How will the Chicago Bears approach the 2022 NFL free agency period with new general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus at the helm?
The Chicago Bears officially begin the Ryan Poles era Monday, March 14 at 12 PM EST as the NFL’s legal tampering period begins for free agents. It’s the first time Bears fans get to see just what type of team new General Manager Ryan Poles wants for his new staff.
The Bears’ offseason got an early kickoff on Thursday when Poles traded former All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers for a 2022 2nd-round pick and a 2023 6th-round pick. The move sent shockwaves across the league and a message to Halas Hall that no one is untouchable, and this team is going to be built in Poles’ image, despite any potential dead money or backlash from fans.
The team also released defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and running back Tarik Cohen as they continue to mold the roster for the future around quarterback Justin Fields.
With free agency on the horizon, it’s time to take a look at what the Bears might look to do to improve the team for their young signal-caller.
Chicago Bears Salary Cap Outlook
First, let’s start with the financials of what the Bears have to work with heading into Monday’s “early” free agency period. As it stands now, the Bears will be operating with $27,654,310, ninth-most, per Overthecap.com’s data.
This doesn’t account for the expected release of veteran linebacker Danny Trevathan, which is expected to be a Post June 1st cut, which would open up just under $3.3 million. The team is also expected to release veteran pass rusher Jerry Attaochu, due to make $3.1 million in 2022, saving $2.7 million against the cap.
With those moves, the available cap space jumps to roughly $34 million in available cap space for free agents, which is good for fifth-best in the NFL.
Where will the Chicago Bears look to spend their money?
Looking at how the roster is currently constructed vs how Ryan Poles envisions it being built are two vastly different things. We’ve already seen that he has no issues departing from the key additions former general manager Ryan Pace made.
Ryan Poles made it explicitly clear the offensive line needed an overhaul. It’s uncertain if he’ll opt to re-sign guard James Daniels, as his market is expected to end up north of $10 million per season, according to reports. A contract like that could prove to be too rich for Poles, who has no connection to Daniels and may not even fit what he’s looking for along the offensive line.
It was evident during last season that Justin Fields needs playmakers. With Allen Robinson expected to leave in free agency, the Bears are losing their top-producing offensive weapon from the last four seasons. Add in the loss of Tarik Cohen’s ability to catch out of the backfield, and only Darnell Mooney and Dazz Newsome under contract, the Chicago Bears are expected to pour a lot of of their available resources into the wide receiver position.
It’s not entirely known what new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy is looking for on offense, but we know he’s going to run some iteration of 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Poles and Getsy could look to bring in players with experience either under Getsy or in this particular scheme tree. Here are some players that may fit that mold:
1. Marquez Valdes-Scantling | WR | Green Bay Packers
Valdes-Scantling is a player with plenty of experience under Luke Getsy. Valdes-Scantling is a speedster who can stretch the field and help the offense create big plays, something the Bears lacked almost the entire tenure under Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy.
While he’s not the headline-grabbing signing some may expect, he’s near the top of a rather depleted wide receiver pool of free agents thanks to the franchise tag; the Packers locked up Davante Adams, and the Buccaneers locked up Godwin with the tag before this month’s deadline.
If the Bears want to give Justin Fields two premier athletes on the outside, bringing in MVS alongside Darnell Mooney would be a great start.
I noted earlier this off-season at the type of contract MVS might be looking at if he hit the open market:
2. Brian Allen | C | Los Angeles Rams
As mentioned before, Ryan Poles is going to maintain the majority of his focus on improving the Chicago Bears by building up the offensive line. That could start with signing Brian Allen.
Allen is a former fourth-round pick (2018) who most recently won a Super Bowl with Los Angeles. At 26 years old, Allen is a player the Bears can build around long-term while deciding whether or not to keep Cody Whitehair in the fold beyond 2022. Allen was ranked PFF’s 10th best run-blocking center, a huge plus for Luke Getsy’s zone-heavy blocking scheme.
3. Eric Fisher | OT | Indianapolis Colts
This isn’t the Terron Armstead signing everyone was hoping for, I’m sure, and while I’m not entirely ruling that out, I think it’s more realistic the Chicago Bears go with quantity over quality at the beginning of their offensive line rebuild. There’s a ton of quality along of the offensive line in this year’s NFL Draft, so it may be part of their plan to use one of their now two 2nd round picks on an offensive tackle.
Fisher is familiar with Poles, who was part of the Chiefs’ front office when he was surprisingly drafted over Luke Joeckel at 1st overall in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Fisher played eight seasons in Kansas City before moving on to Indianapolis after tearing his Achilles in the 2021 playoffs.
