Schrock’s Bears free agency predictions include two big names originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
After months of talking about the Bears’ mountain of salary cap space, the moment for general manager Ryan Poles to inject talent into the roster has finally arrived.
The NFL’s legal negotiating window opens Monday, March 13, with the new league year beginning March 15.
The Bears have a lot of holes to fill as they look to build a competent roster around quarterback Justin Fields.
Let’s get Poles’ free-agent priority list together as his rebuild enters its next phase.
It’s no secret that Poles plans to focus his free-agent pursuits on bolstering the protection in front of quarterback Justin Fields.
The Bears have needs inside and out, but tackle should be at the top of the shopping list.
1. Orlando Brown Jr., LT
The Chiefs electing not to tag Brown for the second consecutive season opens the door for the 26-year-old to hit the open market.
If the Chiefs and Brown don’t get a long-term deal done by March 13, the Bears must take a swing at him. While Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus were encouraged by Braxton Jones’ growth in 2022, the Southern Utah product might be better off on the right side. Signing Brown would allow the Bears to move Jones to the other side and secure the bookends for the foreseeable future.
Brown should be the Bears’ main target when the opening bell rings. If they can’t secure him, they should ensure they land one of the top right tackles in the market.
2. Mike McGlinchey, RT
Jawaan Taylor is an intriguing option, but McGlinchey is a better scheme fit for what the Bears do on offense. McGlinchey has always been a good run blocker for the 49ers. He has an 85.4 run-blocking grade from ProFootballFocus since entering the league in 2018. That is a top-10 mark among tackles.
McGlinchey’s pass blocking came under scrutiny early in his time in the Bay, but it has improved over the past two seasons. This past season, McGlinchey recorded a 5.1 pressure rate and a 96.9 pass-block efficiency grade from PFF.
Kaleb McGary is another option at right tackle, but I’ll take McGlinchey’s track record over McGary, whose fifth-year option the Falcons declined before he had a career year in 2022.
Prediction: Bears sign McGlinchey to a four-year, $64 million deal (PFF projection)
The idea of drafting Jalen Carter, especially if he falls in the draft, is tantalizing. But I’m not sure the Bears, who have made a big deal out of employing people who love football and will buy into the H.I.T.S (hustle, intensity, takeaways, smart football) principle, can use a high pick on a guy who has displayed poor judgment and might not love football.
The best thing for the Bears to do is check the three-technique box in free agency and give themselves some flexibility in the draft.
3. Dre’Mont Jones
Daron Payne occupied this spot before the Washington Commanders smartly put the franchise tag on him. Jones will be the big winner of a thin interior defensive line market.
Javon Hargrave is coming off a big season in Philadelphia and likely will get another lucrative contract, but it shouldn’t be from the Bears. At age 30, I worry about how long Hargrave can stay healthy playing a position that takes a pounding every season.
Jones is 26 and coming off the best season of his NFL career. In 14 games for the Broncos, Jones generated 45 pressures and a 10.6 percent pressure rate with 6.5 sacks. He’s a versatile defender who can move along the defensive line.
Zach Allen would be a solid Plan B, but I think the Bears will sign two big-ticket free agents, and Jones will be No. 2 after McGlinchey.
Prediction: Bears sign Jones to four-year, $68 million contract (PFF projection)
Interior offensive line
For priority No. 3, we’re going back to the offensive line but looking to strengthen the interior.
The Bears can free up almost $6 million in cap space if they cut left guard Cody Whitehair, whose play dipped in 2022. The hope is that Lucas Patrick will be healthy in 2023 and can man the starting center role the Bears envisioned when they signed him last offseason. Teven Jenkins acquitted himself well at right guard but has to prove he can stay healthy before being penciled in as a long-term puzzle piece.
As such, reinforcements are needed.
4. Ben Powers, OG
Powers is one of my favorite free agents in this class. The 26-year-old enjoyed a career year in 2022 where he allowed just one quarterback hit and zero sacks for the Ravens.
