This off-season should be one for the history books. We are just days away from the actual start of unrestricted free agency. And, the Chicago Bears are primed to have a huge amount of roster turnover.
A few weeks ago, I published my “Free Agency Extravaganza” series for the Chicago Bears 2023 off-season. You can find all four parts below.
Part two - Safeties and Corners
Part three - QBs, RBs, and TEs
Lately, I’ve been approached and asked by a few Bears fans to attempt a full mock off-season based on what I have seen, heard, written about, discussed with others, etc. All anchored with my personal philosophies. After having time to review everything, here is my product.
And it’s a long read. Everyone deserves my full thoughts on every move I make. So prepare all your snacks and beverages accordingly.
Full disclosure, I am not utilizing any draft simulators or anything of the sorts. Instead, I am utilizing my own “know-how,” notes, and research based on teams who made similar moves to what I envision. There are no perfect examples of what I am about to attempt. Truly, this off-season will be unprecedented. Very few teams have ever entered any off-season with the following factors combined.
- Lead the NFL in cap space available by over $30M compared to the next team (Falcons)
- Possess a young quarterback on their rookie contract worthy of building a franchise around
- Possess the top overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft
- Entering year two of building and installation on offense and defense
Also, when it comes to the proposed contracts, neither the total value nor the annual per-year average reflects what their actual cap hit comes down to. The Bears are armed with the most cap space — nearly $100M — and perhaps the best salary cap expert in Cliff Stein. I have every confidence in the world he can make the contract structures work to fit under the cap for now and years to come.
Some historic examples I will reference include when the Atlanta Falcons traded up from 5th overall to 1st overall during the 2001 NFL Draft; when the (now) Los Angeles Rams traded up from 6th overall to 1st overall in the 1997 NFL Draft; and when the Los Angeles Rams traded up from 15th overall to 1st overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.
My top objectives for this 2023 off-season were as follows.
- Back our franchise quarterback up in Justin Fields with a much stronger unit on defense
- Upgrade the protection for Justin Fields to ensure a real passing game can develop
- Equip Justin Fields with a vastly superior assortment of weapons around him
There is one golden rule guiding me the whole way - absolutely no shortcuts or expensive aged band-aids are to be considered here. Only look to add long-term solutions or players who can be signed on a low-risk flyer at a chance to become a long-term solution. We can ill afford to blow this opportunity and sign a bunch of bad contracts on players well past their prime. Or players who don’t fit the schemes we’re building at all.
With everything considered, let’s get this show started. This is how I’d rebuild the Chicago Bears during the 2023 off-season through the lens of GM Ryan Poles.
First order of business - I am trading the first overall pick for a bounty of draft picks and premium football players
Justin Fields is the guy at quarterback. This decision was finalized after some “due diligence” in reviewing our notes on the top quarterback prospects and meeting with all of them at the annual NFL scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, which is business as usual. Normally the first overall pick isn’t moved until either a week before or on Draft Day itself.
However, I also want premium players in addition to premium draft picks. And it’s much easier to navigate free agency once I acquire said players while locking them up with a new contract. Ryan Poles has legitimately said this himself during his meetings with the media at the combine.
A soft deadline has been set for March 15th - the beginning of free agency. The obvious contenders are the Houston Texans; Indianapolis Colts; Las Vegas Raiders; Carolina Panthers; and Atlanta Falcons. Each of those teams have their own unique pros and cons when approaching any deal.
My issue is where the first two teams listed pick at 2nd and 4th, respectively, they are unlikely to meet my full demands of premium picks and premium players. And that will be a deal breaker for me.
The Houston Texans don’t really have much of anybody I’m too interested in. Brandin Cooks and Laremy Tunsil are basically all they’ve got. Unless Texans GM Nick Caserio gets super desperate and presents to me a cornucopia of picks to choose from between 2023 and 2024, I’m not interested in spending so much time to move just one spot down. They’re floating the idea of signing Jimmy Garappolo anyways.
I do love some options the Indianapolis Colts have. Quenton Nelson would be the best possible upgrade over Cody Whitehair at left guard. Michael Pittman is a fantastic receiver I’d be interested to add as well. Of course, there’s Shaquille Leonard and DeForest Buckner in the two most critical positions for my defense at “Will” LB and 3-tech. Yet can I get both premium players and premium draft picks past 2023 from either the Colts or the Texans?
