The Bears already have begun reformatting their defensive personnel to match head coach Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 defensive scheme.
The team reportedly has agreed to a contract with free-agent defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. The deal reportedly is for three years and worth a guaranteed $26.35 million and worth up to $40.5 million.
Ogunjobi, 27, has played five seasons in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns drafted him with a 2017 third-round pick, and he spent four seasons in Cleveland. He then signed a one-year contract with the Bengals last year. He is coming off his best season. In 2021, he had 49 combined tackles, 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks for the Bengals.
Ogunjobi suffered a foot injury during the Bengals’ wild-card round playoff victory over Las Vegas. He sat out the remainder of the postseason, and the injury required surgery.
With nose tackle Eddie Goldman cut and defensive tackles Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols hitting free agency, the Bears were in need of a starting defensive lineman. In particular, they needed a 3-technique interior defensive lineman in order to make Eberflus’ system work. That’s what Ogunjobi provides.
In Eberflus’ 4-3 scheme, which is similar to what the Bears ran under former coach Lovie Smith, the defense requires two defensive tackles. One of the two is usually a little smaller and quicker, relatively speaking, and specializes in shooting through the gaps quickly. He usually will line up on the outside shoulder of the guard on the strong side of the offensive formation (the side with the tight end). His presence typically limits double-teams on that side of the formation.
Think of Aaron Donald or Ndamukong Suh in his prime.
At 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, Ogunjobi fits this bill. Nobody, of course, is in the same stratosphere as Donald. But this signing suggests that Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles didn’t see anyone on the Bears’ roster who could fit this spot. Investing up to $40.5 million in Ogunjobi also indicates they have a strong belief that he can be elite at this spot.
The $13.5 million per year average, if Ogunjobi hits all his incentives, would make this the 12th-highest salary in the NFL for an interior defensive lineman. ESPN ranked Ogunjobi as the 51st-best free agent overall and the fourth-best defensive tackle.
Before the Bengals signed Ogunjobi last year, they ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing yards a game in 2020. With Ogunjobi clogging the middle, they improved to fifth in the NFL (at 102.5 yards a game). Before his postseason foot injury, Ogunjobi had missed only two games since 2018.
He should be a staple inside for Eberflus’ Bears.