We’re in the Second Wave of NFL Free Agency, So Let’s Take the Bears Shopping

After watching the league get all splishy-splashy on the transaction wire last week, things are finally starting to take a turn.

Players like WR Zach Pascal (Eagles, via Schefty) and QB Marcus Mariota (Falcons, per Rap Sheet) found new homes in free agency. Meanwhile, the secondary market for quarterback movement (sup, Matt Ryan?) is underway. And for us, this means that we are comfortably in that second wave of free agents (i.e. the wave Bears GM Ryan Poles said he would like to target).

Seems like a good time to reset the situation, doesn’t it?

Updating the Cap Situation

OverTheCap.com estimates the Bears have $26,811,633 in remaining space under the cap. Which means, even after recent moves, GM Ryan Poles has the fifth-most cap space among the NFL’s 32 teams. Only the Seahawks ($31,552,502), Texans ($31,413,022), Eagles ($27,528,650), and Cowboys ($26,901,613) have more than the Bears. And while we need to keep in mind that *some* of that money will go into signing draft picks, this is a decent place for the Bears, as they enter this second wave of free agency.

Team Needs

Here is a way-too-early look at the 2022 Chicago Bears’ starting lineup as constructed based on players currently on the roster:

Offense

QB – Justin Fields
RB – David Montgomery
WR – Darnell Mooney
WR – Byron Pringle
WR – Equanimeous St. Brown
TE – Cole Kmet
LT – Teven Jenkins
LG – Cody Whitehair
C – Lucas Patrick
RG – Lachavious Simmons
RT – Larry Borom

Defense

DE – Robert Quinn
DT – Khyiris Tonga
DT – Justin Jones
DE – Al-Quadin Muhammad
LB – Roquan Smith
LB – Nicholas Morrow
CB – Jaylon Johnson
CB – Thomas Graham Jr.
CB – Duke Shelley
FS – Eddie Jackson
SS – DeAndre Houston-Carson

Special Teams

PK – Cairo Santos
P – Ryan Winslow
LS – Patrick Scales
KR – Khalil Herbert
PR – Dazz Newsome

Thankfully, Week 1 isn’t for another sixth months. That gives us time to hash out some team needs.

All things considered, the Bears could stand to add two wide receivers and a starting offensive lineman at right guard or (and?) right tackle on offense. When it comes to the defensive side of the equation, Chicago could consider targeting cornerback help or a safety. These Bears might be rebuilding, but they’ll still need to field a team with warm, able-bodied ballplayers. With that in mind, let’s browse through some free agent lists.

Free Agent Lists

Pro Football Focus and The Athletic have updated lists featuring the NFL’s best remaining free agents.

Left tackle Terron Armstead and defensive back Tyrann Mathieu are the most high-profile players at the top of both lists. Otherwise, most of the big fish out of the pond. So … I guess we can start zeroing in on some more suitable and realistic Bears targets. Not that anyone around here would oppose the Bears making a splash with an impact player of that caliber. However, it might take a player’s market to come to an absolute crashing halt in order for someone like that to land in Chicago.

Possible Bears Targets and Fits

For what it’s worth, the Bears could make for a nice soft landing for a player looking to re-establish themselves in the market. And Poles did say he had eyes for such players (via the Chicago Bears’ official website):

There are a lot of spots we’ve got to fill, so that volume piece is important and it really comes down to our evaluation, to make sure that we’re right on there,” Poles said. “And the other thing, too, that I’ve always loved is, usually in that volume piece, you’re going to have some players that, they’re motivated, they’ve got a chip on their shoulder and they want to get back into free agency and go at it again. So they play with a purpose.”

That kind of description could fit a handful of different players. Let’s discuss some.

OFFENSE

LT Eric Fisher (Last team: Colts) — The 31-year-old left tackle has two Pro Bowls under his belt and 128 starts (plus 11 more in the postseason) on his résumé. And yet, Fisher has taken a back seat to Terron Armstead and La’el Collins when it comes to free agency. PFF envisions Fisher as a good fit for a zone-blocking scheme, which appears to be what the Bears could be installing moving forward.

