The Chicago Bears have a lot of questions to answer this offseason. Last year, general manager Ryan Poles went into the offseason with the most salary cap space and the top pick of the draft. He traded that pick for a king's ransom that not only brought in a ton of draft picks but also wide receiver DJ Moore.
Having Moore has been a godsend for the Bears. He has been just as advertised, already passing the 1,000-receiving yard mark for the season. He is on pace to surpass his career high in yards, which was 1,193 set in 2020. He and quarterback Justin Fields have been great together.
That deal certainly worked out for the Bears last offseason. This offseason, they could end up having not one, but two top-five picks. As a result of trading the top pick, the Bears ended up with the Carolina Panthers' first-round pick, which is the top pick in the draft. They also have their own, which at the moment is the fourth pick.
Once again, Poles has decisions to make. He will again have a ton of salary cap space. This time he will have two important picks that many teams will offer the world to acquire. However, Poles has to also decide who goes and who stays from the current roster.
There are some key players who will be free agents at the end of the season. Darnell Mooney is one whose rookie deal ends. Also, Justin Jones, Lucas Patrick, and Rasheem Green are due to be free agents. There is also the matter of what to do with Fields. There are a couple of very good quarterback prospects, Drake Maye and Caleb Williams, who many teams are salivating to get. Do the Bears trade Fields and pick one of the prospects, or keep him and build around him?
Cornerback Jaylon Johnson can also become a free agent. Do the Chicago Bears have a shot at re-signing him?
Then there is Jaylon Johnson. He is also finishing up his rookie deal. He is looking to be one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL. The thought was that the two sides could hammer out an extension right before or soon after the season started. It did not happen, though.
In fact, things got contentious and Johnson ended up requesting a trade right before the deadline. Poles allowed him to look for a trade partner but a trade could not be made. After the deadline passed, Johnson cut off negotiations and said he would not start them until after the season. By then, the Bears will have to battle other teams to sign him.
The Bears do have the franchise tag they could use on Johnson. However, that is just a one-year deal and could upset Johnson, and he could refuse to re-sign after that. The franchise tag is likely a last-ditch move if the Bears really want to keep him.
The Bears could have Johnson's replacement on the roster, however. Rookie Terell Smith has proved to be an invaluable reserve for the secondary. He has been solid so far. Opposing quarterbacks have only completed 52.6 percent of the passes targeted to him. Additionally, he has not allowed a touchdown.
Smith has even started three games and played well. He was instrumental in the Bears' first win of the season. He had six tackles and he forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.
Smith came into training camp showing how good he could be. He pushed second-round pick Tyrique Stevenson for the starting job. It was originally assumed that Stevenson would be the starter. Smith made the decision a closer one than many thought. He made some good plays and showed how good he really was.
Of course, retaining Johnson is the number one priority. However, if that cannot happen, Poles and the Bears could have a pretty good Plan B. That could be the reason why Poles granted Johnson's request to look for a trade. Last season, he traded Roquan Smith and replaced him with Jack Sanborn. Sanborn did a great job until he got injured. He is now the starting strongside linebacker.
If the Bears decide not to franchise Johnson and he decides to bolt, they could have a good replacement in Smith. It is only a matter of when, not if, Smith becomes a starter. It could be sooner than we think.