Building The Defense Under Matt Eberflus
New Bears head coach Matt Eberflus was hired in large part for his success with the Colts over the last four seasons, where he touted a top-10 defense all four years, and a top-10 scoring defense three out of four seasons.
One of the other reasons Eberflus was hired was his familiarity with a defensive scheme Bears ownership fell in love with during the Lovie Smith era; the 4-3 Cover 2. Now, while Eberflus’ system is actually much different than Lovie’s, it shares similar principles.
Eberflus, much like nearly every other coordinator across the league has been forced to deploy five cornerbacks onto the field to try and stop the fast-moving-spread-you-out offenses the league is seeing more and more of each year.
Nonetheless, the Bears are going to look quite different on defense than in recent memory. Linebackers predicated on their coverage skills rather than focusing on getting downhill as quickly as possible, lighter bodies along the interior of the offensive line for gap versatility, and bigger corners who can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. All of the things the Bears could use help with.
Like the offense, the Chicago Bears’ defense has a cornerstone to build around in linebacker Roquan Smith. The former 7th overall pick has quickly become one of the league’s fiercest linebackers. The 2021 season was a year to remember for Smith, who totaled 163 combined tackles, 3 sacks, and an interception.
Trading Khalil Mack leaves Robert Quinn as the top-end pass rusher on the team. The future of Bilal Nichols is still in doubt as he’s likely to test the market before potentially re-signing in Chicago. Akheim Hicks is unlikely to return and will have plenty of suitors for his services when the bell rings on Monday.
So, with all of the defensive talent seemingly walking out the door, who are some players the Bears could bring in to build around players like Smith, Jaylon Johnson, Eddie Jackson, and Robert Quinn? Let’s take a look.
4. Anthony Walker, Jr. | Linebacker | Cleveland Browns
The casual fan may not know the name, but if you’re looking to bring a player in with scheme familiarity who can help players buy in and learn, Anthony Walker just might be at the top of that list.
Walker spent four seasons under Eberflus before departing in free agency last season. He saw his best success in 2019 where he totaled 124 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks.
Walker is a true MIKE linebacker, a position of vital importance to Eberflus’ scheme. Bringing a player like Walker is more for what he can do for your locker room and the defense because of his knowledge more than it is that he’s a star. He’s a very consistent player and he knows the defense. Walker would be a great addition along a front-seven who’s desperate for talent after recent moves.
5. Xavier Rhodes | CB | Indianapolis Colts
Rhodes, like many names on this list, isn’t going to turn heads when signed. Rhodes has plenty of experience under Eberflus, a former first-team All-Pro and two-time Pro-Bowler can bring a wealth of knowledge to a secondary that is littered with inexperience.
Jaylon Johnson is CB1 without question but could benefit greatly from having a player like Rhodes who knows the nuances of the scheme to help him along until he can become that player himself.
As mentioned with the offensive line, it may be more about quantity over quality with signings in the secondary because there’s a great deal of talent available in the draft who could contribute right away at a cheaper price tag.
6. Malik Hooker | S | Dallas Cowboys
Hooker is another Eberflusian who could make an instant impact. Hooker saw instant success under Eberflus in Indianapolis, tallying three interceptions in just seven games played his rookie season before following that up with a sophomore campaign where he grabbed two picks, a fumble recovery, and 44 combined tackles.
The Chicago Bears have had somewhat of a revolving door at strong safety since Adrian Amos left for the Green Bay Packers in 2019, and bringing in a player like Hooker while they develop a player through the draft could be a way to end that.
Hooker brings great size at 6’2” 215 pounds and would be paired nicely alongside Eddie Jackson.
Other Names To Keep An Eye On
The Bears are likely to move on from Quarterback Nick Foles this offseason, via trade or release, so they’re going to need to bring in a player to back him up. They’ll hope for someone with a basic understanding of the scheme who can be an extra pair of eyes from the sideline during games to help Fields adjust on the fly.
A few players to consider are: Jacoby Brissett, Tim Boyle, Trevor Siemian
The Chicago Bears did opt to bring back TE Jesper Horsted as a restricted free agent but will let Jimmy Graham walk. That leaves Cole Kmet and Horsted on the roster, neither of whom scares anyone. It’ll be interesting to see what role the TE plays in Getsy’s offense, but some names to look out for could be Kansas City’s Blake Bell, Green Bay’s Robert Tonyan, and Tennessee’s Anthon Firsker.
Defensively, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bears add players with experience in Eberflus’ scheme, or veteran players athletic enough to rely on their ability while picking up the terminology during camp.
Some of those names could include Indianapolis’s Al Muhammad or Kemoko Touray, Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, or Kansas City’s Chavarious Ward.