The bad news is that Chicago’s defensive line stinks. But the good news is that help could be on the way.
With a tip of the cap to Kevin Fishbain for the share, Ben Stadig sizes up what looks to be a fascinating market of defensive tackles that Chicago should be all over this spring.
Daron Payne, who has 6.5 sacks, 13 tackles-for-loss, and 14 quarterback hits in 12 games during his age-25 season, is a star. Not just in this piece, but in the game. And he happens to be a free-agent-to-be this upcoming offseason. At a position the Bears desperately need to fill. Giggity! On top of that, Payne plays for a team with bigger fish to fry in terms of offseason priorities. Bears GM Ryan Poles should be rubbing his hands in anticipation like the Birdman meme as he reads this.
As Standig points out, the Commanders eventually need to extend big contracts to DL studs Chase Young and Montez Sweat. They’re already paying fellow defensive tackle, Jonathan Allen, a hefty chunk of change. And even though Taylor Heinicke might be the bridge-QB of Head Coach Ron Rivera’s dreams, the Commanders could go big-game hunting at the position this offseason. You know darn well the quarterback carousel continually spins. All of that could conspire to push Payne out the door. If it does, the Bears should be ready to pounce.
Perhaps something between DeForest Buckner ($21M AAV) and Aaron Donald ($31.67M AAV) could be in play for Payne. If that’s not the case, and Payne finds a way back to Washington, then so be it. There are alternatives. In fact, this class of defensive tackles is pretty darn drool-worthy. And with the Bears projecting to have north of $125 million in space under the cap, they should be active.
Philly standouts Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox are top free agents. As are Sheldon Rankins (Jets) and David Onyemata (Saints). There are some intriguing defensive ends on the cusp of hitting the market, too. Justin Houston (Ravens) looks like he can rush the passer forever. Yannick Ngakoue (Colts) is a veteran presence who will be just 28 next year. And this is all before we account for any surprise cuts not currently on our radar. This could get ridiculously fun in a hurry.
Between this crop of defensive linemen and a collection of free-agent offensive linemen who could become available, Poles can leverage cap space to build out the Bears from the trenches. From there, he can be creative in supplementing the skill positions. The next step toward building a consistent winner could very well begin with fixing the offensive and defensive lines this offseason. And it looks like there is plenty of talent to bring in. Go get ’em, Poles.