That time has just about arrived. Since late last summer, every Bears fans has known that their Chicago Bears will have way more cap money available than every other NFL club. The Bears have in the area of $94 Million in cap space available to them. The big question every Chicago fan has is how will they spend all that money?
First, I don't think there is any way the Bears spend all of that $94 Million in the coming weeks. Why? The Bears have to take care of several of their current players who are now eligible for extensions. Those players are Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, and Jaylon Johnson. A year from now, they can extend Justin Fields, and we all know that will be an expensive contract. Because of that, money has to be left in reserve in order to take care of that obligation.
In the NFL, unused cap dollars in one season get carried over to the following season, so if the Bears keep $10 Million in reserve for the Fields contract, it will be available to them in 2024.
Free agency and the Draft go hand in hand. Needs a club fills in free agency don't necessarily need to be filled in the Draft unless there is, of course, a huge need (several players) at a position group.
So, how will the Bears go about spending their free agent dollars beginning next Monday at 11:00 CDT when the period to negotiate contracts opens? If you watched any games last year, the weakest position group on the Bears is the defensive line. My feeling is that by May 1st, we will have four new defensive linemen on this team. Two will be inside players, and two will be edge guys. I can see two defensive line free agents being signed in the coming two weeks. If I was to predict, I'd say a defensive tackle (preferably a 3-tech) and an edge player. There aren't many 3's available in free agency, so depending on the cost, the Bears may have to settle on a nose/1-tech.
Who might be available? The obvious names are Denver's Dre'Mont Jones, who in the last week has become a very "hot name," and Philadelphia's Javon Hargrave. Looking from the outside, Hargarve is the biggest name and may be the most expensive, but he is also the oldest guy at 30. Do the Bears want to spend big cap dollars on a player on the wrong side of 30? In most cases, I would say no, but the 3-tech is so important in this defense, the Bears may have to. All that will come down to how much money is needed in trying to sign Jones. Jones is a full five years younger than Hargrave, so I would think this is the player the Bears will go hard at.
If the Bears fail at signing a 3-Tech, they can move to the nose/1-tech, and again there are some good possibilities One is current Jet Sheldon Rankins. Rankins is a former first round pick (Saints) who fits the profile of the nose in the Bears' scheme. He has explosiveness and is a disruptive run defender. Another name to watch is Arizona's Zach Allen. Many feel Allen is a 3-tech because of his listed size (6'3 – 281). I believe he is bigger than his listed weight, and in my opinion, he doesn't have the required traits to be a disruptive 3-tech. At the nose in this scheme, he can be very good.
If the Bears fail to sign a 3-tech, they will need to draft two, and that can be difficult as there aren't many in the Draft. There are some defensive ends who could easily convert to the 3-tech, but that is for another article.
The Bears failed to generate any type of consistent pass rush last year for their edge players. It's imperative that two new ones are found. One obvious name just became available, and that is former Chief Frank Clark. Clark is a solid pass rusher and run defender who fits the scheme, but he will also be 30 in June. Again, I don't see Ryan Poles signing more than one veteran to a long term contract who is north of 30 years old. Another possibility is the Colts' Yannick Ngakoue, who finished this past season with 9.5 sacks and had 10 the previous year, so he would fit the need. He is also just 28 years old, so it's easier to justify paying him.
Many fans bring up the name Marcus Davenport who was with the Saints last year, Davenport had all of ½ sack this past season. In free agency, a team has to get productive players, and Davenport isn't productive.
A player who has been tied to the Bears in recent days is Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke. I've been told by a source close to the Colts that Okereke wants to play for 'Flus. Wanting to play for a person and getting a deal done are two different things, but it is something to watch.
Okereke played Mike for the Colts, and the Bears have a Mike in second-year man Jack Sanborn. One of these players would have to move to the ever-important Will linebacker position. The player who has the best traits for Will is Okereke, but I wouldn't count out Sanborn, as his instincts are superlative.
The offensive line is another priority need, with the most important need being right tackle. The way I see it, the Bears don't have one. Riley Reiff is out of contract, and Larry Borom isn't athletic enough or good enough to do what a tackle needs to do in this scheme.
There are three possibilities in free agency, Mike McGlinchey, the 49er, Atlanta's Caleb McGary, and Jacksonville's Jawaan Taylor.
In the Bears' scheme, the tackles have to be athletic. It is required that they get out into space, adjust on the move and make productive open field blocks. Most big 330 – 340 pound tackles can't do that. McGlinchey has been a five-year starter in a very similar scheme, so we know he can do what is required. McGary had some medical issues when he was in the Draft but has been very durable since coming into the League, plus he also has experience in an outside zone scheme.
The player I am not sure about is Taylor. He may be the best pass blocker of the group, but he can't run block to the level of the others. Add to that, we never see him have to get out into space. If the Bears feel he can, he may be the player they sign.
Most fans want the Bears to sign a veteran wide receiver. While it could happen, I don't see it happening. The Bears need to spend a lot on Mooney and Claypool, so spending in free agency doesn't look likely unless it is a very team-friendly deal. I look for the Bears to draft a wide receiver.
One other possible need area is center. Last year in free agency, the Bears signed former Packer Lucas Patrick to be their center. Because of injuries to both himself and other linemates, Patrick played all of one quarter at center for the Bears. When he was healthy, he was at guard, which is not his natural position, and he did not play well. The question the Bears brass will answer shortly is if they replace Patrick or go with him for one more year. His Green Bay tape at center was very good, so we'll see.