In Parts One and Two, I dove into the deep sea of talent currently projected to be had on defense. And, as a reminder, the value for this year leans heavily in favor of the Chicago Bears spending an absurd amount of guaranteed cash on rebuilding such an underwhelming unit. I also went over what GM Ryan Poles will seek when approaching his search and conducting contract negotiations.
You can check back on those articles here (DL/LB) and here (CB/S).
Alas, now is the time to discuss how we will finally see the young franchise quarterback in Justin Fields being placed in a position for success. He needs a LOT of help between the trenches and the small armory of weapons at his current disposal. Options exist, but be warned - they're in short supply as far as real long-term answers go. Expect an offensive-driven draft if things fall in such a way.
For consistency, I'm playing by the same rules from my hypothesis on how much cap space will be reserved for pending extensions. My current number is at 15% against a grand total of $92M. That translates into approximately $13.8M and leaves a total estimate of $78.2M for use on player acquisitions. The two major extensions are for tight end Cole Kmet and cornerback Jaylon Johnson. With that in mind, we can proceed with how the money will be spent elsewhere.
As there's always the chance for that one comment to happen, let's get something out of the way while we're on the quarterback topic...
Justin Fields ain't going anywhere! (Quarterbacks)
Biggest names: Lamar Jackson; Daniel Jones; San Darnold; Geno Smith; Joe Flacco; Andy Dalton
Best fits: N/A
Possible Trade and/or Cut Targets to watch and enjoy some popcorn with: Aaron Rodgers; Derek Carr; Jimmy Garappolo
In a never-ending quest for common sense, I'll lead off this portion of the article with a not-so-friendly reminder that the Chicago Bears already have their guy at quarterback. Anyone suggesting otherwise just needs to be placed on mute. End of story.
This year will be insane for teams that actually need a quarterback. Unfortunately, the "free" agents available aren't particularly great once a deal or a tag for Lamar Jackson is finalized with the Baltimore Ravens. That also won't be the first big move to happen. Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders will be the first domino to fall.
On February 15th, the Raiders must either move him — whether they just cut him or strike a deal and verbal agreement on a trade — or pay him a whopping $40M guaranteed this year. Based on the latest reports, Derek Carr will not grant the Raiders an extension on that trigger date, nor will he waive his no-trade clause. He owns them almost as much as Aaron Rodgers owns his destiny with the Green Bay Packers.
Speaking of which... the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay appears to be coming to an end. I also said this last year, along with many of the sportswriting community, only to be victimized by a most epic troll on Aaron's part. Nothing is over or set until Aaron Rodgers says that himself. Just like Tom Brady with his retirement. Once Aaron Rodgers' departure does actually happen... there shall be no quarters. Let the dark ages commence in the Land of Cheese.
This all affects the Chicago Bears. Why? Because based on those three situations — Lamar Jackson; Derek Carr; Aaron Rodgers — it will impact the potential trade partners that are expected to begin a massive bidding war for the Bears' top overall pick. Any of the hypothetical trade partners could easily attempt to swing a trade for any of those three high-profile veterans. Nothing is anywhere close to being official until then.
My way-too-early favorites in the bidding war are the Houston Texans; Indianapolis Colts; Tennessee Titans; Carolina Panthers; and Las Vegas Raiders. Three of the five just hired a new head coach; one of them is still looking for their head coach (Colts); one of them hired a new GM; and it's almost a good bet none of them are anywhere close to being done with their evaluations for the upcoming 2023 draft class at quarterback. Anything we hear or read for the next two months is pure speculation.
In other quarterback-related events, here's how I see the rest of this free agency period playing out.
Geno Smith seems destined to re-sign with the Seattle Seahawks on a moderately sized deal, although they also own an incredibly high first-round pick thanks to the epic failure with Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos. They could re-sign or tag Geno — who had a phenomenal year — then draft a guy early to stash on the shelf until they're deemed NFL-ready. The same could happen with the Detroit Lions behind Jared Goff as well.
Meanwhile, the New York Giants seem committed to re-signing Danny Dimes for the long term. Do I actually think he's going to be worth the tremendous amount of money any such deal will likely command? That's debatable - but quarterback contracts have been the most inflated deals for the past decade.
From there, the value of free agency quarterbacks plummets to scary levels. Thus driving up the demand to draft their answer in April. Which benefits the Chicago Bears more than anyone else.
Running backs & Fullbacks
Biggest names: Saquon Barkley; Kareem Hunt; Jamaal Williams; Josh Jacobs; Miles Sanders; David Montgomery; Derek Watt; Khari Blasingame
Best fits: David Montgomery; Jamaal Williams; Miles Sanders; Samaje Perine; Raheem Mostert; Derek Watt; Khari Blasingame; Devin Singletary
Possible Trade and/or Cut Target(s): Aaron Jones (I promise I'm not trolling)
Now we can actually talk about moves the Chicago Bears can make to bolster their offense. Runningbacks are also a bit complicated to discuss in terms of value, seeing how often they are cut and replaced around the league. This year's group has a pecking order between high and low value. But there's also a significantly sized majority that are going to be lumped together in terms of medium or small per-year value contracts.
I feel that, while I'm in the minority here, there's a decent chance Ryan Poles and David Montgomery reach an agreement for a contract extension before the March 15th deadline. He's not the most explosive player on the market, but he's dependable, versatile, and means a great deal to the locker room. He's an ideal complimentary piece to pair with Khalil Herbert in the Bears' backfield.
That also comes down to how much each side seeks in guaranteed money. David has never struck me as the type looking to re-set the market. That won't happen in such a deep free agency class and even deeper draft class. A deal I'd find realistic and amicable is for three years and $24M in value.
If the Bears decide to move on, there is one player I feel could be the instant favorite - Jamaal Williams. There are several reasons why that signing can happen in Chicago.
