Ryan Poles has done an excellent job flipping the Chicago Bears roster in just two offseasons. The first offseason was mostly a teardown. Poles added no notable free agents unless you count Justin Jones, but did potentially land three long-term pieces in the draft with Kyler Gordon, Jaquan Brisker and Braxton Jones.
Poles spent much of his second offseason infusing the team with talent. Between free agency and the draft, Poles added nine new starters to the team and added some depth as well. As Poles is getting ready for his third offseason, he has some more holes to fill (and a few more that will be created with player departures), but his roster continues to get stronger.
For the purpose of this article, we are ignoring the quarterback position. Whether you want to keep Justin Fields or move on from him, we ignored that position so we can hopefully have an engaging debate about positions on this team that don’t line up behind the center.
Here are 10 spots that Ryan Poles needs to look at this offseason counting from least to most important.
10. Back-up Safety
The lack of depth at safety has been a problem. Elijah Hicks has seen plenty of opportunities but hasn’t cashed them in. When the safety room was hit with some injuries, rookie Kendall Williamson didn’t get any chances so that probably gives you an indication of where he’s at. Poles should look to add some safety depth in the middle rounds of this draft so if the rookie hits, Hicks can be dropped to S4.
9. Interior Offensive Line Depth
The depth along the interior is going to need a boost. Lucas Patrick and Cody Whitehair are almost certainly going to depart the team this offseason and Ja’Tyre Carter has certainly fallen out of favor with the coaching staff as he spends his Sundays inactive most weeks. The Bears are going to want to add a rookie here that has both center and guard flexibility. If Carter no longer fits into the Bears long-term plans, they should look at adding an affordable veteran here as well.
8. Back-up Tight End
Having Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis as your back-up tight ends looked like a good plan on paper. While Lewis has done the job he was signed to do, he’s not a long-term answer due to his age. Tonyan certainly hasn’t worked out and he will be looking for a new team this offseason. The Bears should look to add an affordable pass-catching tight end via free agency and also draft a rookie on day three of the draft (more of an inline blocking type). Unless Brock Bowers is in their plans, this plan would give the room some stability for the next couple of years.
7. Wide Receiver 3
Tyler Scott has certainly flashed some ability the second half of this season. But has he shown enough that you can trust him as the 3rd wide receiver on your team? I think there isn’t enough consistency there to do that. I think Scott could benefit from another year as the team’s fourth wide receiver and they should draft a WR3 in the top 10 of the NFL draft who could easily slide into the WR2 role by their 2nd year in the league in 2025 and hopefully Scott will be ready to handle WR3 duties by then.
6. Punt Returner
Ryan Poles has to figure this out. Right now, this position is starting to feel like kicker did for Ryan Pace. After Velus Jones struggled in 2022, Trent Taylor was brought in to stabilize the position and bring some life to the punt return game. Taylor has been subpar and certainly not the answer. The Bears should find a wide receiver who is solid at returning punts and add them as their 5th or 6th wide receiver next year.
The expectation here is that Eddie Jackson will be released from his contract after the season. Jackson has been a great Bear, but he has a large contract, and the aging veteran doesn’t have the sizzle he once did. If Poles does in fact plan to add some safety depth in the draft as was previously suggested, adding a veteran safety here at roughly half the cost of Jackson’s AAV should be quite manageable and have very little impact on the overall salary cap.
Montez Sweat’s addition to this defense shows just how impactful adding an edge can be to a defense. Yannick Ngakoue didn’t have the year Poles was hoping for, and now, with the ankle injury, there’s no reason to expect him to return. The Bears need to add a player here that can, at a minimum, come in on passing downs and get to the quarterback (DeMarcus Walker can play edge on early downs), whether they do that on day 1 or day 2 of the draft or via free agency is a question but either approach is sensible.
It’s becoming pretty clear that this offensive line is close to becoming a really strong unit but it certainly can use some solid play in the middle. Lucas Patrick isn’t the answer. Doug Kramer certainly can’t be relied on to start in 2024 and Cody Whitehair can’t handle the position and will almost certainly be off the roster in 2024. The best plan here would be to attack this position in free agency and not roll the dice you can find a starter in the draft.
2. Wide Receiver 2
The odds that Darnell Mooney returns to this team decrease every week and seem to be getting pretty close to zero at this point. Mooney is unhappy, his effort actually seems to be decreasing the last couple of weeks, and he hasn’t been on the same page with this offense all season. The Bears should look to find a solid receiver who’s looking for a short-term deal (one or two years) while the Bears wait/hope that their rookie first round receiver and/or Scott develop.
1. 3-Tech Defensive Tackle
With the addition of Sweat, this team is still going to need a serious interior disruptor to pair with him to really elevate this defensive line. Gervon Dexter continues to improve and looks like he will be a solid defensive tackle, but I don’t know if he has shown flashes of becoming an elite defender to this point. Relying on him to make too significant of a jump could result in disappointment and not enough improvement up front for the defense. There are a couple potential big time defensive tackles that could hit free agency (Chris Jones, Christian Wilkins) and Ryan Poles would be wise to try and land one of them in free agency this March.