Those numbers should appeal to a Bears team that struggled to keep Fields upright last season. Powers also didn’t miss a snap in 2022, which is another tick in his box.
Powers is projected to get around $9 million per season, so he won’t break the bank. However, he’ll have plenty of suitors, including several contenders.
My guess is he doesn’t land in Chicago. Onto Plan B.
5. Ethan Pocic, C
Nate Davis, G
Assuming Powers has strong offers from contenders, the Bears should look to sign either Pocic or Davis to help on the interior.
Pocic, 27, is coming off a great season in Cleveland, where he thrived next to two of the best guards in the NFL. Pocic is a good blocker in the zone run scheme and only allowed 10 pressures and two sacks last season.
At 316 pounds, Davis is a mauler in the run game. But he still has work to do in pass protection. Before last season’s 66.8 PFF pass-blocking grade, Davis’ career best was 52.6. He’s on the right trajectory and is familiar with assistant offensive line coach Luke Steckel, who the Bears just hired from Tennessee.
Prediction: Bears sign Pocic (two-year, $14 million contract)
Everyone knows the Bears had issues pressuring the quarterback last season. Chicago finished dead last in pressures by a mile and safety Jaquan Brisker led the team in sacks.
I expect pass rusher to be a big focus in the draft for Poles, but the Bears also need to add veteran talent there. I don’t think they should take a run at Marcus Davenport, but there are several quality veterans who Poles should look at to bolster the Bears’ non-existent pass rush.
6. Frank Clark
Poles knows Clark well from their time together in Kansas City. The soon-to-be 30-year-old has notched at least 45 pressures and five sacks in each of the last four seasons. After being a cap casualty in Kansas City, Clark might be looking for a short-term deal to help raise his value with an eye toward one final big payday next offseason.
Next is Key. The former Raiders draft pick rebuilt his value in San Francisco in 2021 and had a good season in Jacksonville in 2022. Key has 90 pressures, 11 sacks, and a 14.6 pressure rate over the last two seasons.
Finally, there’s Ngakoue, who is coming off a 9.5-sack season in Indianapolis. Ngakoue doesn’t defend the run, but he has at least eight sacks in every season of his career. The Bears need situational pass rushers, but his lack of ability to stop the run should put him further down the list.
Prediction: Bears sign Clark (one year, $7.5 million) and Key (two years, $18 million)
7. Bobby Okereke
Okereke is only this far down the priority list because it feels like a good bet he’ll land in Chicago. Eberflus knows Okereke well, and the 26-year-old acquitted himself well as the WILL linebacker in Indianapolis last year when Shaquille Leonard was injured.
Okereke is a good run defender with the athleticism to be solid in coverage.
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Bears need a WILL linebacker, and Okereke has familiarity with Eberflus’ scheme.
Prediction: Bears sign Okereke to four-year, $37 million contract (PFF projection)
Let’s finish the list out at wide receiver. It would be a higher priority if the class was better. Given its lack of top-level talent, I’m expecting the Bears only to look to take a flier on one of the cheaper options on the market.
I like the idea of Michael Thomas should the Saints actually cut him. But until he’s officially a free agent, he can’t be on the list.
8. Darius Slayton
9. Parris Campbell
It’s easy to go back to the Indy connection with Campbell. The Ohio State product finally stayed healthy this past season and was a consistent producer for the Colts. Campbell caught 63 passes for 623 yards and three touchdowns while dropping just three passes all season.
Slayton has been a consistent performer since entering the NFL. From 2019 to 2022, he recorded 170 catches for 2,554 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging 15.0 yards per catch.
Slayton would be a nice low-cost addition to a Bears offense in need of playmakers. Campbell’s injury history makes him Plan B here.
Prediction: Bears sign Slayton to two-year, $10 million contract (PFF projection)
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