There's always one individual I move all around my annual Ten Most Important Chicago Bears series before finally settling in on his placement, and this year it was defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker. The Bears clearly value what he can bring to the table as they signed him to a three-year, $21 million contract, with $15.65 million guaranteed, but realistically how much can they expect from a 28-year-old of his fourth team in as many seasons?
Walker is coming off a career-high seven sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 32 tackles, and ten tackles for loss, while playing in all 17 games and a career-best six starts. So was 2022 a case of Walker finally figuring it out, and his best football is ahead of him, or was last year the best it'll ever get for him?
Considering Walker was Chicago's big defensive line move of the offseason, the Bears are counting on the former, so I had to rank Walker's importance to the team accordingly.
If Walker is an ascending talent, then he'll be the pass rusher they so desperately need, and any additional edge signed will be gravy, but if he's not able to build off 2022, then he'll just be a solid rotational piece for their d-line. And that's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just not what the Bears need.
Walker has already assumed a leadership role on the team, not only with his hard work as evidenced by the numerous workout videos he's shared, but also with his vocal presence on the team.
And as for those workout videos, I get that it means nothing and every pro athlete is working out in the offseason, but some fans will criticize when they don't see a player putting in extra training time.
Walker's work ethic is something that head coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles valued when signing him as a free agent. His play style embodies coach Flus' H.I.T.S. principles, and that carries over to the practice field as well.
"I love his energy," Eberflus said last month via the Sun Times. "I love where he is in terms of being a leader on the defense — just the way he plays and the example he sets, how he practices."
"D-Walk is high energy. He's going to call you out," veteran safety Eddie Jackson added about his new teammate. "Just to have a guy like that — first year, don't care about the faces, comes in and he loves football. He's ready to call guys out, hold guys accountable. No one has the 'poor me's' or pointing fingers. We're all going out there ready to work."
Walker didn't just come in guns blazing; he checked with the team's leaders to make sure he wouldn't step on any toes.
"Chicago as a whole has been reassuring me that I'm doing something correctly," Walker said via NBC. "And that's big because me coming in, I didn't want to overstep Eddie Jackson. I didn't want to overstep a lot of guys that have been there a lot longer because they really know a lot of (the) tradition. It's been definitely a blessing."
Walker isn't the only new face on defense, but his intensity and attitude are exactly what the Bears' young defensive line could use right now. He'll hold his teammates accountable like he was held accountable by the veterans he played with during his time in Denver, Houston, and Tennessee.
The Bears are coming off one of their worst years ever, but Walker is being counted on to set a tone for the 2023 season and to let everyone know that the past is the past.
"The first few weeks you see what you're working with, what's the cause of that [Chicago's three win 2022]. But this is the 2023 Chicago Bears. We've got a whole new identity, whole new offense, whole new defense, whole new group of guys that's willing to fight and lead. So honestly, f*** that s***." Last year's done."