Lake Forest, IL— As the 2022 offseason heats up for the Chicago Bears, new general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus will attempt to reshape the Bears roster. With just 48 players under contract heading into February and just $28M in cap space, the Bears have a number of needs including cornerback, center, wide receiver, middle linebacker, defensive line, and safety. With just five picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, along with no first or fourth-round picks, the Bears will have to make the most of limited resources, especially with Poles looking to build primarily through the draft.
Before the flurry of roster moves begin for the Bears, how do the Bears needs rank heading into an important offseason?
1) Wide receiver
Chicago’s biggest priority this offseason will be investing in the offense and building around quarterback Justin Fields. Year one of the Fields era showed promise but the Bears WR core underperformed. Heading into the offseason, only Darnell Mooney and 2021 sixth-round pick Dazz Newsome are on the roster. With a second and third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Bears will need to invest a high draft pick in a wide receiver to pair alongside Mooney. The Bears do have some options on the free agent market such as Chris Godwin, Devante Adams, Will Fuller, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mike Williams, and Zach Pascal as names to keep an eye on. Bringing back Marquise Goodwin wouldn’t be a bad idea considering he did begin to establish some chemistry with Fields and provide the position with a veteran presence.
CB is a need for the Bears, who need to decide whether or not 2021 sixth-round pick Thomas Graham Jr. can be Jaylon Johnson’s future running mate. Expect the Bears to look into an upgrade into adding a CB opposite Johnson while bringing in some competition at nickel CB with additional depth. When the calendar turns to July, guys like Marqui Christian, Xavier Crawford, Kindle Vildor, and Duke Shelley will likely be on the chopping block. While dipping into the free agent market to sign a name like J.C. Jackson sounds appealing, general manager Ryan Poles isn’t likely to overspend in the initial wave of free agency, instead opting to let the market settle and find cheaper options in both the second and third waves.
Heading into the 2021 season, the possibility of Sam Mustipher becoming the future at Center seemed like a strong possibility for the Bears. Instead, Mustipher would draw mixed results, making an upgrade a priority this offseason. With Ryan Poles background being offensive line, the Bears could look at options to round out the interior in the NFL Draft but Chicago does have some options on the roster to replace Mustipher, including veteran Cody Whitehair or pending free agent James Daniels, both who have prior experience playing the position. One possible free agent option that could intrigue the Bears is veteran Ryan Jensen but set to be 31 years old in May, Poles may heavily weigh Jensen’s age as a reason to not sign the veteran, who will be looking for his third NFL contract.
4) Middle Linebacker
As the Bears transition back to a 4-3 defense, there’s some shuffling that needs to be at the linebacker position. Roquan Smith will likely transition to be being a WIll linebacker, which means the Bears will need a true Mike LB to anchor the middle of the defense. With Danny Trevathan and Alec Ogletree getting older, the Bears could look to find a stopgap solution instead of making a big splash in free agency. However, if Poles and Eberflus decide the need for a true Will LB is too great to pass up, Zaire Franklin, who played under Eberflus from 2018-2021 in Indianapolis could make an ideal free agent signing during the second or third wave of free agency.
5) Defensive Line
With the future of Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman uncertain, 2018 fifth-round pick Bilal Nichols is set to hit free agency, which means the Bears are set to have some turnover at defensive line. While Goldman is under contract through the end of the 2023 season, the Bears could make him a post-June 1st cut in 2022 and save $8.8M in cap space, and with a cap hit of $11.8M for the upcoming season, the Bears could opt to keep Goldman on the roster instead of reworking his contract, which would create just $3.8M in cap space. One aspect of Eberflus’ defense is a strong 3-technique at defensive tackle who can be a driving force behind a disruptive defensive line. Over the last two seasons, Eberflus’ 3-tech in Indianapolis was DeForest Buckner, who helped the Colts defense become one of the best in the NFL. One option would be bringing Hicks back but that would require the veteran taking a significant pay cut and the Bears likely only offering a one-year deal as a stopgap as the team searches for a true solution that can anchor down the position for the future. Overall, this is a position the Bears will need to address in 2022 but remain patient and not overspend.
Eddie Jackson may be under contract through the end of the 2024 season and while some have labeled Jackson as a true fit for what Eberflus likes to do, the Bears need to find a true strong safety to pair with Jackson. For what seems like the fourth consecutive season, the safety market has plenty of interesting names, including Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Williams, Marcus Maye, Jessie Bates III, and Justin Reid. All of the aforementioned names started at one point during the 2021 season and some such as Bates, Williams, and Maye are due for contract extensions. This means the Bears will need to find a cheap solution or the team could possibly resign Deon Bush or Tashaun Gipson to another one-year deal before figuring out a long-term solution. Unless the Bears are confident that a good safety can be found on day three of the 2022 NFL Draft, this will likely end up being one of the last needs the Bears address during the offseason.