Yesterday, clubs and agents were able to negotiate contracts legally for NFL Free Agency 2023. And like many of us, in the days leading up to yesterday, I fell into the yearly trap of reading and believing rumors. I spent too much time working in the League to be so stupid, but I admit I fell for the BS and am guilty as charged.
In the days leading up to free agency, there is always talk by the Network "Insiders" (both ESPN and the NFL Network) about what the perceived market is on certain players. Where I made my mistake is that these Insiders do not get their free agent information from teams but rather from agents. Clubs don't publicize who they want to go after, as that hurts the competitive nature of the bidding. The agents though do. Their job is to get as much as they can for their clients, and so if they put out false information, so what!
Going into yesterday, it was believed the Chicago Bears were going after people like Javon Hargrave, Dre'Mont Jones, and Mike McGlinchey. The truth is they bowed out on Jones long before yesterday began, never considered Hargrave because of his age, and walked away from McGlinchey more than an hour before his deal with Denver was announced.
The Insiders put out that Dre'Mont Jones market was approaching $18M+ and rising, and that was over the weekend, not yesterday. The truth is when the negotiation window opened yesterday, the real price wasn't near that figure, and the Bears had bowed out of the competition long before yesterday.
The Bears had a price limit for Jones, and it wasn't close to $18M; in fact, it wasn't close to $16M. Yes, they would have liked to sign the player, but not at a price way over what they felt he was worth.
The Bears' chief negotiator is Cliff Stein, and Cliff is one of the best in the business. Yesterday I tweeted that out, and former Eagles and Browns President Joe Banner promptly replied not one of the best, THE best!"
Cliff knows and understands the market and will not overpay. He is a tough negotiator but a very fair one and always handles negotiations with dignity. Stein is highly respected because of that.
Yes, the Bears had more money than any other team, but there was no way they were going to spend that money unwisely. That is the surest way to ruin a team because they get tied up with bad contracts for players who can't perform to the level of their contract.
I have good relationships with some of the Insiders, and on Sunday they told me that in the right tackle market, McGlinchey was going to be $17 to $18M, Caleb McGary was going to get $15 to $16, and Jawaan Taylor would end up with $18M+. They were right about Taylor and McGlinchey. Taylor and McGlinchey got the money that was put out, but McGary is still waiting.
In the case of McGlinchey, the Bears would have gone to a $17M average but not anywhere near the guaranteed money, he ended up getting. It's the signing bonus and guaranteed money that can kill a club if the player doesn't work out. McGlinchey is a very solid player but not a Pro Bowl-type player, so the Bears weren't about to guarantee a huge sum.
The Bears Signings
Despite not signing some of the players they were expected to sign, the Chicago Bears had an excellent first day of free agency. Shortly after the negotiation period opened, it was announced the Bears had a deal with inside linebacker TJ Edwards formerly with the Eagles. Edwards is one of the better inside linebackers in the League and is only 26 years old. He is also a local guy and wants to be near his hometown. The deal is for three years and worth $19.5M, which in my opinion, is a bargain. Edwards is a Pro Bowl-level linebacker and a young and still ascending talent—a great signing.
A few hours later, two more signings were announced back to back. The first was with guard Nate Davis, formerly with Tennessee, who got a 3-year deal worth about $30M, another bargain. Davis is a stud who can line up at either guard position and is a perfect fit for the Bears' outside zone scheme. He is equally good as both a run and pass blocker.
Just a few minutes later, the big deal of the day for the Bears was announced. They signed Buffalo Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds to a 4-year, $72M deal.
Being I am from Buffalo and I'm a Bills fan, I love this signing. Edmunds has been in the League for five years, yet is only 24. He has improved dramatically over the last couple of seasons, and it could be argued that he was the Bills' best defensive player in 2022.
Edmunds has Brian Urlacher-type size and athletic ability with great speed (4.54). He's tough, physical, and instinctive and will still get better. Both Edwards and Edmunds played Mike, so it will be interesting to see who becomes the all-important Will in the Bears' scheme. My guess is, based on the money, it will be Edmunds.
Later yesterday evening, it was announced the Bears signed defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who was with Tennessee. Being listed as a DE is a misnomer, as he has played most of his career as a 5-tech while with Denver. Last year he played both inside and outside at Tennessee, but his best production, especially as a pass rusher, was from the inside. Walker will more than likely play the 3-Tech for the Bears, and he is a good scheme fit for that position. He'll never be an All-Pro, but he will give the Bears solid production.
What's Next for the Bears
The Bears certainly aren't done with signing players. I feel they will still try to sign an edge player and perhaps another interior defensive lineman who can play the 1-tech. Then they will attack the Draft. Because they were unable to sign a right tackle, that becomes a high priority in the Draft next month. They may not use their first-round pick on a right tackle, but if they don't, they surely will use one of their two second-round selections. It will get down to who they are looking at when they are n the clock at #9. They could still trade down a few slots, pick up an extra draft choice, and still get a quality tackle.
Some of the tackles available in the Draft in the first two rounds are Paris Johnson from Ohio State, Broderick Jones from Georgia, Anton Harrison from Oklahoma, Darnell Wright from Tennessee, Matthew Bergeron from Syracuse, and Jaelyn Duncan from Maryland. Only Wright has been a predominantly right tackle in college, but Johnson has gotten snaps at both tackles and guard. The others have played mostly left tackle but should be able to make the switch. No, I don't have Peter Skoronski listed because with 32" arms, he will be a guard in the NFL.
You can probably bet that two of the Bears' first three selections will be defensive linemen, with the other being a right tackle. Remember, the Draft and free agency go hand in hand. What they don't get in free agency, they have to get in the Draft.
Getting back to the other signings, how will the Bears use Nate Davis? Davis played right guard at Tennessee, the same position that Tevin Jenkins plays. I can see the Bears moving Davis to the left side and then moving Cody Whitehair back to center where he started his career. That would dramatically improve the interior offensive line. Add a good right tackle in the Draft, and the line got much better.
Why move Whitehair back to center? The center is the glue of the OLine. He has to be a smart player with leadership skills. The center makes all the line calls, and with this group being a young but talented group having an experienced vet play center is a smart and necessary move. Of course, Lucas Patrick, who was signed last year to play center but had injury problems, is also a vet who could compete for the job. The competition will be fun to watch in camp.