The first wave of free agency is complete, and the Chicago Bears, led by GM Ryan Poles, made a flurry of moves. That was not surprising, considering the team’s resources in salary cap space and draft picks.

Let’s assess how Poles did in the first wave.

The Good

Trading for WR Keenan Allen

With the Bears bringing in a rookie QB, they must avoid the mistakes made with previous QBs in Rex Grossman, Jay Cutler, Mitchell Trubisky, and Justin Fields and surround him with an elite supporting cast to allow him to develop. Pairing Allen with DJ Moore gives the Bears their best WR duo since Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery back in 2013. The cost is cheap in draft capital (4th rounder, 110 overall this season). A little expensive in cap space ($23 million for one season), but Allen is a perfect complement to Moore and will make things very easy for Caleb Williams, as he finds space in the zone very well and can beat press coverage off the line easily. He’s 32 and slightly injury-prone, but he’s coming off a career season. This was a slam dunk by Poles.

Extending CB Jaylon Johnson

The franchise tag was placed on Johnson; then the Bears signed him to a 4-year deal with $18 million AAV and almost 3 years guaranteed. Clearly, the Bears gave him more guaranteed money in exchange for a lower AAV, as most expected him to get at least $20 million AAV. Keeping a homegrown elite CB is a great business, especially at that price. Now, the Bears have a young core of 3 CBs locked up for the long term, making passing extremely hard for every team.

Signing TE Gerald Everett

The Bears needed a U TE to complement Cole Kmet; Robert Tonyan struggled mightily last season, and Shane Waldron runs quite a bit of 2 TE sets. Enter Everett, who has been a very good receiving target for Justin Herbert the past few seasons and played in Waldron’s scheme with the Rams and Seahawks before. He had 157 receptions in the past 3 seasons as the top TE option. Now, he’ll be the secondary TE and offer the Bears plenty of offensive versatility.

Signing FS Kevin Byard

I didn’t quite understand the rush to sign Byard when the safety-free agent group was very deep, and Poles could probably wait to sign a decent one for cheap. Especially because Byard struggled almost as much as Eddie Jackson did in his stretch with the Eagles. However, they played against his strengths, running a lot of man coverage with him. Conversely, with Tennessee, he played great as a zone free-roaming FS. The Bears will give him that role as the veteran of the secondary, and he should thrive.

Signing C Connor Shelton 

Shelton is a much better signing than Lucas Patrick was in 2022. First, he’s started more games than Patrick did, and all at center, compared to Patrick, started most games at guard. Shelton was also rated higher in both pass blocking and run blocking. Though Shelton alternated being a good pass blocker and bas run blocker in 2022, and vice versa in 2023, the starting and scheme experience is a whole lot better than Lucas Patrick’s was, and it’s a great signing for $3 million to bring along a rookie.

The Meh

Trading for iOL Ryan Bates

The Bears needed more interior OL depth, with Nate Davis and Teven Jenkins being injury-prone. They finally get Bates, who Poles targeted in 2022. I believe trading a 5th when we have so little capital already is a bit much, especially when a guy similar to Bates could have been signed in free agency, but Bates is good depth on the OL, which is valuable.

The depth moves

DE Jacob Martin, S Jonathan Owens, LB Amen Ogbongbemiga, OL Matt Pryor, and OL Jake Curhan are all depth signings and mostly special teams focused. Nothing special.

The Bad

Selling Low on Justin Fields

Trading Fields for a 2025 conditional 6th that can become a 4th is an objective failure. Even if teams have learned their lessons from the Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen trades, if I were Poles, I would’ve held onto Fields longer and gotten at least a guaranteed 4th. I understand the Bears wanted to do right by Fields and send him to a spot where he could start in Pittsburgh, and they wanted to move on so Caleb Williams would be the undisputed QB1. But they still mismanaged this by trading him right after the free agency QB carousel finished, instead of before or long after closer to the draft.

Signing D’Andre Swift

Signing an RB was a foregone conclusion. I don’t like Swift personally. For $8 million a year and two years guaranteed, Swift is now a top 10 RB by AAV. The Bears should’ve either signed a cheaper RB to help the passing game (an Antonio Gibson type for $3 million a year) or just gone all in on one of Josh Jacobs or Saquon Barkley. Don’t be in the middle when it comes to an RB contract. I believe Khalil Herbert is better than D’Andre Swift. It’s not a terrible signing, but it is a bad one, especially when he was their top priority.

Not signing a DE

This is subject to change, but most of the top DEs on the market have come off the board. The Bears still have nobody across from Montez Sweat, especially when you consider DeMarcus Walker is better as a DT than a DE. They’ll draft someone and sign someone eventually, but the dreams of a top-tier EDGE duo with Sweat and, say, Jonathan Greenard or Danielle Hunter or Josh Uche or Bryce Huff are long dead.

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