The last time the Chicago Bears ran a 4-3, Tampa 2ish style of defense they had 3-technique defensive tackle Tommie Harris playing at a Pro Bowl level for several years, and then after Harris’ time they developed Henry Melton into a a Pro Bowl 3-tech. Having a disruptive player at that position is something the Bears will need to figure out moving forward, because the 3-technique defensive tackle has been called the engine of that defense.
With the Bears transitioning from last year’s 3-4 base defense, several of their current front 7 players are going to have a new role in 2022, and I address some of that in my look at linebacker here and edge players here.
This series started out as a 12-parter, but when I listed out all the guys projected to play defensive line in 2022 I had to break up the defensive ends (edge) and defensive tackles.
In this 13-part series I’ll be listing the contract status of all the current Bears players on a position by position basis, while speculating on some offseason moves that could happen.
Akiem Hicks - Free agent - His age (he’ll be 33 this fall) and health (he missed 19 games the last three years) are a concern for whichever team signs him this offseason, but I would love it if the Bears and Hicks could come to an agreement. Hicks’ issues with the Bears stemmed around the last coaching staff and GM, so perhaps he’s open to a return. He’s talked about finishing his career in Chicago, but the price would need to be very team friendly with the new regime looking for a mini roster reset. Hicks still has good first step explosion, and his power at the point of attack is unmatched.
Bilal Nichols - Free agent - Nichols had a solid 2021 season with 51 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 9 QB hits, but those aren’t numbers that warrant a huge extension. He’ll be 26 when the season starts, so he’s sure to get a few decent offers if he’s allowed to test the open market.
Last year the Jags gave former Bear Roy Robertson-Harris $14 million guaranteed on a 3 year, $23,400,000 contract, so that could be a baseline for what Nichols is looking for, and if that’s the case I’m looking elsewhere.
Eddie Goldman - Signed through 2023 - There’s certainly a place for Goldman in the new 4-3, but the team could free up nearly $9 million by letting him go. If there’s a legit three-tech they feel that money is better used on, then maybe they make a business decision and make a move.
Khyiris Tonga - Signed through 2024 - Tonga played quite a bit as a rookie 7th-round pick a year ago by getting in 15 games (2 starts) and 23% of their defensive snaps. If Goldman is released or decides to retire, then Tonga likely steps into the 1-technique (nose tackle) role.
Angelo Blackson - Signed through 2022 - I thought Blackson played some decent football a year ago, and he’s going to be a nice reserve for the Bears on the interior of their d-line in 2022. The Bears could get out of his deal and save about $2.6 million, but considering he has a 2023 void year for half a million, I’d like to see him stick around as a backup.
Margus Hunt - Free agent - It was a nice late career run for the soon to be 35-year old, but he’ll probably be elsewhere in 2022.
Auzoyah Alufohai - Signed a Reserve/Futures contract - At 6’4”, 320 pounds Alufohai has good size, but the Bears are his third team (and 4th stop) since being a UDFA in 2020 by the Texans, and he’s a long shot to make the roster.
LaCale London - Signed a Reserve/Futures contract - Most of London’s time in Chicago has been spent on the practice squad, but the 6’5”, 315 pounder did get in for 1 snap a season ago.
Sam Kamara - Signed through 2022 - Kamara was a defensive tackle at Stony Brook, so the Bears making him an outside linebacker as a UDFA a year ago seemed like an odd transition. But after flashing in preseason he stuck on the practice squad to start 2021. He managed to get in 8 games as a rookie OLB, but moving him back inside makes some sense. He’s 6’2”, 288 pounds, and after a year in the NFL working on his strength and conditioning he might have enough quickness to push for a reserve spot at the 3-tech.
2022 OUTLOOK - From a purely talent standpoint, Hicks is the best defensive tackle set to hit the open market. Teams will weigh what he can bring to the field against his age and health, but I still expect him to have plenty of suitors. My guess is he lands with a legit title contender on a two year contract. Nichols is a good football player, but he didn’t flash enough in his contract year for me to pay him big money, but the Bears need someone to play the three-technique and Nichols could be an option.
Other free agent defensive tackles the Bears could be looking at are Cincinnati’s Larry Ogunjobi or B.J. Hill, Kansas City’s Jarran Reed, and the Texans’ Maliek Collins.
The Bengals might need to choose either Ogunjobi or Hill, and while Hill has been a reserve most of his career, Ogunjobi will be coming off foot surgery. Reed is 29-years old, but he’s been known as an interior pass rusher his entire career. Bears head coach Matt Eberflus saw Collins up close in Dallas in 2016 and 2017 when he was on their defensive staff, and Collins had 7.5 sacks those two years.
Mario Edwards Jr., who has plenty of 4-3 defensive end experience, is still under contract for the Bears through the 2023 season, and he would be in line to get some reps on the interior.
There should be a starter worthy veteran available in free agency, but the Bears should also be willing to pick one in the NFL Draft. Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey is a day two player, but his stock could be moving up after a nice Senior Bowl week. Ohio State’s Haskell Garrett and Iowa State’s Eyioma Uwazurike are a couple day three options that each play with the kind of motor this new Bears’ regime will love.