Ryan Poles has overseen a markedly reserved beginning to the Free Agent Period. While teams like the Jaguars and the Raiders went on spending sprees that yielded big names and big contracts, the Bears have kept a low profile. Long-tenured favorites of the previous regime such as Tarik Cohen, Danny Trevathan, and Eddie Goldman were cast off, and of the two biggest new stories (Mack trade and Ogunjobi physical) coming out of Chicago, neither resulted in big new names to steward the franchise.
That said, Poles’s first Free Agency has resulted in 6 signings, pending physicals. Here’s a look at all 6.
DT Justin Jones (not Larry Ogunjobi): In all honesty, I’m not disappointed at the way this worked out. While Ogunjobi is an above average pass rushing 3-tech, which continues to be something the new Bears system desperately needs to function, the reported 40-mil/3-year price tag on him raised my eyebrows. This same guy had signed with the Bengals for just 6 million one offseason ago and had produced intriguing but not elite pass rushing numbers. Giving him 13-mil a year seemed rich, especially because the defensive tackle market seemed ripe to be mined for more cost efficient talent. This roster is in need of a lot of guys; committing that much money to just one at a lower-impact position seemed unwise. Then he failed his physical, and Poles responded by making a signing that proved my thought process true. He picked up Justin Jones, a sturdy 3-Tech from the Chargers who has had success as a run defender in the past, for less than half the cost of Ogunjobi. While the Chargers run defense has been poor as a unit, a fact reflected in Jones’ PFF grades, he’s made the best of a bad situation. He’s an experienced player, logging over 450 snaps in each of the last three seasons, and is still young with room to grow.
Projected Role: Starting D-Tackle
A fine piece and potential starter at a good price
EDGE Al-Quadin Muhammad: This is the first signing in a common league pattern that we will see several times in this article. Often, new coaching and front office staff cobble together the depth of a new roster by adding players they are familiar with from previous tenures. Hence, when someone was needed to plug the hole left by the Khalil Mack trade, Eberflus and Poles turned to one of Eberflus’s former mentees in Indianapolis. Al-Quadin Muhammad is, like Justin Jones, both young and experienced, with (according to PFF) notable ability to stop the run. Muhammad may be a tad undersized to fully man a strongside left end in a 4-3, but so are Robert Quinn and Trevis Gipson. Someone clearly has to step up, and Muhammed, who Eberflus entrusted with an ever-growing snap share in Indy, may get the look. He also has flashed cleanup ability in pass rush, totaling 7 sacks last season.
Projected Role: Rotational Edge
Not quite what we needed at D-End, but a solid piece all the same
WRs Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown: Of these two signings, I prefer the Pringle one. While the contract details are not yet out on either player, Pringle solidified himself as a crafty and effective third receiver in the Chiefs high powered offense. He, like Muhammed, is coming off of his best year as a pro. He’s got solid size, an attribute missing from our current WR room, and has shown he can work with a QB once the play breaks down. The St. Brown signing I like a little less, but much of the same can be said about him. He’s big, he’s still young, and he’s shown he can play. He’s just less proven than Pringle, and he struggles to get open. Both Pringle and St. Brown are, Like Muhammad, following new Bears staff members to the Windy City. Neither of these moves preclude the Bears from selecting a WR early, but they allow the team the ability to draft a guy they can soft pedal instead of push into the lineup right on day 1.
Pringle Projected Role: WR2
St. Brown Projected Role: WR4
Grades, pending exact figures
A solid contributor who could develop a solid rapport with Justin and put up surprising numbers
St. Brown: C
There were 3 Big & Tall Packers WRs widely projected to follow Getsy to the Bears in Free Agency. This one is the worst of the bunch.
iOL Lucas Patrick: I sincerely hope that this is not the Bears final plan for the interior. Patrick has been a core member of the always rotating Packers line over the last few years, with varying results. PFF has him down as a better pass protector than a run blocker, but also as a better guard than a center. The Bears plan as of this writing, which seems to be plopping him at center and drafting a new guard, has an ominous undertone. While it may be a reflection of the noted lack of depth in the center class (after Lindstrom at 19, the PFF big board has only two other Centers in the top 100, both with third/fourth round grades), it also continues to precariously put Justin Fields in harm’s way. Perhaps there is no better option, though one wonders how much more JC Tretter would have been worth paying for. Either way, $5 mil for a big gamble is a risky move with better players still on the street. Maybe they’re being ignored because they’ve never played under Luke Getsy or Andy Reid. If so, that’s a shame.
Projected Role: Starting Center/Guard (opposite wherever they put Cody Whitehair)
LB Nicholas Morrow: Should be an alright running mate for Roquan Smith on pass downs. Morrow has plus athleticism and was able to play higher paid and higher name rec guys off the field with the Raiders in 2020. He missed all of 2021, which is obviously a red flag, but appeared to be an ascendant depth piece before then. PFF graded him out somewhat favorably in 2020, giving him >70 grades as a coverage defender, where the Raiders rotated him in for the majority of his snaps, and a blitzer. Expect to see him on some third downs. He’s always struggled as a run defender though, so I’d hope the plan is not to roll him out every down.
Projected Role: LB3, possible starting nickel backer
Poles’ approach clearly has its merits. The Bears have quietly assembled a half dozen high floor free agents, all of them both young and experienced, with most having had their best career year sometime in the last two seasons. Organizational nepotism aside, this approach should create solid depth, with the potential for a few breakouts. I would hope he attempts to add a veteran tackle and a veteran corner to this mix- and perhaps draw a bigger name with a portion of the money opened up by Ogunjobi’s failed physical. That, along with an effective draft, could really prime the team for an unexpected surge.