Live updates: Chicago Bears 2024 free agency news and notes

NFL teams, player agents began negotiations 11 a.m. Monday

Chicago Bears wide receiver Dante Pettis hauls in a pass Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, during their game against the Vikings at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The phones began ringing at 11 a.m. Monday. NFL free agency negotiations began Monday and free agency officially began Wednesday. It has been a busy week across the league.

With more than $63 million in available salary cap space for the 2024 season, general manager Ryan Poles and the Bears entered the week with the fourth-most money to spend this offseason.

Here’s the latest free agency news. Stay here all week long, too, for live updates from Halas Hall and across the league.

Bears sign WR Dante Pettis

Chicago Bears wide receiver Dante Pettis follows the blocking of running back David Montgomery on a jet sweep during their game Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The Bears have signed receiver and return man Dante Pettis on a one-year deal, the team announced Friday. Pettis spent the 2022 season with the Bears, then was on the roster during training camp last season before a neck injury ended his season early.

Pettis did not play a game in 2023. The Bears placed him on injured reserve on Aug. 26 last year and later released him with an injury settlement in early September.

In 2022, he appeared in 17 games for the Bears. He totaled 19 catches for 245 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned 18 punts, averaging 9.1 yards per punt return. The Bears’ punt return man in 2023, receiver Trent Taylor, is a free agent.

Bears sign OL Jake Curhan

The Bears signed offensive tackle Jake Curhan, according to Curhan’s agent Kenny Zuckerman. Curhan, 26, played the past three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks.

Curhan played in 10 games for the Seahawks last season, making four starts. In three years, he has appeared in 29 games, making nine starts. He has played tackle on offense and he has experience on special teams.

Curhan worked with new Bears offensive coordinator Shane Waldron while in Seattle.

Bears trade for Chargers receiver Keenan Allen

Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen reacts on his touchdown against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif.

The Bears acquired Chargers receiver Keenan Allen late on Thursday, sending a fourth-round draft pick to Los Angeles in exchange for the 11-year NFL veteran. The Bears will pair Allen with veteran receiver DJ Moore.

Allen has one season remaining on his current contract. The Bears will owe him an $18 million base salary and a $5 million roster bonus that kicks in over the weekend.

For more on the Allen trade, read Shaw Local’s story here.

Bears sign center Coleman Shelton

The Bears have options at center.

A week after trading for interior lineman Ryan Bates, the Bears signed center Coleman Shelton, the team announced Thursday.

Shelton started all 17 games at center for the Los Angeles Rams last season. He spent the first five years of his NFL career with the Rams. He worked with new Bears offensive coordinator Shane Waldron for three years in Los Angeles before Waldron left to become the offensive coordinator in Seattle in 2021. Shelton has appeared in 73 games over five NFL seasons, making 32 starts.

With Bates and Shelton, the Bears now have multiple options at center. The position was a weakness during the 2023 season. The Bears let former center Lucas Patrick hit free agency this week.

With Nate Davis and Teven Jenkins firmly in starting roles at the guard spots, it’s possible Bates and Shelton could battle it out for the starting center job. Shelton was the 17th-ranked NFL center last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He could be the favorite to land the job. Bates, who can play multiple positions, could be a versatile backup who might fill in anywhere along the interior.

Bears sign linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga

The Bears have agreed to a deal with former Los Angeles Chargers linebacker and special teamer Amen Ogbongbemiga, according to a report from the NFL Network. The deal is reportedly a one-year, $2.1 million contract, which guarantees $1.1 million and can max out at $2.5 million with incentives.

Ogbongbemiga appeared in 47 games over three seasons with the Chargers. He started only two games on defense during that time, but he was a big-time contributor on special teams. Last season, he played 69% of special teams snaps for the Chargers.

The Nigerian native went to high school in Canada and later played at Oklahoma State. After he went undrafted in 2021, the Calgary Stampeders made him the eighth overall pick in the 2021 Canadian Football League draft. Ogbongbemiga elected to sign with the Chargers as an undrafted rookie instead.

Free agency officially began at 3 p.m. Wednesday

It’s a new year. It is in the NFL, at least.

The league’s new year began at 3 p.m. Wednesday, which marked the official opening of free agency. Deals that were negotiated during the early negotiating period over the previous two days can now become official, as well as any trades that were agreed upon.

Several Bears deals became official Wednesday. The team announced it has signed running back D’Andre Swift to a three-year contract and tight end Gerald Everett to a two-year contract. The Bears also signed safety Jonathan Owens to a two-year contract and offensive lineman Matt Pryor to a one-year deal. Additionally, the Bears signed quarterback Brett Rypien to a one-year contract.

Swift’s three-year deal is reportedly worth $24.5 million. Everett’s two-year contract is worth $12 million and can jump up to $14 million with incentives. Owens is married to Olympic gymnast Simone Biles.

Bears expected to sign offensive lineman Matt Pryor

The Bears are expected to sign veteran offensive lineman Matt Pryor, a deal that was first reported by The Athletic. Pryor, 29, played with the San Francisco 49ers last season. He appeared in 15 games, playing primarily on special teams. He was inactive during San Francisco’s playoff run.

