Analysis

Chicago Bears Free Agency Outlook

Chicago Bears Free Agency Preview

The Bears started the 2021 season 3-2 before rattling off five straight losses and ending the season 6-11. As a result, Head Coach Matt Nagy and General Manager Ryan Pace were both fired after the season. The team found themselves in the bottom half of the league in total offense as well as passing offense. While the Bears’ defense allowed only 5,384 yards (6th least in the league) they also allowed 407 points (11th most in the league). This negative correlation does not make much sense until you realize that the Bears turned the ball over 29 times in 2021 – tied for 2nd most in the league. Justin Fields threw 10 INTs and fumbled 12 times (8 lost) in his rookie season. Moving into 2022, the team hired Ryan Poles (former Chiefs Director of Player Personnel) as their General Manager who turned around and hired former Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus. Eberflus mentioned in his introductory press conference that the team will run a 4-3 defense next season; a change from previous years where Defensive Coordinators Sean Desai and Chuck Pagano ran a 3-4. The new regime in Chicago will look to help QB Justin Field progress in his second year in the league. 

Update: The Bears now have $23,623,726 available in cap space.

Free Agent Additions:

Chicago’s Upcoming Free Agents:

  • WR Allen Robinson (UFA)
  • DT Akiem Hicks (UFA)
  • QB Andy Dalton (UFA)
  • TE Jimmy Graham (UFA)
  • RT Germain Ifedi (UFA)
  • LT Jason Peters (UFA)
  • OG James Daniels (UFA)
  • S Tashaun Gipson (UFA)
  • LB Alec Ogletree (UFA)
  • DT Bilal Nichols (UFA)
  • DT Margus Hunt (UFA)
  • DE Cassius Marsh (UFA)
  • WR Jakeem Grant (UFA)
  • LB Bruce Irvin (UFA)
  • CB Marqui Christian (UFA)
  • CB Artie Burns (UFA)
  • P Pat O’Donnell (UFA)
  • TE Jesse James (UFA)
  • S Deon Bush (UFA)
  • RB Damien Williams (UFA)
  • WR Marquise Goodwin (UFA)
  • LB Christian Jones (UFA)
  • S DeAndre Houston-Carson (UFA)
  • LS Patrick Scales (UFA)
  • LT Elijah Wilkinson (UFA)
  • WR Damiere Byrd (UFA)
  • LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe (UFA)
  • CB Xavier Crawford (RFA)
  • TE J.P. Holtz (RFA)
  • CB Teez Tabor (RFA)
  • RB Ryan Nall (RFA)
  • OG Alex Bars (RFA)

Eight of the Bears’ upcoming free agents were full-time starters during the 2021 season – Robinson, Hicks, Ifedi, Peters, Gipson, Ogletree, Daniels, and Nichols. Three of these individuals come from the Bears’ OL which gave up a league high 58 sacks on 600 drop backs. The Bears (in all likelihood) will also lose Allen Robinson – their most consistent WR over the past four seasons. Robinson played on the franchise tag this past season and carried a $17,980,000 cap hit. If the team wanted to franchise tag him again, they would have to pay $21,576,000. This is very unlikely considering their cap space (as projected by Over the Cap) sits at $25,329,726. It’s more likely than not that Robinson will be with another franchise at the start of next season but there is a chance that he could return now that Pace and Nagy have been replaced. In addition to the free agent starters listed above, a few depth pieces such as former first-round pick Artie Burns, WR Marquise Goodwin, and TEs Jimmy Graham and Jesse James are set to hit the open market. Lastly, the Bears’ special teams unit could be drastically different in 2022 since both their punter and long snapper will be UFAs.

Franchise Tag 

None of the upcoming free agents for the Bears warrant the franchise tag. Of the eight 2021 starters who will be UFAs, none were in the top 20 at their respective positions last season according to PFF’s grading system. Even Allen Robinson, who (as previously mentioned) was tagged prior to the 2021 season, underperformed and should not be a candidate due to the inordinately high figure that would come with tagging the veteran WR for a second time.

Update: The Bears elected to not use their franchise tag this offseason.

Bears’ top team needs:

  1. Offensive Line
  2. Wide Receiver
  3. Cornerback
  4. Edge
  5. Safety

The Bears should invest heavily in the offensive line in order to protect their first-round quarterback. This is a great offseason to be a team in need of OL help. Connor Williams. Brandon Scherff. Cam Robinson. Terron Armstead. Ryan Jensen. Orlando Brown. Brian Allen. All names who will be UFAs and are top line starters at their respective positions. The Bears also had the second older roster in the league entering the 2021 season and should look to get younger via the draft. Luckily, this is a deep OL class. Since the Bears do not currently own a first round pick due to their 2021 draft day trade to move up and get Fields, they could look to target OT Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa), OG Zion Johnson (Boston College), C Luke Fortner (Kentucky), or C Tyler Lindebaum (Iowa) should he fall to the second round due to the deflated value of interior lineman in recent draft history. 

As per the defensive secondary, the Bears are in need of multiple defensive backs who can play alongside third-year CB Jaylon Johnson. Johnson is much improved after 2 years in the NFL and should be slotted as a starter at outside CB next season. There are a few CBs on the market who could be good fits in Eberflus’ system such as Steven Nelson and ex-Colt Xavier Rhodes. There are also a number of high level defensive backs in the draft who could fall to the Bears in the second round such as S Jaquan Brisker (Penn State), CB Roger McCreary (Auburn), and CB Kaiir Elam (Florida).