History and reality would both suggest “no.” Most teams who moved up within the top five only pay with draft picks for up to two draft classes at any time. As much as I want to encourage Colts GM Chris Ballard to back his statement of “moving Heaven and Earth” for his quarterback, I do not feel he’ll give me any of the stud players he hand-picked himself without a significant discount regarding draft picks. The bidding war between the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts will definitely be entertaining to watch.
We’ve got a LOT of holes to fill in the long-term picture. So acquiring maybe a single premium player and a small handful of draft picks just does not seem like the best move. Attempting the double trade down within the top ten is something that’s never happened.
Quarterbacks could go at picks 1-3 once the draft is over. Two of those will be from teams moving into the top three in order to jump over the Seattle Seahawks, who are primed to build a bridge at quarterback. They’ve re-signed Geno Smith and could easily pick their favorite remaining player at 5th overall — thanks to the Denver Broncos — to stash for the future. It’s a possible dream come true for Seattle’s head coach Pete Carroll.
I know the further I move down, the more I can get in return. I also know it’s possible I’m not the only one within the top three who wants to trade down - the Arizona Cardinals sit at #3 overall, and Monti Ossenfort has certainly entertained the idea. Nothing can nor should be ruled out.
Now, about the prospective trade partners who are currently slotted outside of the top five...
The Las Vegas Raiders are interesting. Maxx Crosby is turning into a monster, and Davante Adams would take care of such a huge hole at wide receiver. They may also be more interested in a splash move for a veteran quarterback at this time. Josh McDaniels has a history of making some whacky decisions at quarterback. What, with the failed attempt to trade for Matt Cassel in 2009 and the selection of Tim Tebow in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He’s by far the most unpredictable cat in this entire discussion.
The Atlanta Falcons have pulled this kind of trade off once before, yet they sit right at the edge of 10th overall. Again, do they have anyone besides Kyle Pitts I’d want in return? As of this moment, my answer is also “no.”
Then there are the Carolina Panthers. They are currently slotted to pick at 9th overall. Yet they also have a decent group of players I’m keenly interested in acquiring. The biggest prize is Brian Burns, who may not be a good fit for the new 3-4 based front being installed on their defense. He’s up for a new contract soon, and there could be motivation from the Panthers to just move on and take what they can in return.
Panthers GM Scott Fitterer sure loves to be a part of every major trade that happens. His latest hire at head coach, Frank Reich, is sick and tired of temporary Band-Aids at quarterback. It comes down to the Indianapolis Colts and the Carolina Panthers. Ultimately, I believe the Carolina Panthers will offer substantially more in terms of future draft capital on top of at least one blue-chip player. I wrap up negotiations with the Carolina Panthers and receive the following.
- Carolina’s 2023 (9th overall) and 2024 1st round picks
- Carolina’s own 2023 2nd round pick (40th overall)
- Carolina’s 2024 3rd-round pick
- Brian Burns
- Carolina’s 2025 2nd round pick
The best I felt the Colts would offer is their 4th overall selection, any pick of one premium player, their 2023 2nd rounder at 35th overall, and a 2024 2nd rounder. Unless I wanted to send back draft capital of my own, they’re not going to overpay nearly as much as us fans want to imagine. Players like Quenton Nelson and Shaquille Leonard would certainly be equivalent in value to their 2024 1st rounder. Michael Pittman would grade into a second-round pick in terms of value. And, I feel the only way DeForest Buckner leaves the Colts is if he’s cut or traded.
Earlier, I explained I want a combination of premium players and picks that go well beyond 2023. The offer from the Panthers does just that. I have premium picks from 2023 to 2025, plus an outstanding building block in defensive end Brian Burns. The Chicago Bears are no strangers to big trades involving the acquisition of a premier edge player. Classic examples include blockbuster deals for Adewale Ogunleye in 2004 and Khalil Mack in 2018. Brian Burns is the next such player to follow that tradition of sorts.
Thanks to the timeliness of the deal, I can now re-sign Brian Burns to a long-term contract before the start of free agency. He won’t be the only player I sign to an extension.
Time to lock up a few young building blocks for the long term.
Including my big splash acquisition, the following players primed for major extensions are as follows.
- Tight End Cole Kmet
- Cornerback Jaylon Johnson
- Defensive End Brian Burns
Darnell Mooney is coming off a significant injury, and I want to see how well he’s able to perform once healthy. Chase Claypool, the one big trade acquisition made last year, still has to show me he’s worth big money with a much stronger season in 2023. As a result, neither receiver will get an extension until the regular season is underway at the earliest.
