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Making Cents — and sense — of the Chicago Bears’ initial splurge in free agency

It was a hot and furious start for free agency. Including the blockbuster trade last Friday, the Bears land five building blocks for the future.

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve anticipated the Chicago Bears being extremely active in free agency once the NFL’s negotiation table was open for business. Sure enough, after a pretty long drawl into the afternoon, several big signings were dropped. None quite as big as the splash signing of linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.

When including last Friday’s historic trade with the Carolina Panthers, the Chicago Bears currently have landed five young players who are all locked up for the long-term. Each of them fills critical needs both individually and as a group. Those players are listed below.

  • Wide Receiver D.J. Moore
  • Linebacker T.J. Edwards
  • Offensive Guard Nate Davis
  • Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds
  • Defensive Lineman DeMarcus Walker

They were also reportedly in (consistently) on offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey and defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones. Both players signed elsewhere for huge money deals. We can discuss those players first before getting into the newest faces for the Bears.

Mike McGlinchey — RT — Denver Broncos

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Contract signed: 5-years and $87.5M, $17.5M per year, $50M guaranteed

This was the first big signing that did not end in favor of the Chicago Bears. His deal now places him within the top five contracts on a yearly average for right tackles in the NFL. It almost seemed destined to happen until the Denver Broncos came into the picture pretty late.

Here’s my thing with this deal. Yes, I wanted Mike McGlinchey in a Bears uniform. I also did not want to see him get paid anywhere close to top five money for his services. He’s been a solid player who will now earn elite money. I’ve never seen him as an “elite” offensive tackle.

At the end of the day, there is the same big hole at right tackle as what we’ve started this off-season with. The market for right tackles has dried up quite a bit. I have a feeling the options available at ninth overall during the draft may be the most appealing and realistic route to take.

Dre’Mont Jones — DT — Seattle Seahawks

NFL: International Series-Denver Broncos at Jacksonville Jaguars Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Contract signed: 3-years and $51.53M, $17.18M per year, $18M guaranteed

I’ll be going much further in-depth here as this truly has a strong set of “pros and cons” for why this ultimately did not happen.

Seeing the Bears failing to land Dre’Mont Jones stings far more than missing out on Mike McGlinchey. Unlike that deal for McGlinchey, this felt like something the Bears could have matched with relative ease. Especially when considering the schematic importance and value of their 3-tech position. They may have had a firm number set at $16M per year and did not want to go any further.

For insight into those negotiations, and more, here’s Greg Gabriel’s account of how that situation manifested up to the final hour.

Dre’Mont flashed serious potential in his first full season as a starter on Denver’s defense. Although primarily a 5-tech in their base package, he’s been flexed everywhere between the 1 and 7 techniques. From end to shade. This includes a healthy amount of snaps played at 3-tech, which is how the Bears intended to use him. As you’ll see later, that line of thinking is a gamble.

After sleeping on this whole contract and some follow-up research, there are a few red flags to consider.

My biggest one is handing a contract worth over $17M per year after just one season as a full-time starter. That said season ended with a hip injury, and from personal experience, those aren’t as easy to recover from, even if considered minor. He’s also playing the 5-tech in Seattle, where he’s most comfortable at. Transitioning from a 5-tech end to a 3-tech defensive tackle full-time is not easy. Just look at Justin Jones from last year.

Then there is the history of major contracts handed out to defensive tackles in free agency. There has been a fairly low “hit” rate. The best deals are with homegrown players locked up by the teams who originally drafted them. Recently the only good big contract awarded to an external acquisition was from the Indianapolis Colts to DeForest Buckner when the Colts landed Buckner in a trade from the San Francisco 49ers.

Otherwise, there have been too many big money deals that haven’t lived up to their potential. D.J. Reader of the Cincinnati Bengals has produced solid numbers, but he’s stayed healthy for just one of his seasons so far. In comparison, their signing of B.J. Hill has been more fruitful. Then there was the Albert Haynesworth disaster over a decade ago.

It remains to be seen how the signings of Javon Hargrave — who signed with the San Francisco 49ers — and Dre’Mont Jones pan out. Dalvin Tomlinson, who was my favorite shade to be had, signed a massive contract of his own with the Cleveland Browns. And the Bears absolutely have to move Heaven and Earth to find their answers at 3-tech and defensive tackle as a group. Begrudgingly, there are valid reasons why this signing did not happen.

