The NFL offseason is under way, and in less than a month there will be free agency, and in just over 2 months the NFL draft. With that, it’s time for me to play GM, and sit in Ryan Poles chair, and go about the offseason how I would.
$100 million in cap space, and 8 draft picks before compensatory picks are announced, including the first pick in the 2023 NFL draft.
DE Al-Quadin Muhammad: I also would have cut the DE. He struggled mightily, even though he played in Eberflus’s system before. The Bears need better DEs, and won’t just keep bad ones around because they have the money.
DT Angelo Blackson: Blackson’s contract voided automatically, so technically it is kind of a release. It makes sense, as Blackson was good for the Bears in the 3-4 but was not a fit in the 4-3.
IOL Lucas Patrick: Patrick was supposed to be the Bears starting center. Injuries forced him to only play G most of the year, where he was one of the worst OLineman in the league. He took away valuable snaps from young players, specifically Teven Jenkins. The Bears cannot take a chance on the OL when it comes to protecting Justin Fields; they need consistent proven commodities, and Patrick is not that. (Savings: $3.9 million)
Notable Omission: LG Cody Whitehair: Whitehair also struggled last season, but you just can’t fix every need for one team in a single offseason, no matter how many resources you have. The Bears will look into replacing Whitehair, but likely bring him back on a short leash. Plus, they don’t save a ton from cutting him. I think a restructure or pay cut could be coming, and I’ll add that to the salary cap calculator using OverTheCap.com
Remaining cap space: $106.8 million
ERFA Tenders: DB Josh Blackwell (1 year, $870k), IOL Dieter Eiselen (1 year, $870k)
RFA: None (none are good enough to extend)
UFA: DT Armon Watts (1 year, $1.08 million), WR N’Keal Harry (1 year, $1.25 million), DB DeAndre Houston-Carson (1 year, $2 million), FB Khari Blasingame (2 years, $4 million), TE Trevon Wesco (1 year, $900k), LB Matthew Adams (1 year, $2 million), LS Patrick Scales (1 year, $1 million), RB David Montgomery (3 years, $20 million)
Both ERFA players have already been tendered. Watts will be back to compete to be the Bears last DT. Harry didn’t play much but has value as a jumpball receiver. DHC has been a stalwart for the Bears on special teams as well as in dime packages, and should be in line to return. Blasingame was a huge boost to the Bears run game, and should be a priority to bring back. Wesco has value as a young backup TE. Adams was a solid backup LB and core special teamer. Scales has been fine at LS. The big name here is Montgomery; some believe the Bears should let him go in favor of a more dynamic RB. The problem is I don’t see Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard, or Miles Sanders hitting the market. Rashaad Penny and Kareem Hunt would then be the best free agent RBs, and while more explosive, neither are more reliable than Montgomery or complement Khalil Herbert as well. Plus, Montgomery shouldn’t cost too much compared to the others. All the other free agents are replaceable. Dante Pettis struggled mightily, Byron Pringle dealt with injuries, Sam Mustipher has been bad as the Bears center, etc.
Remaining cap space: $94.2 million
DeAndre Hopkins to Bears for 2023 3rd (64), 2023 5th (157), 2024 6th
There are some intriguing WRs in free agency, but most will likely stay put, forcing the Bears to upgrade with other avenues. Hopkins is reportedly on the market as the Cardinals go through a soft rebuild and would like to get younger. Getting Hopkins off their cap sheet is one way to do that. The Bears can basically fully absord his contract than give him a short extension to bump his cap hit down to just over $20 million this year instead of the schedules $30 million. As for the price of the trade, Hopkins being 31, having been suspended 6 games last year, and his high cap hit which prevents some teams from trading for him make him relatively cheap for an elite WR.