Since I just traded for Brian Burns, I’m locking him up first. He’s getting a 5-year deal worth a total of $105M in base value. That translates to $21M a season, which is a little less than the $23M Maxx Crosby earns. It’s a deal close to being identical to what the Kansas City Chiefs signed Frank Clark to after their sign-and-trade was finalized with the Seattle Seahawks in 2019. It’s more than reasonable for both sides.
Then it’s on to Cole Kmet. It’s a little bit of an overpay from what I previously thought, but he’s getting a 4-year extension that will be worth $55.2M total, or $13.8M per year. That is just above what Dawson Knox and David Njoku earn on their respective deals. I’m betting on a big future for Cole Kmet based on the jump he made during the 2022 regular season.
Now we talk about Jaylon Johnson. His ball production in terms of takeaways has been low throughout his career so far. Some of the metrics-based grading scales also frown upon him when targeted - based on where you look, the number was as high as over 100 for passer rating against. Yet, he’s simply brilliant when tasked with matching up against the opposing team’s top receiving threat.
For me, he’s being signed to a 4-year deal worth up to $60M total, or $15M per season. That’s less than the $16.5M Byron Jones earned with the Miami Dolphins. This is in anticipation of other corners — namely Byron Murphy and Jamel Dean — signing some ludicrous contracts north of $16M per year.
David Montgomery will also be coming back. He’s worthy of a 3-year contract and $24M to bring continuity and versatility to such a dangerous attack on the ground. His value as an additional bodyguard in the backfield during pass protection is tremendous as well.
That’s pretty much it for the major contract extensions and re-signings. Plenty of others will receive small one to two-year deals to fill out the depth chart. Of course, with the extensions out of the way, I can now focus entirely on free agency.
Both sides of the Trenches are getting beefed up more than any good sandwich you’ll see at Al’s Beef
I’ve already got a head start on the defensive line by acquiring Brian Burns before free agency officially kicked off. Now I can really hone in on landing some critical pieces at defensive tackle — both shade and 3-tech — along with the hullabaloo O-Line. 3-tech is the motor that drives the defense for the Bears, and we absolutely have to land a difference-maker.
Javon Hargrave is perhaps the best true 3-tech on the market. He’s also turning 30 but still has plenty left in the tank. However, the Cleveland Browns present a real challenging opponent once they clear out their cap space situation, given the strong relationship between him and their new DC Jim Schwartz. Dre’Mont Jones is a young and ascending player who’s shown outstanding versatility. Initially, I wasn’t too sure how he’d fit as a 3-tech full-time. But the potential shown by the 25-year-old after last season is real.
I’m signing Dre’Mont Jones to a 4-year deal worth $60M total, or $15M per season. I’ll also be parting ways with Justin Jones as a result. My big answer at 3-tech has been found.
The price for Dre’Mont Jones skyrocketed once Da’Ron Payne was slapped with the non-exclusive franchise tag by the Washington Commanders. However, I do disagree with the idea he’s worth $18M per season. I have more than enough cap space, and critical schematic needs to justify having two huge contracts on my defensive line anyhow. Both Brian Burns and Dre’Mont Jones are on long-term deals to push the cap hit down throughout the length of their respective contracts.
Dre’Mont Jones won’t be arriving by himself at defensive tackle. Instead, even more prime beef is being added with former Minnesota Vikings DT Dalvin Tomlinson. His best fit is as a shade in a true 4-3 front. He’ll be signed to a 3-year deal worth $13.5M total, or $4.5M per year. Now I have two bulls in the interior of my D-line with a game-wrecker coming off the edge. Three out of my four defensive line spots are set for the next few years. I’m placing my bet on 2022 5th-rounder Dominique Robinson to take a major step forward as a 2nd-year player at defensive end.
For the O-Line, I’m being very selective.
My two biggest needs for improvement are at right tackle and center. There aren’t a ton of great options, and it’s a game of schematic fit vs. projection on young players hitting the market. Both Jawaan Taylor and Kaleb McGary have their strengths as young linemen hitting free agency for the first time in their respective careers. Both had their best seasons as pros during the last season. Yet I do wonder if that’s a case of development, or if it’s just a one-year wonder. I’d rather avoid another Frank Omiyale-type signing.
