The NFL offseason is in full swing. The franchise tag deadline has now passed, with the Chicago Bears tagging CB Jaylon Johnson, hoping to get a long-term deal done still. Now, teams are moving on to trades and cuts, all in preparation for free agency opening Monday, March 11th. The Bears also made a move for interior OL help, trading a 2024 5th rounder for Bills iOL Ryan Bates, who GM Ryan Poles tried signing in 2022. Now, Poles and company will formulate their plan of attack in free agency, armed with over $60 million in salary cap space. Who could they target? Let’s dive in.

 

RB

Saquon Barkley

Josh Jacobs

Tony Pollard

All three of these RB’s were franchise tagged last season after fantastic 2022 seasons, then struggled to match their production in 2023. Each are looking for decent 2nd contracts, something running backs have struggled to get lately. I could see each of them getting 2-3 year contracts in the $10-$12 million AAV range, and to help out a young QB and get as explosive as possible offensively, with their high cap space, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears go after one of them. Then again, Khalil Herbert and Roschon Johnson might be good enough with a lower-tier RB added instead.

 

WR

Tyler Boyd

Curtis Samuel

Gabriel Davis

The main top receivers have come off the board, and I don’t see the Bears going after a Calvin Ridley or Marquise Brown with the likelihood they pick a WR early. They’ll likely need a Darnell Mooney replacement, and each of the above receivers can replace and improve on his slot production. Boyd is the savvy veteran who likely gets squeezed out due to the Bengals cap situation, and might be a dream slot WR for a young QB. Samuel offers a lot of versatility, and had the best season among these three in 2023. Davis is a boom or bust WR who is still just 24, and might be worth taking  shot on at that young age. Expect the Bears to sign one of these tier-2 free agent WRs, to be their WR3 with DJ Moore and a highly-drafted rookie, to a 3 year, $30 million deal.

 

TE

Noah Fant

Gerald Everett

Jonnu Smith

Shane Waldron used 2 TE sets quite often, as the Seahawks were among the leaders in 12 personnel usage last season. Robert Tonyan had a bad season and Mercedes Lewis is 40, so a second TE to pair with Cole Kmet will be a priority. Since Kmet fits the Y TE position very well, they likely will focus on grabbing a U TE. Fant has a connection to Waldron from Seattle (as do Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson), and his RAS is elite among TEs, which Ryan Poles loves. He has been inconsistent, but as the 5th receiving option he could thrive. Everett has been a good receiving TE for the Chargers lately, but has had some injury concerns. Smith had a surprisingly great season for Atlanta last year. A 2 year deal worth no more than $5 million AAV could get any of these guys, though Fant may have more lucrative offers.

 

C

Connor Williams

Lloyd Cushenberry

Tyler Biadasz

Ryan Bates should not be the Bears main move at center. They should still sign a starter, or draft one. Bates should be their top iOL backup, with Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis’ injury history. Williams was one of PFF’s top rated centers in 2023, but tore his ACL. Maybe the Bears sign him and play Bates at center until he returns? Biadasz and Cushenberry have been solid, unspectacular starters for their teams the last 4 seasons, and would provide stability and veteran leadership in front of a young QB, whether it’s Justin Fields or Caleb Williams, to help diagnose pressure. A 3 year deal worth between $8 to $12 million AAV gets it done.

DE

Danielle Hunter

Bryce Huff

AJ Epenesa

The Bears have one side of the defensive line locked-up long-term with Montez Sweat, but they severely lack anyone besides him. They need another edge rusher. I could see them sign a backup and then focus on getting this position fixed in the draft. If they do attack it in free agency, Hunter has already been connected to the team. Huff likely is squeezed out in New York and can be a full-time starter in Chicago, even with his issues against the run, he’s a supercharged Yannick Ngakoue. Epenesa has a connection to new Bears DC Eric Washington and would provide solid DE play, especially against the run, without breaking the bank, especially compared to the other two.

DT

Chris Jones

Christian Wilkins

Sheldon Rankins

While the Bears have a solid DT foundation between Andrew Billings and Gervon Dexter, the biggest splash they could make in free agency likely comes here. They can either sign Rankins to replace Justin Jones, or they could go all-in on one of Chris Jones or Christian Wilkins. Either would become the Bears 3-technique, and would take Matt Eberflus’ defense from good to elite. They would also allow the Bears a lot of versatility on the DL, as they could lineup as defensive ends occasionally. All in all, it’s a chance to add a star to the defensive front, though it will cost a lot (AAV of at least $25 million a year).

FS

Geno Stone

Kamren Curl

Julian Blackmon

The Bears won’t go for one of the top safeties in free agency, but any of these tier 2 guys could be worth it around $8 to $12 million AAV. Stone just had a career year in Baltimore in Mike Macdonald’s 3 safety scheme, but they have already paid Marcus Williams. Curl has been pretty underrated as a free safety for Washington, due to their abysmal secondary otherwise. Blackmon has had an up and down career, and has dealt with some injuries, but was fantastic in coverage last season. Any would make for good Eddie Jackson replacements.

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