September 25, 2022


Analysis

Now that Bears finally should have a compensatory draft pick, a smart way to start stacking them

Targeting recently released vets like Tony Jefferson can help Bears on multiple levels

While the NFL's official announcement already is delayed and remains in a holding pattern with the new proposed CBA up for player vote this week, the Bears expect to receive their first compensatory draft pick in 11 years.

Good news, to be sure, albeit probably not yet worthy of parade scheduling. Instead, let’s take a minute to remind readers of perhaps the biggest “loophole” in the compensatory pick formula that can help the Bears begin a new, far more desirable streak in 2021: Acquiring just-released vets, who don’t factor in the NFL Management Council's complex equation rewarding teams that lose more or better compensatory free agents than they sign.

Aside from his familiarity with Matt Nagy’s scheme, it’s what made the Bears' signing of Demetrius Harris last month so smart. It’s even possible the Bears think a presence like Harris at the “Y” and a healthy Burton at the “U” would go a long way toward solving their horrific lack of production from the TE position.

Tony Jefferson, the talented 28-year-old ex-Ravens/Cardinals strong safety identified last week by Hub Arkush as a potential Bears target, is another prime example.

The Ravens cut Jefferson, who tore his ACL in October, with one-plus season remaining on his four-year, $34 million contract. That injury, while the first serious, season-ending ailment of his career, might create a bit of a discount, which is probably the only way the Bears afford him.

If the Bears are bent on signing a vet to pair with Eddie Jackson, and we’re hardly convinced that’s the case considering Ryan Pace’s strong work in the draft at the position and Jackson’s unique talents covering up so much, negotiating a deal now with Jefferson could be a coup.

And while we don’t think he’s nearly as strong a fit, recently released CB Trumaine Johnson, 30, is another example of an established vet who potentially can be signed at an area of need prior to the negotiating window officially opening next week.

Now whether the Bears are comfortable replacing Prince Amukamara with an in-house candidate — it’s currently Kevin Toliver’s job to lose — remains to be seen. Johnson has the length and press ability Ryan Pace and Chuck Pagano covet, but it’s more than fair to wonder whether he’s a culture fit after taking the Jets money and running to the bank.

Alec Ogletree, 29, recently released by the Giants — not because he can’t play, but because Dave Gettleman has been an unmitigated disaster running Big Blue — is another interesting name should the Bears seek a fresh start at inside linebacker alongside Roquan Smith. Would the grass be greener by moving on from Nick Kwiatkoski, Danny Trevathan and Kevin Perre-Louis? That might be a stretch, but the Bears wouldn’t have to stretch their cap as far for Ogletree as they would “Kwit,” that’s almost assured.

Damon “Snacks” Harrison, while hardly a need with Eddie Goldman here, is probably the most well known example of a released vet who won’t count against next year’s comp formula, and we bet he’ll look great with the Patriots or Eagles — smart teams that prioritize these kinds of players — next season.

Yes, we realize we’ve mentioned only defenders here thus far while almost all of the Bears’ truly pressing issues reside on offense, beginning with quarterback. It just so happens that their reported No. 1 target, Andy Dalton, is going to be released if the Bengals don’t find the right trade partner. The Bears reportedly have already inquired about a trade, and if they’re set on Dalton, we won’t fault them for spending a later Day 3 pick to ensure he doesn’t hit the market.

But he might be the most relevant player in this conversation because the Bengals aren’t keeping Dalton for $17 million to back up presumptive No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow. We’ll see whether the Bears have the appetite to potentially wait out Cincinnati, knowing they already have Dalton’s former QB developer in Bill Lazor and quite possibly the most attractive sales pitch.

A lot more players will soon be waived in the coming days whether the CBA is ratified or rejected. The Bears obviously have a long ways to go to join the ranks of the NFL’s smartest, most successful franchises, but seeing them increasingly traverse this underrated avenue for upgrading personnel without affecting draft capital would be a solid step.