Then there is Mike McGlinchey. He’s hitting free agency and appears to be looking for a deal quickly. People will balk at some of the grades given at pass protection, yet overlook the grades for Jawaan Taylor and Kaleb McGary during the previous seasons. Mike McGlinchey has been elite in paving lanes for the ground game as well.
Overall he’s proven to be rock solid throughout his career in a scheme close to the Bears in comparison. I’m landing him on a 4-year deal worth up to $50M total. And that might wind up being less than what either Jawaan Taylor or Kaleb McGary sign for in free agency.
Garrett Bradbury is my favorite center to be had this off-season. People will look at Ethan Pocic, but my big issues with him are how poorly he played in a wide-zone based concept while with the Seattle Seahawks and the amount of back and knee injuries he’s suffered already. Both of those issues are red flags for me.
Meanwhile, Garrett Bradbury played his best football when running in a wide-zone based concept with the Minnesota Vikings last season. A 3-year deal worth $36.6M or $12.2M per year gets it done for me. Lucas Patrick, due to his injury-riddled season and inconsistent play in 2022, is no longer a player I see being a key piece to build with. I’m moving on from him and recouping $3.9M in return.
Left tackle and right guard are set between Braxton Jones and Teven Jenkins, respectfully. I’ll most likely address left guard during the NFL draft.
Now to give Justin Fields some real weapons and build around the trenches
The free agent market, prior to all the cuts set to happen, is soft. Just not a lot of good long-term options exist that would be worth any credible amount of salary.
The trade market, on the other hand, looks delicious. Quite a few veteran receivers look to be on the trade block throughout the league. This is reminiscent of what we saw last year between free agency and the draft.
No name is more prominent than De’Andre Hopkins. I’m very tempted to trade for him. Originally he was my top plan to address this position. After spending a couple of days in darkness to find the answer... I just feel there are better options for the long-term available. This is why.
I am not a fan of the current asking price for a 2nd rounder. His contract is an albatross, and the Arizona Cardinals would need to either eat that $30M cap hit or take a hike. I’d wait for him to get cut instead. Now, drop that trade request to a 4th rounder, and consider me a buyer. De’Andre Hopkins’ 2022 season raised a few red flags between his suspension and ending his season with a torn MCL of which I’m not super comfortable in committing to.
I’m all in for making a trade to land a real answer at receiver. I’ve considered guys like Tee Higgins, Jerry Jeudy, and Brandon Aiyuk. The receiver I’ve selected is Courtland Sutton. This is largely due to a combination of the likely price tags and how each player fits on offense.
Tee Higgins — who I absolutely believe is available at the right price — will be super expensive. We’re talking first-round pick, additional picks between 2023 and 2024, plus a massive contract at the bare minimum. Ditto for Brandon Aiyuk, although I do feel 49ers GM John Lynch could be a little more willing to negotiate. They face a serious cap crunch in the near future in San Francisco.
The deal I envision for Courtland Sutton is much more palpable. I’m comfortable in parting ways with my original 2023 4th round pick and a conditional 2024 pick that can be as high as a 3rd rounder, or as low as a 5th, depending on how things shake out. Below is my line of thinking behind this trade.
We’ve seen him produce at a high level despite such putrid play at quarterback. The Denver Broncos are also not in a position to refuse trade offers - they currently don’t pick until the 3rd round at 67th overall, thanks to the combination of trades between Russell Wilson and Sean Payton. They’ve been quietly shopping Courtland Sutton behind the scenes. I’d call and inquire about Jerry Jeudy as well, considering he possesses the skillset we don’t have in terms of creating separation explosively through speed and length. Both players are high on my list.
However, I like the veteran experience Courtland Sutton would bring along with his full year of learning the same terminology and concepts taught by Luke Getsy on the Bears’ offense. I also believe there are receivers more similar to Jerry Jeudy available in the draft. Courtland Sutton has a rare combination of explosiveness and smooth route running to go with his size.
He’d be a sizeable upgrade over N’Keal Harry and provide Justin Fields with a dependable receiver who still has a great deal of his career ahead. His contract isn’t too terrible to absorb, either. At least with the cost of a 2023 4th rounder and a conditional 2024 pick.
Mecole Hardman is someone who makes sense as an additional depth piece and is an excellent option for the punt or kick returner spots in case Velus Jones Jr. can’t take a real step in his development. Once upon a time, he played with Justin Fields at Georgia. I’m also going to sign him on a small deal. His injury last season and overall inability to take over as a legitimate top receiving option hurt his value. Two years and up to $10M if he hits all the performance escalators in his incentive-laden contract.
