NFL free agency officially kicked off at 3 p.m. Wednesday, and after spending the first year tearing the roster down, Bears general manager Ryan Poles’ complete rebuild got off to a strong start.
The first new Bear announced, linebacker T.J. Edwards, is just 26 years old. Edwards, a lifelong Chicago Bears fan, grew up in suburban Lake Villa and committed to coming home. More importantly, he was the leading tackler last season on the NFC Conference champion Philadelphia Eagles. He finished seventh in the NFL tackles.
Next up was linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, a freakish athlete at 6-foot-5, 249 pounds. Edmunds is a former first-round draft choice coming off his best season with the AFC North champion Buffalo Bills. Edmunds has logged over 100 tackles in each of his five seasons while still just 25 years old.
Announcement No. 3 was offensive guard Nate Davis, who will turn 27 in September. He started 42 games and five more playoff games in three seasons with the Tennessee Titans after being drafted in the third round.
Free agent No. 4 is defensive tackle DeMarcus Walker – also from the Titans – and at age 28, he is coming off his best season as a pro, which included seven sacks.
Lastly comes RB Travis Homer, who is just 24 years old and an accomplished special teams contributor.
So what are we to make of this group? All but Walker are youngsters coming off their best seasons in the NFL and still developing, while Walker is far from old and also coming off his best season as a pro.
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Clearly, Poles is acquiring emerging and still developing young talent at reasonable prices. All are players likely to be important pieces of the Bears’ next contending team.
Only Edmunds hit the price tag big with four years at $72 million, but it is worth noting he has been signed to replace Roquan Smith, who will just turn 26 next month but got a $100 million deal from the Baltimore Ravens after forcing a trade with a very difficult negotiation with Poles. The two have been very comparable as players with Edmunds the better athlete.
Perhaps Poles best addition so far is adding wide receiver D.J. Moore via trade, giving the Bears a No. 1 receiver under contract at a reasonable price for three more seasons and still just 25 years old.
While not one of these players have taken a snap yet as a Bear – and we have absolutely no idea yet what we’ll be saying about them two, three or four seasons from now – we know a lot more about them already than we do about any player the Bears will draft. And we have reason to feel good about the approach and decisions Poles is making so far.
Another way to look at this is with a return to good health from Jack Sanborn, – arguably the most pleasant surprise and acquisition from last offseason – the Bears could be fully set at linebacker – arguably the most important group in head coach Matt Eberflus’ defense – for the next four to six seasons. All three have shown and produced enough to possibly become one of the best linebacker groups in the league.
Next, let’s parse the Moore acquisition. We know who he is and it’s exciting based on how sparse the Bears receiver group was last season.
What if Darnell Mooney returns healthy and plays to his 2021 campaign of 81 catches for 1,055 yards and five touchdowns? What if Chase Claypool, still just 24, re-emerges after a quick start to his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers faded?
Priority No. 1 for this offseason is getting Justin Fields the tools he needs to prove he can be a franchise quarterback.
Priority No. 2 has been acquiring the pieces to turn one of the NFL’s worst defenses into one of the best.
Yes, these are all absolutely just what ifs, every one of them. But they are also clearly more than just maybes and wishful thinking.
It will be December before we are able to have any real evaluation of what year No. 2 for Poles will be remembered as. But, what we know right now is that Poles has taken an exciting run at his two greatest needs while also acquiring an extra first and two second-round draft picks, and he won’t even make one of his 10 picks in this year’s draft for over a month.
It certainly appears Poles knows what he’s doing. At the very least, it’s pretty exciting to look forward to, isn’t it?