Oh, no! It’s almost noon. The Bears don’t play. And you’re not sure what to watch. To further complicate matters, you’ll be forced to watch something the kids want if you don’t make a quick decision. But don’t panic. I’ve got you covered.
Even though I’m planning on taking it easy today, I’ll have one eye open to check out what is happening around the league. Specifically with teams who have players on the cusp of free agency. Because if I can’t watch the Bears, I might as well have my eyes on some of their potential off-season targets.
Using Pro Football Focus’ list of top 25 players set to become free agents and the site’s listed needs for Chicago’s football team as our guide, here are the games you should be tuning into today…
Eagles at Giants, noon CT (FOX)
Players to watch: DT Javon Hargrave (Eagles), RB Saquon Barkley (Giants), CB James Bradberry (eagles)
When the defensive tackle market explodes this offseason, the Bears *BETTER* be all over it. There isn’t a position group on the defensive side of the ball that needs more help than in the trenches. And while Washington’s Da’ron Payne is the apple of our eye, the Commanders don’t play this week. But because Washington’s football team has to pay so many others, Payne seems like the odd-man out. Ultimately, that’s where the Bears should swoop in for the steal.
If not Payne, then perhaps Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave makes sense. The Bears should have a good idea of what Hargrave is about. After all, Assistant GM Ian Cunningham came from Philly and should have all sorts of first-hand knowledge about the Eagles standout defender. Hargrave is PFF’s highest-ranked non-QB free agent. But he’ll turn 30 in February, which might be a yellow flag for front offices. Then again, some positions age well. And Hargrave is just one year removed from a Pro Bowl season. He could be well on his way to another with 8 sacks, 7 tackles-for-loss, and 11 quarterback hits in 12 games this season.
On the one hand, I’m unsure what the Bears want to do at cornerback. But on the other hand, there is no denying the need to upgrade that position. Bradberry, 29, is another older free-agent-to-be. However, he has proven to be productive and durable — two things you want out of your cornerbacks. In theory, signing Bradberry could give Chicago a formidable secondary that teams him with Jaylon Johnson on the outside, slides Kyler Gordon into the nickel full-time, and features Jaquan Brisker teaming with Eddie Jackson at safety. How could you not want a piece of that?
I’ve already made my pitch for the Bears to consider Saquon Barkley, who could be a game-changer for this offense while playing alongside Justin Fields:
Texans at Cowboys, noon CT (FOX)
Players to watch: TE Dalton Schultz (Cowboys), RB Tony Pollard (Cowboys)
The wide receiver market is so lacking, Bears GM Ryan Poles pulled the trigger on sending what looks like will be a top-5 pick in the second round to the Steelers for Chase Claypool. We can debate the value of getting Claypool in early, the potential importance of giving the Bears a first look at a player who might be deserving of a multi-year extension as soon as this offseason, and arming Justin Fields with a receiver who has NFL experience this season. But we can also do that at a later date. For now, we really need to underscore how woeful this receiver class looks. Moreover, I need to stress that the Bears might need to find different ways to bolster the offense.
So … why not target a tight end like Dalton Schultz? Schultz flies a bit under the radar because of the star power the Cowboys have elsewhere. But last year, Schultz put up a 78-catch, 808-yard, 8-touchdown campaign. And this year, Schultz’s 72.5 run-blocking grade is the third best among tight ends by PFF’s standards. This is a speculative guess, but I feel as if this offense wants its receivers and tight ends to block. So, perhaps, the Bears could team Schultz, 26, with Cole Kmet (whose 66.7 run-blocking grade is sixth-best at the position) could be a worthwhile alternative to a wide receiver who might fit a bigger need but might not be the best schematic fit.
As for running back Tony Pollard, it is a coin flip as to if he’ll hit the market. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones loves Ezekiel Elliott. So much so that I think Jones might let Pollard walk to keep Zeke. That would be wild, but I just can’t put anything past Jerry these days. Pollard, 25, would be a perfect fit for what Chicago wants to do on the ground moving forward. Getsy saw first-hand what a young running back on a rookie deal (A.J. Dillon) can do with an established vet on a big contract (Aaron Jones) can do for an offense while he was in Green Bay. The Bears could replicate that here if things bounce their way this offseason.
Chiefs at Broncos, 3:05 p.m. CT (CBS)
Players to watch: LT Orlando Brown Jr. (Chiefs), DT Dre’Mont Jones (Broncos)
As someone who has Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce on their dynasty fantasy team (which is struggling everywhere but those two spots, but I digress), I’ve always got eyes on what the Chiefs are doing. But maybe my focus will be elsewhere today. Primarily at the point of attack.
I don’t believe the Chiefs are going to let left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. leave via free agency after seeing them give up a haul in a trade for him. But Jones is a premier left tackle in the game and Bears GM Ryan Poles saw Brown up close as a Chiefs front office employee last year. So if anyone knows if Brown will be worth targeting in free agency in his age 27 season, it would (should!) be Poles.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Broncos’ Dre’Mont Jones is a player who intrigues me. Especially after reading this PFF nugget:
Since he entered the league in 2019, Jones’ 130 quarterback pressures are tied for the 17th-most among interior defenders, with his 14.7% pass rush win rate 11th-best over the span.
PFF also notes that Jones, 25, is on pace to have career bests in snaps, pass-rush win rate, quarterback pressures, and sacks. Thirsting over a player coming off a career year is a dangerous game. But considering the lackluster performance of the Bears’ interior defensive linemen, targeting someone like Jones should be a priority.
Buccaneers at 49ers, 3:25 p.m. CT (FOX)
Player to watch: RT Mike McGlinchy (49ers)
Sure, you could watch Tom Brady sling it. Or you could keep an eye on the trenches when the Niners have the ball to see how Mike McGlinchey operates at right tackle. The 49ers chose McGlinchey with a top-10 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft (not too long after the Bears picked linebacker Roquan Smith) and have reaped the benefits of the Notre Dame product growing into a solid starter.
PFF has McGlinchey, 27, with an 86.0 run-blocking grade since entering the league in 2018. Considering how right tackles tend to anchor the run game, it would be nice to upgrade at that position. And considering how Luke Getsy’s offense is essentially a branch of the Kyle Shanahan tree, then perhaps McGlinchey’s theoretical transition to Chicago would be a smooth one.