Darius Slayton has a great deal of familiarity with current receivers coach and passing game coordinator Tyke Tolbert. I love his combination of size and speed when attacking from the slot. His career average of 15 yards per reception is nothing to sneeze at. His hands... are not the most dependable. I’m willing to take a gamble on him in the neighborhood of a 3-year deal at $4M per year. Or $12M total. There will be an out built into his deal after year one in case he doesn’t catch on. Pun fully intended.
Then it’s on to the draft and tier two wave of free agency for wide receivers.
Here is where some people will suggest I’m getting greedy. Mike Gesicki is coming off a down year with the Miami Dolphins and in a scheme reminiscent of what’s run in Chicago. I did just re-sign Cole Kmet to a hefty contract extension. Luke Getsy also loves running 12-personnel more than most offensive coordinators.
I’m taking a swing and signing Mike Gesicki to a 4-year deal worth $38M. Which is $9M per year. The New England Patriots signed two different tight ends to contracts worth over $12M per year. I’m getting Mike Gesicki at a decent discount in comparison. He’ll be the ideal kind of player to pair with Cole Kmet and is still a huge threat in the red-zone. In the worst-case scenario, an “out” will be built into the deal with an option to be exercised after year two.
Familiar faces bring some certainty for Matt Eberflus and Alan Williams at linebacker and cornerback
I’ve spent a fair amount of my available cap so far. Yet I have the ability to create more cap space if needed by releasing Cody Whitehair; Justin Jones; and Cairo Santos; among others. I also have one more sizeable hole to cover - linebacker. Realistically all three spots at “Mike,” “Sam,” and especially “Will” stand for major upgrades.
Jack Sanborn played well during his brief stint as the “Mike.” He also fits better as the “Sam.” In all seriousness, he reminds me of former Bear linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer. Hunter manned the “Mike” in Brian Urlacher’s absence during the 2009 season after the HOF’er was ruled out for the year with a dislocated wrist. Jack Sanborn showed that same kind of versatility and a fair amount of potential last season following Roquan Smith’s departure.
Nicholas Morrow slid over to the “Will” and Jack Sanborn played at “Mike” after spending a couple games as the “Sam.” Morrow did not move the needle for me. Sanborn did. Who’s going to play the “Mike,” then?
Too easy. Another player who wore #58: Bobby Okereke. He spent his first three seasons as a pro under head coach Matt Eberflus and linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi while together with the Indianapolis Colts. Starting off as a “Sam” he eventually earned the nod to be the “Mike” during the 2021 season. He looked natural in that spot. Where his ball production dropped in Gus Bradley’s defense for the 2022 season, he still played at a decent level and recorded over 150 combined tackles. He’s definitely a “Mike” in the Bears’ defense.
Reports have come out suggesting he’s looking at anywhere between $10-12M per year. On a 4-year deal, I’d be happy to meet him in the middle. So a 4-year deal worth $44M or $11M on average seems just about right to me. Bobby Okereke gets plugged in as the “Mike.” Then Jack Sanborn is given the chance to be the long-term answer at “Sam.” There are two holes filled with one signing.
The “Will” linebacker is the biggest remaining question heading into the draft. I like my chances of finding that answer on day two of the draft. Particularly since I’m now back to having two picks within the second round.
Before touching on corner I’m going to have people ask, “why not Jamel Dean?” For starters, I don’t find him a particularly good fit for the Bears’ defense. He’s played better in man coverage than while in zone. The Bears Tampa-2 concepts would be a poor match for him. And I’m basing my off-season on the idea Kyler Gordon is playing boundary corner full-time next season. So Jamel Dean will be getting paid handsomely in the very near future. It just won’t be from me or the Chicago Bears.
With Kyler Gordon as the mainstay to pair with Jaylon Johnson on the boundary, I’m focusing on depth and nickel. Rock Ya-Sin played at a respectable level once he settled in with Matt Eberflus’ concepts on defense. He also has the versatility to play boundary or nickel. He should be had at a 2-year deal and $7M.
I’m not making any plans for big expenditures at corner or safety during free agency. Just got to fill out the depth chart behind my young studs in Eddie Jackson; Jaquan Brisker; Jaylon Johnson; and Kyler Gordon. Which will be a fairly easy task.
Come on home Robbie Gould!