Remaining cap space: $74 million
External Free Agent Signings:
DT Dre’Mont Jones (4 years, $56 million)
NT Poona Ford (2 years, $10 million)
DE Marcus Davenport (3 years, $50 million)
DE Dawuane Smoot (1 year, $2 million)
LB Bobby Okereke (3 years, $25 million)
LB Anthony Walker/Azeez Al-Shaair (1 year, $5 million)
CB Greedy Williams (1 year, $2 million)
C Ethan Pocic (3 years, $30 million)
RT Isaiah Wynn/Trey Pipkins (2 years, $21 million)
G Oday Aboushi (1 year, $1 million)
RB Ameer Abdullah (1 year, $1 million)
TE Blake Bell (1 year, $1 million)
The Bears can double dip at each of DE, DT, and LB, with one top player and one bargain bin player. Assuming Da’Ron Payne gets tagged, the Bears likely go after either Javon Hargrave or Dre’mont Jones, both elite interior pass rushers who are ok at stopping the run. Jones gets the nod here as he is younger at 26 compared to Hargrave at 30. I could see the Bears go after DeForest Buckner too if released. Ford can plug in as a run stopping specialist. Davenport had a bit of a down year, which likely means he could be acquired for cheaper than expected. Still, he won’t come cheap as the highest sought after EDGE on the market, but he fits the Bears need for a 4-3 DE. Smoot can be a quality backup if he returns from injury. Okereke is an obvious choice as the Colts likely won’t pay him with Darius Leonard already extended, and his connection to Matt Eberflus is obvious. With the other LB need, the Bears can either go for Walker, who also has the Eberflus connection but had a major knee injury, or Al-Shaair, who was great for San Francisco in 2021 filling in for injury but was pushed back to the bench this season. Williams makes sense as a shot in the dark at CB, as Kindle Vildor should get some competition. Pocic projects as the Bears long-term center, as he broke out for Cleveland this year. Wynn or Pipkins would be a nice get at RT, not top players like Orlando Brown or Kaleb McGary but they can get the job done and are big upgrades over who the Bears had this year. Plus a short-term deal gives the Bears an option to get out of the contract and go for a top-tier RT if needed. Aboushi, Abdullah, and Bell are veterans who will compete for depth, though if the Bears do release Cody Whitehair a guy like Nate Davis could be a target.
Remaining cap space: $10 million
Round 1 Pick 1: Trade down with Indianapolis Colts
- Give: No. 1 overall
- Receive: Nos. 4, 35, 79, 2024 first-rounder, 2024 third-rounder
Round 1 Pick 4: Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
Trade up with Saints at 29
- Give: No. 35, 102
- Receive: 29, 228
Round 1 Pick 29: Jaxson Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Round 2 Pick 54: Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia
Trade down with Seahawks at 79
- Give: No. 79
- Receive: 83, 154
Round 3 Pick 83: Jarrett Pattersson, IOL, Notre Dame
Round 4 Pick 132: Cam Mitchell, CB, Northwestern
Round 5 Pick 135: Cam Jones, ILB, Indiana
Trade down with Cowboys at 154
- Give: No. 154, 228
- Receive: 161, 211
Round 5 Pick 161: Derius Davis, WR, TCU
Round 6 Pick 211: Chase Brown, RB, Illinois
Trade down with 49ers at 219
- Give: No. 219
- Receive: 223, 256
Round 7 Pick 223: Jordan Morgan, OT, Arizona
Round 7 Pick 256: Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, UCLA
Prioritize DT, OL, K in UDFA
Ryan Poles showed he liked to trade down last year, and I expect him to continue that trend this year. The Colts deal is one projected by PFF, and makes sense for both sides; the Colts have their chance at a franchise QB in Bryce Young or CJ Stroud, and the Bears pick up a boatload of assets to help surround Justin Fields. At 4, the Bears grab Will Anderson, who I think is the best player in the class. He will slot in at 4-3 DE, and if he can just get a little stronger, will be elite for a long time (I believe Arizona grabs Jalen Carter to directly replace JJ Watt who has mostly played inside lately). With their extra assets, the Bears can trade back up into the first round to grab Jaxson Smith-Njigba, a fantastic WR who dealt with injuries last year but when he’s on, he’s one of the best undersized WRs I’ve ever seen, plus he has played with Justin Fields. Darnell Washington is a unicorn who could do a lot for the Bears in the intermediate and short pass game, and he with Cole Kmet could be a top-tier TE duo. Jarrett Patterson makes sense as the Bears long-term Cody Whitehair replacement. Cam Mitchell provides great depth at CB, which the Bears need with their injury prone CB room. Cam Jones is a super underrated player to me who could be a long-term backup ILB. Derius Davis is the exact kind of depth WR the Bears want for Justin Fields, a deep ball quick seperator. Chase Brown can be a very good backup RB to David Montgomery. Jordan Morgan is an intriguing OT prospect. And DTR can be the Bears future QB2 as he plays similar to Fields.
This is a pretty realistic near best-case scenario 2023 offseason for the Bears. They likely spend a little less and don’t get every player I want, but I could see all of these things happening. The only thing I slightly regret is not getting a top-tier OLineman, but the Bears have the 2024 assets to get one next offseason if necessary, and the current crop of free agent tackles won’t be quite worth the top money compared to getting Pipkins or Wynn for cheaper.