At the end of the 2022 season, the Bears greatest needs were clearly wide receivers, pass pushers and defensive line (not necessarily in that order).
With the addition of wide receiver D.J. Moore via trade and free-agent defensive tackle Andrew Billings and defensive end DeMarcus Walker, there is no question pass rushers now are the main priority.
Free-agent linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards are excellent additions to the linebacker room. And, along with Walker, who is coming off a career-best seven-sack season with the Titans, there is hope the trio can upgrade the rush.
But none are proven pass rushers, and finding at least one – if not a couple – of double-digit sack guys is a must to improve the Bears’ defense.
It is also a time to be careful and remember this is a complete rebuild. It can’t be done in one season, and overreacting – or even worse, overspending in free agency – right now would be a huge mistake.
General manager Ryan Poles appears to have a solid plan: Focus on exciting young talent and don’t overspend. There is much work to be done, and now is not the time to overpay at any position. The rebuild is going to take at least two seasons and quite possibly three. Now is the time to focus on building for the future through the NFL draft.
But that is not to say a quality pass rusher on a one- or two-year free-agent deal should be out of the question. Poles can land a veteran while finding the future of the position in the first round of the draft.
The best veteran free-agent pass rushers still on the market are Yannick Ngakoue, Frank Clark, Leonard Floyd and Jadeveon Clowney.
But none are looking for short-term deals, and the last three are 30-year-old players who are good-but-not-great sack artists. Clark is probably the most realistic option, although his sack totals have fallen off the past three seasons. Still, he would bring a brand new Super Bowl ring to the room.
Ngakoue is the best option. He is only 28 and is the most productive of this class with 65 career sacks in eight seasons, including 10 and 9 ½ the past two seasons. He does, however, come with one real question mark. Why has the best pass rusher in this group played for four different teams over the past four seasons?
The good news for the Bears is defensive line – and in particular edge rusher – are the strongest positions of the first two rounds of this year’s draft.
The best this draft class has to offer is Alabama’s Will Anderson. A close second is Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson, who has been climbing up draft boards lately, while Georgia’s Jalen Carter continues to drop but just may be too good to let pass.
None of the three likely will be available at No. 9 when the Bears pick, although Wilson could slip. With the wealth of options at the position, the Bears again must focus on the big picture and not give up high draft picks to move up unless they believe Anderson can be the next Richard Dent.
Don’t forget, however, that Dent was an eighth-round draft choice (203rd overall).
The ninth overall pick probably would be too rich for any of the other first-round prospects, but the list includes Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness, Georgia’s Nolan Smith, Clemson’s Myles Murphy, Iowa State’s Will McDonald, Georgia Tech’s Keion White and Kansas State’s Felix Anudike-Uzomah.
Trading down and possibly adding more second- and third-round picks – or perhaps even another first-round pick next season – is worth considering. Or McDonald, White or Anudike-Uzomah could slip to pick No. 53 or 61 in the second round.
Poles has done an excellent job so far of adding interesting young talent while staying patient. He has an opportunity to continue that plan and fix his lack of pass-rush talent at the same time.
• Hub Arkush is the senior Bears analyst for Shaw Media and ShawLocal.com.