Cairo Santos wasn’t atrocious by any means. Yet, he absolutely took a step back after being almost automatic for two full seasons in Chicago. I really don’t wish to do another Kicker Derby like what the world laughed at during the 2019 off-season.
Especially when Robbie Gould is entering the market and leaving the San Francisco 49ers. It was never right to move on from him. Now we can correct that mistake and ensure a proper retirement while getting the most reliable kicker on the market. Although he would likely come back wearing a different number... which is admittedly super weird. A minor issue in the end.
That will do it for the major moves in free agency.
Now on to the draft!
I’m well aware that my draft board, and the boards of teams around the league, will definitely look different than the ones hyped by fans and talking heads within the national media. And that’s okay. I’ll always be happy to admit to being wrong when it comes to how draft picks turn out past year one.
I wasn’t a big fan of picking Jaquan Brisker over any receiver at 48th overall. In fact, I was quite furious. This is despite just how great of a safety he is. That turned out to be a boon for the Bears. Still left a sizeable hole at receiver a year later, but we can fix that. And we shall do just that.
Including the trades I mentioned earlier, and the 7th-round compensatory pick awarded to the Bears during the writing of this article, I have nine total picks at my disposal. This features four picks within the first three rounds. During the draft, I will constantly look to move down from round two onwards.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll stay with the picks I’ve mustered from the trade with the Carolina Panthers. Starting with the ninth overall selection.
- 1st round, 9th overall (via CAR) - Jordan Addison, WR, USC
- 2nd round, 40th overall (via CAR) - Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas
- 2nd round, 53rd overall (via BAL) - Steve Avila, LG, TCU
- 3rd round, 64th overall - Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa
- 4th round, 103rd overall - Traded to the Broncos for Courtland Sutton
- 4th round, 133rd overall (via PHI) - Adetomiwa Adebawore, DT, Northwestern
- 5th round, 137th overall - Andrei Iosivas, WR, Princeton
- 5th round, 159th overall (via BAL) - Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina
- 7th round, 220th overall - Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, UCLA
- 7th round, 258th overall (comp) - Mark Evans II, C, Arkansas Pine-Bluff
Let’s address the big elephant in the room. I’ve always had Jordan Addison as WR1 for the upcoming NFL draft class. Where Jaxon Smith-Njigba is the absolute favorite amongst the fanbase after a historic performance at the combine — and one who shares a great relationship with Justin Fields — I have way too many questions related to why he had just the one monster season in 2021. That same season when Jordan Addison won the Fred Biletnikoff award.
Jordan Addison has a decent — but not identical — comparison to DeVonta Smith of the Philadelphia Eagles. Ian Cunningham was part of that very staff who selected him at 10th overall despite a great deal of concern over his light frame. Jerry Jeudy of the Denver Broncos — albeit a little bit larger — is also someone comparable to Jordan Addison in play style and level of polish. A more established pro comparison is Tyler Lockett.
He certainly didn’t blow teams away with his performance at the combine. And that’s just fine with me. His production, reliability, polish, smoothness in his route running, and all-around capability as a wide receiver at the next level scored top marks from me. I’m not looking at Jordan Addison — or any one receiver in this class for that matter — to be the savior. Just to be the weapon that doesn’t exist yet on the roster. A player like that of DeVonta Smith or Jerry Jeudy. A playmaker that Matt Eberflus alluded to needing during his own meetings with the media.
For the sake of argument, JSN had 96 receptions for 1606 yards and 9 TDs in 2021. That same year Jordan Addison had 100 receptions for 1593 yards and 17 TDs. Addison’s 2022 year was a disappointment, but he was still a pretty good playmaker for USC and scored 8 more TDs on 59 recs and 875 yards receiving. JSN... with 2020 and 2022 combined, had 92 yards and 1 TD.
Would anyone like to figure out how often a player exploded during year two, only to disappear completely in year three, and not be much of a factor in year one? Never mind the thought of him not being the best receiver on the depth chart at Ohio State at any point in his Buckeye career. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson — two first-rounders in their own right — made his life easy in 2021. Marvin Harrison Jr. is an absolute prodigy at receiver. Brian Hartline is the best subject matter expert on receivers in the business.
For the “he outproduced Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson in 2021” crowd - I sure hope he was able to take advantage of being the third wheel when the top two opposing DBs routinely had to focus on their matchups with Olave and Wilson. Which opened up one-on-one opportunities for JSN to match up against either a nickel or a linebacker in coverage. And it’s even better when two eventual first-round picks at quarterback — Justin Fields and (mostly) CJ Stroud — can routinely get you the ball without issue.