T/G Billy Turner (Last team: Packers) — If adding one former Packers offensive lineman is good, why stop there? Turner has experience at every offensive line spot except center. But with the Bears covering that by signing his former teammate Lucas Patrick, Turner is a suitable fit at any other position on the line. His best work has come at right tackle, which is still an area of need in Chicago.

WR Sammy Watkins (Last team: Ravens) — When healthy, Watkins has the ability to put it on opposing DBs. But he hasn’t been healthy enough for long enough to do it at a consistent level. Hence, Watkins finds himself in that range of receivers who could be angling for a one-year “prove it” deal to re-establish himself on the market.

WR Demarcus Robinson (Last team: Chiefs) — Robinson was Byron Pringle before we even knew Byron Pringle was a thing. In 2020, Robinson set career highs in targets (59), catches (45), and receiving yards (466) while making the most of his 711 offensive snaps. Robinson saw that snap share dip from 65 percent to 58 percent in 2021, but makes sense an an option to battle for a depth spot among the receivers.

TE Robert Tonyan (Last team: Packers) — Seeing the Bears pull the plug on the Larry Ogunjobi signing because of a failed physical puts into perspective how player health history could impact their pursuits in free agency (and probably the NFL Draft). And yet, signing Nicholas Morrow (who missed all of last year with a foot/ankle injury) suggests the new regime is willing to take risks on the right fits. Perhaps a tight end coming off an injury shortened 2021 season could add depth at the position.

Ope! Tonyan has re-signed with the Packers, per ESPN.

DEFENSE

S Tyrann Mathieu (Last team: Chiefs) — This is the second time in the last few years in which Mathieu has been a big name to hit the market, only to not catch the boat on the first wave of free agency. And at age 30, it might be tougher for him to get that big deal he might have otherwise been seeking. Considering the Bears’ needs at safety and a past with Poles, maybe a pillow contract in Chicago makes sense?

CB Steven Nelson (Last team: Eagles) — Even though he was reportedly on the Bears’ radar last year, Nelson wound up in Philly. Conveniently enough, the Bears’ new assistant GM came from the Eagles. Nelson can play in the slot or outside. Chicago could stand to fill either (both?) corner spots. Doing so with someone who this front office has a familiarity with could present a worthwhile bridge to a more long-term option.

CB Mike Hughes (Last team: Chiefs) — As PFF notes, Hughes playing inside the slot didn’t work out too well for the Vikings. However, his move outside upon going to the Chiefs paid off for Hughes and his new team. A second-round pick in 2018, it is possible that the 25-year-old cornerback has potential that could be unlocked if kept at the right position.

DL Solomon Thomas (Last team: Raiders) — If you’ve been reading us long enough to the point where you did a double-take when you saw Thomas’ name, then bless your heart. That means you were likely here when Thomas was a popular name on the Bears’ radar ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft. Thomas didn’t live up to the billing of being the player San Francisco used the No. 3 overall pick in the draft to take after dealing with the Bears. But there are some post-hype sleeper vibes. New Bears DL Coach Travis Smith has Raiders ties, and could make a pitch for the front office to bring him someone he has worked with in the past.

One thing the players above have in common is that they all have a history with someone currently working for the Bears. Think about Chicago’s signings last week. We saw the Bears scoop up a lineman and receiver with connections to new play-caller Luke Getsy, a wideout who has familiarity with Poles, and a defensive lineman who spent last year with Matt Eberflus. These connections matter. Moreover, these connections could help the Bears moving forward.

This isn’t to say having a history with Bears coaches/staffers makes a certain player a lock to join the team. But remember Poles talking about how he was a people person? Or that folks saw Assistant GM Ian Cunningham as a secret weapon? People matter. The ability to reach across the aisle matters. Yeah, football is a game. And the NFL is a business. But the ability to connect with humans can be helpful. After all, players aren’t just guys in uniforms with numbers.

written by

Luis C. Medina, who you can find on Twitter at lcm1986, has been covering the Chicago Bears at Bleacher Nation since 2017. Since then, he has written about 3 head coaches, 5 play-callers, and 11 starting quarterbacks. Previously, Luis wrote about the Cubs and MLB at BN (2015-16) and worked in the Chicago Tribune sports department (2011-16). He also co-hosted a Cubs postgame show, Outside the Ivy, in 2019.

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