Now onto the players who did land with the Chicago Bears!

D.J. Moore — Wide Receiver

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Contract Inherited: 3-years and $50.7M, $20.1M cap hit for 2023, $16.9M average per year, $21.1M guaranteed

I can’t emphasize how much I love this trade overall for the Bears. Especially when being able to reel in D.J. Moore as the final “must-have” addition to the deal. He solves their biggest issue at wide receiver without sending future draft capital or overpaying in a soft market during free agency.

Given all the historical issues at quarterback, the history at wide receiver has been just as sad for the Chicago Bears as well. Effective the day of his arrival, D.J. Moore already exceeded the franchise record for receiving yards. D.J. Moore has 5201 receiving yards in five years as a pro. Harlon Hill — the record holder — had 4616 receiving yards in eight seasons as a Chicago Bear. That is... eye-opening. And we’ll leave it at that.

Never mind D.J. Moore’s production since coming into the league in 2018. He’s produced as Carolina’s best offensive weapon not named Christian McCaffrey, despite being such a laughingstock of quarterbacks for the past few seasons. Now his game-breaking abilities gets paired with one Justin Fields at quarterback. Best of all, the contact itself is very reasonable and was already done last year—truly the smartest possible move at wide receiver for the 2023 off-season.

T.J. Edwards — Linebacker

Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Contract signed: 3-years and $19.5M, $5M cap hit for 2023, $6.5M average per year, $7.9M guaranteed

A shrewd signing by Ryan Poles and Cliff Stein kicked off the Bears’ shopping spree on March 13th. Upon the revelation of the deal itself, I instantly knew another major signing at linebacker was to follow. We’ll talk about THAT move later.

The versatile linebacker for the NFC Conference Champion Philadelphia Eagles netted a much smaller deal than anticipated. His positional value and performance had me as a buyer for a mid-tier deal in the neighborhood of $10-12M per year. The $7.9M average came as a real surprise for the hometown guy looking to be a much-needed answer at linebacker.

What’s intriguing here is his versatility between the “Mike” and “Will” as he’s played both while within a defense that compared closely in terms of schematic to what has been installed in Chicago. Former Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon worked for a few years under Matt Eberflus, and their principles in coverage responsibilities along with gap assignments, are almost identical. It’ll be a seamless transition for T.J. Edwards.

My belief is that, contrary to what some in the media have said, he will be playing the coveted “Will” or weakside ‘backer. Don’t believe me? Ask future hall of famer and Chicago Bear great Lance Briggs.

Jack Sanborn kicks into his natural fit at “Sam,” and Tremaine Edmunds will be at his usual “Mike” spot. That trio at linebacker is simply fantastic and built for long-term success. An excellent way to start free agency.

Nate Davis — Guard

Tennessee Titans v Green Bay Packers Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Contract signed: 3-years and $30M, $6.9M cap hit for 2023, $10M per year average, $19.25M guaranteed

In terms of role projections, it’s a bit trickier with Nate Davis. On one hand, he’s spent most of his NFL career at right guard. However, he’s also seen time at right tackle and left guard dating back to his days at Charlotte. I do wonder just what the Bears have in mind in this signing.

Based on that contract, he is most certainly going to be starting at guard. Whether it is at left or right guard remains to be seen. There have been suggestions the Bears are preparing to move on from veteran Cody Whitehair at left guard. Or, there’s the outside chance he gets kicked back inside to center. Teven Jenkins is still a good bet to stay at right guard, based on his play and Ryan Poles’ comments. We’ll know more once these players are officially introduced to Chicago.

Regardless of where he plays, Nate Davis is an excellent fit for Chris Morgan and his wide-zone concepts on the O-line. He’s fairly athletic and ranks toward the top of the league in run blocking. He’s also shown steady improvement in pass protection, and a real nasty attitude when looking for work past assignments. With all the hullabaloo at right tackle, the Bears’ interior O-line was just as bad between left guard and center.

It has been reported the Bears are also in play to add a veteran at center. Nate Davis will not be the last upgrade brought into the O-line. He’s a great player to start with.

Tremaine Edmunds - Linebacker

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Contract signed: 4-years and $72M, $14.7M cap hit for 2023, $18M per year average, $32.05M guaranteed

Out of the quartet signed on March 13th, this is easily the biggest tidal wave to hit Chicago, Illinois. A signing I absolutely did not see happening with or without T.J. Edwards’ arrival. This is a surprise that I’m fairly glad to see for many reasons.