Jordan Addison had one good quarterback (Kenny Pickett) at Pitt and an elite quarterback (Caleb Williams) at USC. But never had the kind of fortune JSN received in having the attention drawn away in coverage. Jordan was the one receiver every DB had to account for individually. Otherwise, he’s a touchdown waiting to happen.
There have been many questions as to why JSN didn’t play more than three games in 2022. Depending on who you ask, and it’s not just Todd McShay, opinions have differed on who JSN really is as a player. No question he can definitely play in the NFL. I have him tied with Quentin Johnston of TCU as my WR2 for their own strengths and weaknesses. Any of the top five receivers in this class should be welcomed with open arms in Chicago.
I’m just not nearly as high on him after his stupendous performance at the Underwear Olympics as many others apparently are. There are some legitimate yellow and red flags that make me nervous about picking any player who shocked the world for just one year. Only to be a non-factor in the other two seasons.
Pairing someone like Jordan Addison with Courtland Sutton reminds me of the dynamic receiving tandem built by the Philadelphia Eagles. Almost akin to the DeVonta Smith and AJ Brown pairing achieved last offseason.
Now on to the rest of the draft class.
Drew Sanders is my pick to play the “Will” LB role on defense. This year’s class at linebacker is pretty fluid, and we’ve seen some athletic phenoms perform at the combine. Drew showed some outstanding potential in his first full season as a starter for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Big, instinctual, strong, and fairly athletic for his size. There’s been some loose talk about him lining up off the edge at times. He would thrive as the “Will” in Chicago.
Steve Avila is one of the best guards to be had in the upcoming draft. He also played fairly well at the Senior Bowl, of which Luke Getsy was the head coach of the American squad. He’s the ideal kind of player to replace Cody Whitehair at left guard - a behemoth who’s fairly athletic and is downright nasty. Also has the flexibility to play center.
Sam LaPorta is the next in line for great athletic tight ends coming from Iowa looking to make a career in the NFL. It also takes a few seasons to adjust to the pros. So why not stack the Bears’ tight end room with as many talented players as possible?
Adetomiwa Adebawore turned many heads after running a freakin’ 4.49 for a 282lb player. His tape from the 2023 Senior Bowl was also a ton of fun to watch. He’s been listed as a defensive end, but he could be the scariest player in existence as a 3-tech. It won’t be an easy transition to make - it’s also worth the gamble in the 4th round. His potential reminds me of a faster Henry Melton, who was also picked in the 4th round of the 2009 draft by the Bears. Not a bad comparison at all, I’d say.
Andrei Iosivas looked and played like a true speed demon while at Princeton. He didn’t get much of a look at the Senior Bowl under Luke Getsy, but he without question flashed in individual drills and has a super competitive nature. I like him as a gem on day three of the draft.
Darius Rush was dominant at times during the Senior Bowl. He also struggles to win his matchups consistently when on the boundary, although his 4.36 time in the 40 proved how much speed he actually possesses. Plug him in at Nickel, and his skillset, along with size, are a perfect match.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson presents the Bears with an opportunity to develop a quality backup behind Justin Fields and Trevor Siemian to eventually take over as QB2 in Luke Getsy’s offense. He’s got the athletic ability and a decent enough arm to be a dual threat and not change the playbook drastically if ever called upon.
Mark Evans II is another late-rounder to develop along the Bears’ O-line. He was plenty good and earned his invitation to the East-West Shrine Game.
That will wrap up the primary portion of the 2023 off-season for the Chicago Bears
Naturally, plenty of moves are made after the draft is finalized in early May. Ideally, we will continue to be the most aggressive team in the league when adding talent to each phase of the ball. I won’t rest until the Chicago Bears are the best squad in existence.
I also know not everyone will be happy with every move made here. We won’t know what happens until anything happens in the first place. Just so many needs and possibilities to consider heading into this new 2023 league year.
In the end, I accomplished my objectives. Justin Fields has an overhauled O-line built to win now and into the future. He also has an assortment of weapons to choose from in the receiving game. And he has a re-tooled defense looking to wreak havoc up front.
The Bears could not rush the passer, protect the passer, or provide the passer with credible targets. All those issues have been resolved. With plenty of more resources in the future to continue attacking each need as they arrive.