Jamaal Williams is coming off the best season of his career. After playing second fiddle to Aaron Jones in the Green Bay Packers' backfield, he arrived to the Detroit Lions to prove he could be a featured back on his own. And he maximized his opportunity, including 17 rushing touchdowns this last year alone when he totaled 13 the previous five seasons. He wasn't used much in Detroit as a receiver, but in Green Bay, he was a regular contributor. And guess who knows that?
Chicago Bears OC Luke Getsy - the former Green Bay Packers receivers coach, quarterbacks coach, and passing game coordinator. Is this a reason to say a Jamaal Williams and Luke Getsy reunion is imminent? No, I feel the Detroit Lions will do everything they can to bring him back. His contract value could be all over the place, but I'd feel comfortable offering him a similar deal that I'd make for David Montgomery.
The fan favorite here has to be Saquan Barkley. He had a comeback for the ages after destroying his knee in 2021. And I would be lying if I didn't admit to dreaming of a potential backfield featuring Justin Fields, Saquan Barkley, and Khalil Herbert on the same field together. Just who would you target as your primary threat?
The New York Giants are hellbent on bringing him back. If he's not re-signed, then a franchise tag could be applied. I think it's likely he could be signed for a rather rare 4-year deal that values up to $60M when discussing contracts for runningbacks.
Samaje Perine and Raheem Mostert (remember him?) both fall into the category of players who produced at a decent level in similar run scheme concepts to what the Bears deploy under Luke Getsy. Either player could be had on the cheap.
All-Pro Josh Jacobs enters free agency as the 2022 rushing yardage king and over 2,000 total yards to go with 12 rushing touchdowns. He's also fairly young at 24 and has plenty of tread left on his tires. Now, will Ryan Poles actually consider the potential to re-set the market at running back? That seems hard to imagine, and frankly, the money could be better spent elsewhere.
There is one potentially expensive running back who could be made available that Ryan Poles makes a move for. And that is Aaron Jones - once again, the Green Bay Packers are facing accounting hell as they begin the year at $17M over the cap. Aaron Jones commands a whopping $20M hit against their cap.
Just what could happen? Upon a closer look at his deal, there is an out built into his contract for 2023. They could easily look to restructure again, but that'll just delay the inevitable arrival of the bill that's due. If something happens and Aaron Jones becomes available, watch out. That's a grand slam signing waiting to happen.
As for fullbacks, the Bears have reportedly attempted to re-sign Khari Blasingame before the season ended. If that doesn't happen, I'd earmark Derek Watt as a possible option.
Biggest names: Mike Gesicki; Dalton Schultz; Evan Ingram; Austin Hooper
Best fits: Mike Gesicki; Dalton Schultz; Robert Tonyan Jr.; Hayden Hurst
Possible Trade and/or Cut Target(s): Darren Waller
The Bears need weapons. Tight end is stacked reasonably well in free agency compared to other position groups. I feel we're going to see a pretty big move here in addition to re-signing Cole Kmet for a long-term deal. There's a good reason why a potential splash signing could happen at tight end.
Bears OC Luke Getsy used either 12-personnel or 21-personnel (with a tight end in the backfield) groupings quite often during his first season in Chicago. 12-personnel groupings are a staple in any Shanahan-style of offense, and it's arguably the best personnel grouping to run play-action or RPO-based concepts. Plus, the tight ends in this year's class are all credible threats in the receiving game, which makes up for such a weak class of veteran receivers projected to hit the open market.
Another factor for consideration is almost all the tight ends I highlighted have experience in concepts that are coached by Luke Getsy in Chicago. Especially Mike Gesicki; Dalton Schultz; Austin Hooper; and Robert Tonyan Jr.
Cole Kmet stepped up in a big way during his third year in the league. Still, I do not feel comfortable with the idea he's the only guy needed at tight end. A receiving specialist to compliment Cole Kmet would make this Bears offense much more potent.
Mike Gesicki fits that description perfectly. Reports have trickled out that the Miami Dolphins may not re-sign Gesicki after a combination of a down year for him and the Dolphins' preference to feature their lightning-fast receivers as much as possible. He spent the last year in an offense that, terminology-wise and concepts-wise, is close to Luke Getsy's in Chicago. He's still a massive threat in the red zone, and pairing him with Cole Kmet would be a 1-2 punch at tight end which will be difficult to defend. Count me in as a buyer with a 4-year deal worth a max of $38M.
Dalton Schultz spent the last few years under former Packers HC Mike McCarthy and has emerged as a multi-dimensional threat at the tight end position. I am tempted to say he's comparable to Cole Kmet in terms of playing style, yet there's no arguing that Dalton Schultz has been a much more productive receiver in the passing game. Considering he's a full-time stud as both a lead blocker and a dependable receiver, he may receive the biggest contract for tight ends on the market this year. A 4-year deal worth around the neighborhood of $60 is not impossible to envision.
Robert Tonyan Jr. — like a lot of players I'll discuss in this article — has familiarity with Luke Getsy. He also should not come anywhere close to being a top earner on the open market. If the Bears opt to go with a smaller signing at tight end, then Robert makes sense. The same can be said for Evan Ingram — who had a massive resurgence with the Jacksonville Jaguars — and Austin Hooper.
Darren Waller is a name that a few media outlets have suggested could become a
sacrifice trade asset in an effort by Las Vegas Raiders HC Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler to re-set their personal employment clocks. I think a lot of Raiders could be hitting the open market soon. Knowing what Josh McDaniels did with the Denver Broncos and the extent he's willing to go to cool off his seat, nothing should come as a surprise to anyone. Not a single thing.
We'll wrap up the series later this afternoon, and once it publishes, you can click here to read all about the free agent offensive line and wide receivers.