Some people will balk at how he’s being paid based on his production earlier in his career, especially when Ryan Poles said “no” to paying Roquan Smith just a little bit more in terms of per year average. When you watch him play for the last two seasons within another comparable system within the Buffalo Bills defense, you’ll see why the Chicago Bears signed him to the biggest 4-year contract for an off-ball linebacker in history. He was the heart and soul of such an elite unit.

In particular, his development in zone coverage has vaulted him toward the very top in various grading metrics. He plays as a lengthy “Mike” who can drop back deep into zone coverage and make plays on the ball. His range, instincts, and ability to flow from sideline to sideline are simply outstanding.

When examining the contract itself, one will see it’s also front-loaded to the extreme. All of his $32.05M will be paid out by 2024. After that, he has absolutely no guaranteed salary left. In the worst possible scenario, his contract will be easy to get out of in two years. That scenario of which I do not expect to happen.

All-in-all, Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards individually present big upgrades at both “Mike” and “Will.” When combined, they turn this linebacker corps from incompetent to excellent. Now if only something was done up front with their defensive line...

DeMarcus Walker — Defensive Lineman

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Contract signed: 3-years and $21M, $6.4M cap hit for 2023, $7M per year average, $8.5M guaranteed

Speaking of which - the Bears made a late night signing to at the very least begin their efforts to rebuild their defensive line. Upon first sight, I was not a fan of the terms announced. For similar reasons, I was a little hesitant with Dre’Mont Jones, DeMarcus Walker’s deal looked like a real overpay. A type of move I had hoped Ryan Poles would not commit.

His “breakout” season yielded 7 sacks with an (admittedly impressive) 38 pressures and 16 QB hits. Still, that’s like $1M per year earned for each sack he registered in 2022. He had 12 sacks, and 25 QB hits combined from his previous five seasons. It made matters worse when fool’s gold-encrusted contracts like that of Marcus Davenport — 1-year and $13M for 12 sack in 2022 — get handed out elsewhere. Not the worst deal imaginable. Yet one I strongly disagreed with.

This is a moment when one walks away from their desk, takes time to re-think and reach out to others, then comes back to re-examine everything on any particular move. When re-examining everything, the signing as a whole makes sense. The biggest reason is below.

Most of DeMarcus Walker’s production as a pass rusher came when lined up as a true 3-tech with the Tennessee Titans. Even though he was a 5-tech in their base alignment and spent time as a 7-tech end as well, his talents shined brightest when kicked further inside at 3-tech. His versatility and effectiveness from the 3 and 7 techniques remind me plenty of former Bears D-lineman Israel Idonije.

When picturing DeMarcus Walker in that type of role, the move looks rock solid. I don’t think he’s a full-time player at either anchor end or 3-tech defensive tackle. He’ll spend plenty of time at both spots. Of course, plenty of moves remain to be made along the defensive line between now and the draft.

This is only the beginning for the Chicago Bears’ 2023 campaign for improvement

Real holes remain up front with their trenches on offense and defense. From this point forward, we’ll probably see a flurry of mid-tier signings to restock the shelves on their depth charts. Then again, it’s also early enough to see, perhaps, one more major addition being made. GM Ryan Poles and his staff have been the most active of any team on the market.

It’ll be worth watching what happens at running back as well. No movement has been seen with David Montgomery as of the writing of this article. People have floated Austin Ekeler as a name to monitor - but I will caution the audience that this is strictly speculation instead of any firm report backed by credible sources. We definitely will see more gigantic moves announced around the league over the next couple of days.

We’ve seen a couple of big trades happen today, March 14th, including the Las Vegas Raiders inexplicably sending their star tight end Darren Waller to the New York Giants. All eyes remain on the eventual exodus of Green Bay Packers heading to the New York Jets, being shepherded by Aaron Rodgers. Which shall be a lot of “fun” to watch.

Then there’s the behemoth in star offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Who isn’t a schematic fit for the Bears but a player who shouldn’t be ruled out completely. If the Bears can shore up their defensive tackle spots, maybe with guys like Sheldon Rankins or recently released Quinton Jefferson at 3-tech, Khalen Saunders as a shade, and that’ll be a nice way to follow up their monstrous first day. Just restock on the popcorn and drinks while you can.