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Bears Mailbag: Free Agency Reactions, Thoughts on the Trenches, Potential Targets, and More

The first week of NFL free agency has passed. The Chicago Bears still lead the league in cap space, despite an active opening week. Where do things stand heading into the value portion of the off-season? We’ll cover all of that and more in a jam-packed installment of our Bears Mailbag.

Chicago Bears Introduce Kevin Warren as Team President and CEO Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

It might be hard to believe, but we are seven days past the opening of the 2023 NFL new league year. It was an active period for many teams around the league but none more than the Chicago Bears and second-year general manager Ryan Poles. Despite a so-so pool of players, Poles has found ways to spend money. Yet, many holes remain as we inch closer to the draft.

What can we expect from the Bears moving forward? We’ll dive into all of that and more in this week’s Bears Mailbag.

For me, that’s an easy one. It should be interior offensive lineman Nate Davis. The Bears went out on Day 1 and inked the former Titans lineman to a three-year, $30 million deal. Not only does he fill one of their biggest positions of need, but in my opinion, he’s still an ascending player. When you couple that with how important interior protection is going to be for Justin Fields moving forward, I think he ends up becoming their most important signing from this 2023 free agent class.

I also think the addition of T.J. Edwards is being a bit overlooked because of the Edmunds signing. In terms of value, that might be my favorite Poles signing to date. Simply put, the Bears are going to need a lot better production out of their signings this year than they got last year. Shopping at the top of the market should help.

My guess is that the Bears would love to trade back a few spots and pick up an extra Day 2 pick. Not only would it give them another pick to work with, but it could also be used in a package with one of the second-rounders to get them into the Top 10 picks of Day 2.

The reality is quite simple, especially where the Bears sit. They can want to trade back at No. 9, but if teams don’t see a player (or two) worth coming up for, they will very likely have to make their pick. To me, there are three different scenarios to keep an eye on.

  1. Jalen Carter. Where does he go? Is he still on the board at No. 9? If so, are the Bears comfortable passing on him and trading down with another team who wants him?
  2. How many cornerbacks go before the Bears’ pick? If you recall back in 2021, that was a big factor in the Bears being able to move up nine slots to land Justin Fields.
  3. Who is the top receiver on the board? This is another spot where you could see a team get a little desperate and want the top receiver in the class.

More than likely, the Bears should at least have some conversations. With that in mind, I’d be surprised to see the Bears move down too far. There’s a very good chance they are going to be staring down a full group of offensive linemen at pick 9.

Miami Dolphins v Chicago Bears Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

If the season were to start tomorrow, I think that Cody Whitehair would be the team’s starting Week 1 center. That said, there are still a few quality free-agent options out there (my favorite is Connor McGovern) and plenty of draft options on Day 2. My guess is that they will hold onto Whitehair and Lucas Patrick until after the draft. That doesn’t mean they won’t look for an upgrade or a long-term fix at the position, but that could be dictated by how their board looks when they get into their second, third, and fourth picks.

All in all, I do think the Bears will draft a center relatively high, and I do think that once Week 1 rolls around, that rookie will be starting.

As of Monday, March 20th, the Bears have 62 players on their 90-man roster. Assuming they keep the same amount of picks (10), they’ll be at 72 following the draft. Most of the time, teams sign anywhere from 12-15 undrafted free agents following the draft. Keep in mind that more undrafted rookies are added post-rookie mini camp, but often, some of their earlier signings and some veterans are cut. That alone will get them close to the 90-man limit, but I have a feeling that we’ll see other five-to-seven outside players signed before late April’s draft. They still have needs on the offensive and defensive lines. Cornerback is another big one too. I’d expect some starting-caliber players and more depth pieces that can compete for playing time come September.

Right now, the Bears still have 22 of their free agents sitting out on the market. Of the unrestricted free agents, they’ve only made two re-signings so far. Here are a few names I’d keep an eye on in the coming weeks:

  • DB DeAndre Houston-Carson
  • DLs Armon Watts and Mike Pennel
  • LBs Matthew Adams and Joe Thomas

Considering the draft is still a month away, you can expect a fair amount of movement in terms of them signing some extra veteran players. Again, it’s important to remember that players they sign to “futures deals” right after the season are usually the ones who get cut when they start signing undrafted free agents. There’s still plenty of movement to be made in the coming weeks.

At this point, we are likely looking at impact players coming from the draft at these positions. For the most part, the Bears opted to sit out the big-time markets in the trenches. Whether due to prices or scheme fit purposes, those two spots remain huge question marks as we inch closer to April.

Right now, it’s hard for me to imagine a scenario where three of the first four draft picks aren’t at these positions. Maybe even all four at this point. That said, here are a few names fans should be “hopeful” that they can acquire in the coming weeks.

