clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

ECD’s 2023 Free Agency Extravaganza! Part Four: Offensive Line and Wide Receivers

ECD puts a bow on his Chicago Bears’ free agency preview with a look at offensive line and receiver.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at San Francisco 49ers Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

My offensive free agency primer article became so big I had to split it up just like I did when I looked at the defensive options for the Chicago Bears, so for my look at the running backs, tight ends, and quarterbacks, click here, but for the wide outs and offensive lineman continue on.

Offensive Line

Biggest names: Orlando Brown Jr; Rodney Hudson; Jason Kelce; Mike McGlinchey; Jawaan Taylor; Trai Turner

Best fits: Mike McGlinchey; Jawaan Taylor; Trai Turner; Isaac Seumalo; Garrett Bradbury; Kaleb McGary

Possible Trade and/or Cut Target(s): Quenton Nelson; David Bakhtiari

We finally get into one of the two biggest needs for the Chicago Bears. And this is a position that both GM Ryan Poles and Ian Cunningham take personally. Those former linemen being the top two decision-makers in football evaluations suggest they’re going all-in to give some proper protection for Justin Fields.

So much so that, aside from defensive line, more guaranteed money will be spent here than anywhere else. However, unlike the defensive line, there are far fewer obvious candidates who stand out. They may not even go after the biggest names at all. At least in the open free agent market.

The Bears are very particular when it comes to their preferences for players from an athletic and schematic perspective. Based on the four linemen they drafted last year, and the players targeted in free agency, like Buffalo Bills offensive guard Ryan Bates, they want athletic players who move well and play with an aggressive mean streak. Those requirements rule out quite a large number of options.

That being said, beggars cannot be choosers, and the reality is at least three spots on the offensive line need serious upgrades. The positions of left guard, center, and right tackle have no viable long-term answers. Cody Whitehair is a candidate to be cut once the evaluations are finalized. The only two players who have found a home are right guard Teven Jenkins and left tackle Braxton Jones. The latter is a player who Ryan Poles allegedly really likes moving forward but could stand to have some competition added.

Everything else should be open season between free agency and the draft.

Orlando Brown Jr. is a beast who GM Ryan Poles is very familiar with. He’s made the Pro Bowl in each of the last four seasons, and he’s on his way to a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs. They have already tried to re-sign him to a long-term contract, and each effort has been met with a firm “no” from the player. He’s set to hit the free agent market as a player determined to land the biggest contract ever for an offensive lineman.

Here is where I’m about to type a sentence I previously did not believe I’d ever consider sharing. After lengthy conversations and careful observations, he’s not a fit for what the Chicago Bears are looking for. Which seems outrageous, considering he’s young, healthy, and would fill a massive need on paper. Yet there were times this season when he failed to hold up in pass protection way too often for a guy that wants to be seen as the most handsomely paid lineman in NFL history.

He also does not fit the athletic profile, nor does he move well enough to be a true fit in the wide-zone concepts installed by Chris Morgan. The risk is he’s signed to a massive deal when he does not mesh well with the offensive scheme. Because of all these factors, I find it understandable to see him not signed by the Chicago Bears.

Mike McGlinchey is a rock-solid schematic fit that I see the Bears looking at. Yes, he got embarrassingly owned by Micah Parsons during the San Francisco 49ers’ playoff matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. He’s also not a slouch in either pass protection or road grading.

He’s been as dependable and consistent as you could hope for at right tackle in a wide-zone concept. The San Francisco 49ers and Mike McGlinchey have mutual interest in a new deal. If that does not materialize, consider the Bears as “in” for Mike McGlinchey. A 4-year deal worth a max of $50M could make this a worthwhile investment to consider.

Kaleb McGary has been advertised and hyped plenty by fellow contributor Jacob Infante. After a rough entrance into the NFL, Kaleb has settled in nicely as a mainstay at right tackle. I’ve seen projections as high as 4 years and over $70M in value, but I feel that would be a bit too rich. Still, he’d make for a fine and nasty player to pair with Teven Jenkins on the right side of the line.

As far as guards go, the Bears did make a run at Trai Turner last offseason. He’s now a bit on the older side and had a rough year with the Washington Commanders. I do feel he fits much better with the Bears at left guard as opposed to the previous scheme Scott Turner ran for the Commanders. If the Bears seek to move on from Cody Whitehair with a solid and experienced option, this would make a good deal of sense with a smaller 2-year worth around $8M total.

Isaac Seumalo comes to mind as a player with familiarity with Ian Cunningham from their time together as members of the Philadelphia Eagles. Again, he does enter the upcoming season at 30 years old, but he still plays at a high level. His previous deal of 3 years and $15M is also a good value that can be re-upped if he signs with Chicago.

