Grading the Chicago Bears Initial Free Agent Signings

Sep 27, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) avoids Indianapolis Colts defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad (97) in the first half at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Lake Forest, Ill– The Chicago Bears wrapped up a busy first week of free agency, signing six total free agents as general manager Ryan Poles attempts to rebuild an aging roster that features a perfect blend of young talent and veterans. When looking at the Bears’ six signings, there are two categories that exist among all free agents: Low-risk, high-reward, and familiarity.

Chicago has yet to dish out a big deal as Poles continues to stay true to his ultimate team-building philosophy of setting the Bears up for long-term success by building through the NFL Draft. With six projected picks in April’s NFL Draft, the Bears still have a significant number of needs but the Bears’ free agent signings are still contributing to the foundation that Poles hopes to establish in 2022.

As the second week of NFL Free Agency kicks off, how do Chicago’s signings during week one grade out?

1) IOL Lucas Patrick

When the Bears hired Luke Getsy as offensive coordinator earlier in the offseason, how Getsy would help develop quarterback Justin Fields would be a major point. By adding Patrick, a veteran who’s spent his entire career with the Green Bay Packers, the Bears are investing in Fields. Adding Patrick isn’t just about rebuilding the trenches for the Bears. It’s about giving Fields a veteran center that will ensure the rest of the offensive line gels together quickly.

Patrick’s familiarity with Getsy should do wonders for Fields, who will need to learn a new offense heading into his second year. Patrick’s versatility is also a plus for the Bears as the 28-year old can play any position on the interior and has started 28 games over the last two seasons for the Packers.

Final Grade: A+

2) LB Nicholas Morrow

As the Bears attempt to transition to a 4-3 defense under head coach Matt Eberflus, the Bears are looking to overhaul the linebacker group with one common theme: Speed. Chicago already has a proven product in fifth-year pro Roquan Smith and by adding Morrow, who runs a 4.53 40-yard dash, Chicago is looking to emphasize speed on the second level of the defense in 2022 and beyond.

Morrow missed the 2021 season due to a foot injury sustained in training camp but proved he could be productive in 2020 with 11 starts, 78 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and six quarterback hits. Morrow is just 26 years old and has been in the NFL since 2017, so his starting experience and age make him a player who can be a long-term fit for Chicago should he stay healthy.

Morrow signed a one-year deal with the Bears worth $3M, with $2.5M guaranteed, so the Bears aren’t committing to Morrow in the long-term by any means. However, if Morrow can’t stay healthy, questions will arise as to why the Bears opted to invest in a player who hasn’t played in the regular season since 2020.

Final Grade: B-

3) WR Byron Pringle

It wasn’t until 2021 that Pringle’s career really took off. Appearing in 17 games with five starts, Pringle logged 42 receptions, 568 receiving yards, and five touchdowns, averaging 13.5 yards per reception with the Kansas City Chiefs. Pringle, an undrafted free agent in the 2018 NFL Draft, should be an asset for the Bears in the vertical passing game.

His skillset allows him to play both outside and in the slot, giving the Bears another versatile WR to line up opposite Darnell Mooney. Considering the state of the Bears’ depth chart, Pringle has every opportunity to enter the season as WR3. Pringle’s experience as a returner on special teams will also allow him to carve out a role on the roster but the Bears likely see him being an asset on offense before considering using him as a retuner. The only glaring weakness for Pringle is lack of starting experience, with just eight starts since 2019.

Chicago signed Pringle to a one-year deal but if he can build on a strong 2021 season, he’ll have the opportunity to earn a nice payday next offseason.

Final Grade: B+

4) DL Justin Jones

When news broke that the Bears were not signing defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi due to a failed physical, the Bears moved quickly to lock up Jones, a five-year veteran who’s started 35 games since 2018. For the Bears, Jones could very easily be an under-the-radar signing who starts from day one.

When looking at the contract the Bears handed Jones, a two-year deal worth $12M, it’s clear the Bears view the 2018 third-round pick as a starter. He’ll have an opportunity to anchor the middle of the Bears defense as a 3-technique defensive tackle. While Jones has traditionally been a run stuffer, his contract indicates the Bears hope that he’ll play a larger role on defense which includes generating pressure and collapsing the pocket, allowing players such as Robert Quinn and Trevis Gipson to get after the quarterback.

Overall, Jones has proven to be solid enough and while he flew under the radar for the Los Angeles Chargers, the Bears present an opportunity for himself to make a real name for himself. Considering he’s never really been a player who’s consistently sacked the quarterback, Jones will need to start doing so to take his game to the next level.

Final Grade: B+

5) WR Equanimeous St.Brown

The Bears were rumored to be interested in top names in the WR market such as Christian Kirk and JuJu Smith-Schuster and while it’s unknown whether or not Chicago was seriously interested in each of the WRs listed above, St.Brown was a name the Bears were confirmed to be in on.

Most are familiar with St.Brown’s NFL career. A sixth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in the 2018 NFL Draft, the former Notre Dame WR has mainly been a special teams contributor, St.Brown missed the 2019 season but does have 10 career starts. With just 16 receptions over the last two seasons, it’s clear that St.Brown was unable to crack the Packers WR rotation which included Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, and Randall Cobb as prominent names.

Much like Lucas Patrick, the Bears signed St.Brown due to his familiarity with OC Luke Getsy. St.Brown’s impact in Green Bay wasn’t eye-opening by any means but by signing St.Brown, the Bears are hoping to add depth to the WR room but the team is also banking on a change of scenery and new opportunities being driving forces behind St.Brown having a career revival.

Grade: C-

6) DL Al-Quadin Muhammad

Another defensive lineman, Muhammad spent the last four seasons under Eberflus with the Indianapolis Colts. Now entering year six, he should be one of the undisputed faces of the Bears defensive line after a career year that saw him notch six sacks, 13 QB hits, and seven tackles for loss.

In Eberflus’ scheme, Muhammad can play a pivotal role as a starting defensive end. With 25 career starts, 17 of which came in 2021, Eberflus played a key role in luring Muhammad to Chicago in order to fortify a defensive line that lost three starters from the 2021 season. The Bears will look to his experience as a means of ensuring the defensive line can quickly gel and have an impact.

While Muhammad has spent most of his career as a rotational player, the Bears are banking on him becoming an impact player in Chicago rather quickly.

Final Grade: A

7) FB Khari Blasingame

The Kyle Shanahan/Matt LaFleur offense is starting to come together in Chicago and while fullbacks have seen their roles diminish over the last decade, the Bears signed Blasingame to contribute both in the running game and passing game. When looking at Blasingame’s career since 2019, he’s averaged 9.7 yards per reception and has caught 83.3 percent of passes thrown his way. While his reception total is just 10, he’s proven that there is potential for him the receiving game.

In what is expected to be an outsize zone running scheme, the Bears will use Blasingame as a lead blocker at times, giving him the opportunity to pave the way for a two-headed monster in the backfield that will feature David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert. While Blasingame has never been known to be heavily involved in the running game, the Bears could certainly use him in the redzone as a short-yardage RB.

Final Grade: B-