Offensive line:

Of this group, Wynn has the most upside. He’s had an up-and-down start to his career with the Patriots, but he’s a former first-round pick who has shown he can play at a high level. McGovern is another immediate upgrade at center for the Bears. Yes, he’s 29, but he’s also a damn-good player, and he’s someone I’d prefer over Whitehair or Patrick.

Defensive line:

The interior market has all but dried up. At this point, I’m not convinced Ford makes a ton of sense due to the redundancy of Billing at the one technique. Edge rusher is a lot more interesting. Floyd would be a great addition (more on that below), as would Ngakoue. Clowney holds more name value at this point, but as a pure pass rusher, I have another preference. Green is another overlooked name.

As you can see above, there are still some options, but as the days press on, this list will shrink. I think the Bears could do themselves a lot of favors but signing one guy from each group. Only time will tell if that happens.

Los Angeles Rams v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

I 100% agree with you and believe he is a scheme fit as the right end in this defense. Floyd’s time in Chicago was a mixed bag due to his draft status. Many celebrated moving on from him when they chose to sign Robert Quinn, but Floyd’s sack production has doubled since leaving Chicago. In his three years with the Rams, he averaged over 9 sacks per year and had his first double-digit sack season of his career.

He can also play the run well, and while he is already 30 years old, it’s a younger 30 than some of these other players on the market due to how old he was coming out of Georgia. Ngakoue might be a better pure pass rusher, but I do think Floyd is the better overall player at this point. Either of these names should make Bears fans happy, though. A true pass rusher is still needed.

Scheme fit will always be important, especially for a regime that values athleticism. When looking at the offensive line in particular, it’s hard to expect non-athletic offensive linemen to be able to pull and properly run the wide zone. That was the case for Orlando Brown, as it would be the case for someone like Dawand Jones in the draft. In this scheme, the offensive tackles have a lot of athleticism they need to rely on to be successful as blockers.

The Bears have made it pretty clear that they like the schemes they run and will not bend to make players fit. Only time will tell if that works out for them or not, but we’ve already seen a few examples now of how much that limits the pool of talent they can pick from. In theory, I agree with what Poles and Eberflus have set out to do. The issue will be how much time it takes for them to get into the exact fit that they want. Especially on the offensive side of the ball.

I’d file this thought under “way too early to tell.” I get it, everyone wants to start projecting toward next season, especially after a (3-14) year that wasn’t easy on the eyes of a lot of fans. With that being said, this team still has a long way to go, and it’s hard to project improvements for key younger players.

I do agree that, in many spots, the Bears have improved. Linebacker is worlds better. Receiver all of a sudden looks like a strength. The same could be said about tight end. My biggest concerns are still in the trenches though. The Bears had the worst offensive and defensive lines in the league last year. Defensively, it wasn’t even a discussion. So far, they’ve added a collective of three players.

Davis was a quality signing, but big questions remain at right tackle and center. One overlooked point that not many have talked about is who takes over at left guard. Davis has played on the right side his entire career, and I’m not sure it’s smart to shuffle Teven Jenkins again, either.

On the defensive line, so far, they’ve added a pair of rotational players. Walker is a solid signing but somewhat of a late bloomer. Ideally, he’s your third defensive end. Billings has also been up and down in his career. He’s a quality one-technique but needs much more around him to play at his best.

Personally, it’s going to be hard for me to look at this roster and see a winning record until they improve the weakest areas of their team. Look at the teams in playoffs and tell me how many of them had bottom 10 units on both sides of the ball. Usually, the better you are on each line, the better your team will be overall. It’s been a nice start to the off-season, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. Hopefully, they’ll dive deeper into those needs in April’s draft. Until then, I’m in wait-and-see mode.

As noted above, right now, I am in wait-and-see mode. Will the Bears be improved? I’d absolutely hope so. They’ve added quality talent to their roster and hold four picks within the top 64 in April’s draft. They still have the most cap space in the league, and due to the cash floor established by the CBA, they still have a decent chunk to spend. Meeting that floor cannot simply be accomplished by signing one-year deals.

I’d expect the Bears to continue to “play it safe” until the draft and not go crazy with spending unless they can land a big player that is either cut or on the trade block. That doesn’t mean they can’t get better in the meantime. It just means it might require some patience.

The next real big acquisition period (outside of the draft) will come once teams have made all of their draft selections. You’ll usually see a slew of veteran cuts. Some players will be worth kicking the can on. Only time will tell who those players are.

The Bears will have plenty of resources for the remainder of the off-season, as well as next year. Again, I do think the Bears have improved, but there are still so many questions on this roster that I can’t lean one way or the other this early in the process.

Check back with me in mid-May!