Garrett Bradbury would be a complete upgrade at Center over incumbent Sam Mustipher in every conceivable way. He also will not come cheap - a 4-year deal and $50M is a good offer to lock in the former Minnesota Vikings head hog. This is also dependent on whether the Chicago Bears feel they can no longer trust Lucas Patrick’s health after he was ravaged by several injuries.

I would do many, many despicable things if All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson could be had in any trade. He would be on my list of demands for any potential negotiation involving the Indianapolis Colts’ bid for the first overall pick. In Colts GM Chris Ballard’s own admission, he’ll move heaven and earth to get his guy at QB. So let’s see how serious of a businessman he is.

David Bakhtiari is perhaps the biggest name that can be axed by the Green Bay Packers, thanks to their carelessness in handling the cap. He costs $29M in 2023 and nearly $33M in 2024. He also hasn’t been healthy lately. I’d put the overall chances the Bears sign him at “low,” but it’s not entirely impossible. He’s played at right tackle, left tackle, and even at guard. The versatility is there if Ryan Poles choose to accept the injury risk.

Wide Receiver

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Biggest names: Marvin Jones; Jakobi Meyers; DJ Chark; Allen Lazard; Julio Jones; Jarvis Landry

Best fits: Allen Lazard; Mecole Hardman; Parris Campbell; Sterling Shepherd; Darius Slayton

Possible Trade and/or Cut Target(s): Brandon Aiyuk; Tee Higgins; DeAndre Hopkins; Michael Thomas; Jerry Jeudy; Davante Adams; Tyler Lockett; Michael Pittman

We have arrived at my single biggest weakness on the Chicago Bears’ roster. A position that many tables were destroyed over when watching the movements dating back to the 2022 league year. All of that frustration... and yet I must accept the cold truth.

This might be the weakest position group, on paper, when considering free agency. As it stands, there are no premier options to be had. At least before any big cuts or trades happen - more on those later. Ryan Poles legitimately stated that he traded for Chase Claypool because of how he felt about the projected market.

I have criticized Ryan Poles severely for the state of the receiving corps. But I have to agree with his assessment of this bunch in free agency. There will be some whacky deals being signed this year, just like in any year. The Bears need actual receivers instead of glorified skinny offensive linemen that can’t separate in coverage. Yet they do not need to be stupid with their money.

The type of players the Bears likely seek are explosive receivers who can separate naturally with speed and length. There aren’t many good options available without the willingness to part with compensation via trades. Truly, the draft is far and away the better route to take to actually fix the receiving corps—either that or in a very aggressive trade.

That is why I feel the Bears should — and will — be active in the trade market here more than at any other position. Ryan Poles executed no fewer than two separate trades that landed options at receiver in 2022 alone. That’s likely to continue heading into 2023 before the draft.

Let’s get the actual free agents out of the way first.

Allen Lazard is very familiar with Luke Getsy and was a solid receiving threat for the Green Bay Packers during life without Davante Adams. He fits as an “X,” “F,” or in the slot as a “Z.” I’m nervous to project his value as I feel my numbers, 3-years at $10M total, will be way too small versus what he will actually get on the open market. Still, for someone who is seen as “just a guy” at receiver, the Bears are in desperate need of “guys” who can get the job done.

Jakobi Meyers might be the only #1 type of receiver to hit the open market as of the writing of this article. Again, that’s also before any cuts or trades happen. In 2022 he scored 6 receiving touchdowns, which is 4 more than his previous three seasons combined. He’s definitely going to be overpaid in free agency, and his value projects to be a 4-year deal and over $50M in value. He doesn’t exactly fit the athletic profile compared to the rest of the Bears’ receiving corps. And, at that price, I’d look elsewhere.

That’s where the curious case of Mecole Hardman comes into play. Ryan Poles was with the Kansas City Chiefs when they selected this speedster during the 2nd round of the 2019 draft. He seemed to be an instant hit as he earned both Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors as a kick and punt returner who also contributed nicely in the receiving game. His production and usage in the receiving game increased during each season.

Then 2022 happened - despite the opportunity for him to ascend into the role as top dog following Tyreek Hill’s departure, injuries and new additions to the offense made him a relative afterthought. Does Ryan Poles take a bet on him ascending into a bigger role, just like the bet he made — and lost — with Byron Pringle? I can see him being worth a smaller deal in the 3-year range. If his price increases to over $7M a year, then no thanks.

My personal favorite free agent is none other than New York Giants receiver Darius Slayton. He does not have the most dependable hands — a big pet peeve of mine — but he is everything the Bears would desire in athletic profile, speed, burst, and route running. Darius Slayton would make for a fine complimentary piece with Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool, all speed guys that can go vertical in a second.

