March and the NFL Draft. I firmly believe that the Bears will try to hit free agency hard, as there are a few players that not only are quality NFL players but strong fits for the Bears' defensive scheme.
Of course, the players projected as free agents may never hit the market because their current teams could try to re-sign them or place the franchise tag on them. If that doesn't happen, there are five players that I feel would fit the current scheme and be upgrades over what the Bears currently have at the position.
The best free agent defensive tackle who may be in the market is Philadelphia's Javon Hargrave. We will get a chance to see Hargrave in action against the Bears this Sunday. He's a natural 3-technique who is quick, strong, explosive, and instinctive. The only negative on Hargrave is that he will be 30 years old in a couple of months, so would the Bears want to sign a free agent and pay him big dollars when he is on the wrong side of 30? Hargrave will cost a large sum of money, as Spotrac estimates his market value at about $20 Million per year.
The next player is Washington's Daron Payne, and because of his age (25), he may be the Bears' first choice. Washington will try hard to keep Payne, but they already have a lot of money tied up in the defensive line. The Commanders' other starting defensive tackle Jonathan Allen has a cap number of better than $21M next season, and defensive end Chase Young's is about $11M. I figure that Payne will want a contract similar to Allen's, and that may be too much for Washington to handle.
The next potential free agent would be Denver's Dre'Mont Jones. Jones would be a disruptive 3-technique in the Bears' scheme and provide a consistent inside pass rush. Jones is coming out of his original rookie contract and should be more affordable than the others.
New Orleans’ David Onyemata is another interesting interior pass rusher the Bears could get at a relatively affordable price. Spotrac estimates his market value at about $9.6M per year.
The New York Jets have a strong defensive line, and they have a rotational defensive tackle who is a very consistent player who will become a free agent. Sheldon Rankins would play the under-tackle position in the Bears' scheme and play it well. Rankins is a former first-round pick and will be 29 years old next season.
The Draft offers perhaps the best upgrade to the DLine in Georgia's Jalen Carter. Cater may be the best player in this Draft, and there is no assurance that he will be available when the Bears pick. As of today, the Bears have the third pick in the Draft (yes, they dropped a spot by not playing), and Carter and Alabama defensive end Will Anderson are the two best players in this Draft. Yes, Houston, who has the first pick, could take a quarterback, but they also have a second first-round pick that they could use on a QB. So, it's no lock that the Bears would have a shot at Carter or Anderson at three.
Clemson's Bryan Bresee is highly thought of and hasn't put up the numbers he has in the past, but that is because of tragedy in his life. Bryan lost his younger sister to cancer early in the season and missed at least three games to be with his family.
I don't see Bresee as a 3-tech in the Bears scheme but rather a nose or 1-technique. Regardless, he will be a dominant inside player at the NFL level.
A fascinating college defensive tackle is Baylor's Siaki Ike. In most cases, Ike would not be a fit for the Bears' scheme because of his size (6'4 – 355), but he is a freak athlete for someone that big. He is light on his feet and very quick. At Baylor, he plays both on the nose and at the 3-tech and is a load to block. If the Bears have interest in Ike, athletic testing and body fat composition will have a lot to say about that interest. Ike may not run a fast 40, but his 10-yard dash should be excellent.
Before Coming to Chicago, Head Coach Matt Eberflus was with the Colts, whose strength coach is former Bears strength coach Rusty Jones. In my opinion, Jones is the best in the business, and he is a strong believer in players who have minimal body fat. Jones keeps all his players within certain body fat parameters depending on their position, and it helps prevent injuries.
Chicago's current strength coach is Jimmy Arthur, who was the assistant strength coach here in Chicago under Jones. Like Rusty, Jimmy is a firm believer in players being lean.
Iowa's Lukas Van Ness is an underclassman who has not declared for the Draft yet. At Iowa, Van Ness plays defensive end, but he looks like a guy who could easily gain 15-20 pounds and play inside. The comp I have for Van Ness is Henry Melton. When we drafted Melton, he was a defensive end at Texas but grew into a Pro Bowl 3-tech. I could see Van Ness following that path.
The last player I'll mention is a junior who just recently declared for the Draft, Auburn's Colby Wooton. Like Van Ness, Wooten plays outside in the Auburn scheme, but he also has played inside and been very productive. He has the size to play the 3-tech and is both athletic and explosive, Wooten won't be a first-round pick, but he easily could go on Day 2. He would be an instant starter here in Chicago.