Current Bears receivers coach and passing game coordinator Tyke Tolbert is very familiar with Slayton. For a mid-tier option who should not break the bank — 2-years at $9M would be my starting point — he’d make for a great value signing with minimal risk.

If there’s a single receiver that I’d feel is worth taking a gamble on, it’s Parris Campbell. After being drafted during the 2nd round by the Colts in 2019, he started off with fairly modest production and suffered a lengthy list of injuries for his first three seasons. In 2022 his usage and production jumped when he was finally healthy for an entire season.

He still looked explosive and flashed his 4.31 speed despite all the ankle and knee injuries that happened early in his career. I don’t see Ryan Poles committing much money at all due to his preference of avoiding lengthy injury risks. For a small “prove it” type deal, he’s a guy to consider as a low-risk/high-reward option.

Now we will discuss the one true way to guarantee a real amount of improvement in the receiving corps - the trade market.

DeAndre Hopkins is someone I feel is more likely to get cut as opposed to actually being traded. His contract situation for a team like the Arizona Cardinals, and the mess they’re in right now, has led to speculation his time in Phoenix is over. I feel the Bears can just sit and wait for him to get cut before signing him.

There are multiple ways the Bears can approach this situation. They can use his own contract as leverage against the Cardinals and offer to absorb his hefty $30M cap hit at the cost of either an incredible discount or perhaps additional compensation in exchange for a decent draft pick. If the Bears add DeAndre Hopkins into the fold, that will solve many issues moving forward.

Tee Higgins has gained a massive cult following in Chicago the past few weeks. And, he would be an instant upgrade to the tenth degree. However, any trade for him won’t be cheap. At all. The Cincinnati Bengals are less than inclined to just give him away unless a huge offer, probably a 1st and 3rd in base value, is presented. Could the Bears consider a 2023 3rd rounder and a 2024 conditional pick worth up to a 1st? I don’t know if Ryan Poles would go for that when other alternatives exist.

Jerry Jeudy and Brandon Aiyuk are two young receivers on their rookie deals that I find to be more likely targets than Tee Higgins. They both fit exceptionally well into what the Bears are building on offense.

Brandon Aiyuk and the San Francisco 49ers face an incoming challenge regarding the salary cap and a lack of assets to fix their issues. The 49ers are already paying Deebo Samuel over $20M per year along with a host of other big contracts and a shortage of draft capital. For the 2023 draft, they currently hold two 3rd-round compensatory picks, two 5th-rounders, including the Dolphins’ pick, and two 7th-rounders, including the Broncos’ pick. For a team that loves growing their own talent, that’s not ideal.

Plus, Brandon Aiyuk plays in the same type of scheme and has a good enough combination of burst and explosiveness to be a fit for Chicago. For the right offer, 49ers GM John Lynch may consider taking what he can before Brandon Aiyuk walks in free agency next year. Don’t count on this hypothetical deal to be cheap.

The Denver Broncos are a complete mess, and Cortland Sutton also got a major raise that’s kicking into effect in 2023. Like the 49ers, they don’t have much draft capital, especially after sending the 1st round pick acquired during the Bradley Chubb trade and their own 2024 2nd round pick to the New Orleans Saints for the hiring of HC Sean Payton.

With Russell Wilson’s contract being the biggest albatross in the league, it will be challenging for anyone to be signed past their rookie deals. They could look to just take their losses and deal Jerry Jeudy or even Courtland Sutton for a bid to recoup valuable draft assets.

There are many more trade and cut possibilities that I can cover. Davante Adams would be a welcomed sight for Luke Getsy, albeit his contract is a LOT to absorb. The Seattle Seahawks are in a bit of a salary cap crunch themselves, and Tyler Lockett’s pay raise kicks into effect this year with an out built for the 2024 league year. The 2022 offseason proved to be an absurd year, with receivers being traded all over the place. I feel the same will happen in 2023. And the Bears should be buyers in the market.

To Wrap Things Ups

2023 NFL Pro Bowl Games Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears have all the assets needed to flip a hideous 2022 regular season into a brighter future for years to come. Signing every star player would be exciting but incredibly unrealistic. As my series shows, there are going to be a lot of unheralded names looking for substantial raises, with the annual NFL shopping spree set to kick off in just over a month.

GM Ryan Poles’ top objective isn’t to go bounty hunting for the most prominent names. It’s to add enough talent and long-term answers to take a real step forward beginning in 2023. Expect a lot of younger players coming off their first contract to be connected to the Windy City as opposed to the well-known commodities.

Oh, and there are no more excuses to not improve in the near future. Time to kick back and enjoy what should be the busiest year in franchise history for the beloved.