Before that, Pryor played for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Indianapolis Colts. He overlapped with Matt Eberflus for one season in Indianapolis in 2021. Drafted by the Eagles with a sixth-round pick in 2018, Pryor has appeared in 75 NFL regular season games, making 24 starts. He has experience at numerous positions on the offensive line.

He will likely be a depth piece for a Bears offensive line that features Darnell Wright and Braxton Jones at the two starting tackle spots. Backup tackle Larry Borom remains under contract in 2024 as well.

Bears sign former Packers safety Jonathan Owens

Days after signing free agent safety Kevin Byard, the Bears added another safety.

Former Packers safety Jonathan Owens is coming to Chicago, according to the NFL Network. Owens played in all 17 games last year for the Packers, starting 11 at safety. He spent the previous four seasons prior to that with the Houston Texans.

Owens is married to four-time Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles. The couple married last year. Biles was frequently spotted at Packers games last season. She won gold in the all-around at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

With the addition of Owens, the Bears now have Owens and Byard joining returning safeties Jaquan Brisker and Elijah Hicks. Owens, 28, began last season as a special teamer, but moved into a starting role at safety in Week 8. He totaled 84 combined tackles, three passes defended, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery returned for a touchdown.

Bears reportedly sign TE Gerald Everett to 2-year, $12 million contract

The Bears are expected to sign free agent tight end Gerald Everett, according to a report from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Everett played for new Bears offensive coordinator Shane Waldron with the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks. He spent the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers. Last season with the Chargers, Everett totaled 51 catches for 411 yards and three touchdowns.

Waldron was Everett’s tight ends coach when Everett was a rookie, after the Rams selected him with a second-round pick in 2017. Waldron was promoted to passing game coordinator in 2018. He left Los Angeles to become the offensive coordinator in Seattle in 2021 – and Everett followed him. Everett signed a one-year contract with the Seahawks ahead of the 2021 season.

Everett’s contract with the Bears is reportedly a two-year contract worth $12 million. Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the contract could be worth up to $14 million with bonuses and includes $6.1 million in guarantees.

The Bears lacked a reliable second tight end last season. Tight end Cole Kmet is currently the only tight end on the roster who played any snaps on offense. So it’s not a surprise to see the Bears in the tight end market. Under Waldron, Seattle consistently used multiple tight ends. Everett gives the Bears a proven pass catcher who can play alongside Kmet.

Darnell Mooney signs with Atlanta, per report

As expected, former Bears receiver Darnell Mooney has a new home.

The 26-year-old Mooney is expected to sign a three-year, $39 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons, according to a report from the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. The deal includes $26 million in guaranteed money. Mooney will join new Falcons quarterback Kirk Cousins in Atlanta.

Mooney spent his first four NFL seasons in Chicago. The Bears drafted him out of Tulane with a fifth-round pick in 2020. Mooney immediately became a contributor, totaling 61 receptions for 631 receiving yards and four touchdowns as a rookie. The following season in 2021, Mooney had a career-best 1,055 receiving yards.

But Mooney’s contributions to the offense dropped when the Bears fired head coach Matt Nagy and brought in a new coaching staff with a new offensive scheme. In two years under head coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, Mooney never even reached 500 receiving yards in a season.

Last season, he finished with 31 catches for 414 yards and one touchdown in 15 games. The Bears traded for star receiver DJ Moore a year ago and Mooney’s opportunities dried up.

Mooney’s poor 2023 season didn’t appear to affect his value too much in free agency. A $13 million annual salary is pretty strong for a receiver who caught only 31 passes last season.

In Atlanta, Mooney will team up with Cousins and a talented group of skill position players, which includes Drake London at receiver, Bijan Robinson at running back and Kyle Pitts at tight end. Mooney is also signing with a Falcons organization that employs former Bears general manager Ryan Pace, who drafted Mooney in 2020. Pace is the director of player personnel in Atlanta.

Aaron Jones signs with Vikings in NFC North shakeup

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones tries to get by Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson during their game Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The running back market continues to fascinate. In the NFC North, the Bears kicked things off by signing D’Andre Swift to a three-year, $24.5 million contract. The Lions drafted Swift with a second-round pick in 2020. He played three seasons in Detroit before the Lions dealt him to Philadelphia last year. Swift is expected to be the lead back in Chicago.

Later on Monday, Green Bay signed free agent running back Josh Jacobs to a four-year, $48 million contract. In a corresponding move, the Packers cut veteran running back Aaron Jones. The 29-year-old Jones has terrorized the NFC North division during seven seasons in Green Bay. Four times he totaled more than 1,100 yards from scrimmage in a season.

Jones, however, isn’t going far.

Jones is expected to sign a one-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings, per the NFL Network. The deal is reportedly worth $7 million.

Three of the four teams in the NFC North have added a new starting running back. Only the Lions, who are in good shape with David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs, have stood pat.

Former Bears DT Justin Jones signs with Arizona

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones is held back by Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Cody Mauch (as Jones tries to stop a pass by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield during the first half, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Tampa, Fla.

Former Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones is signing a three-year, $30 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals, according to the NFL Network’s Peter Schrager.

Jones, 27, spent the past two seasons with the Bears. During his time in Chicago, he started in all 34 regular season games. A 6-foot-3, 309-pound defensive tackle who disrupted things on the interior, Jones totaled 4.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hits and 10 tackles for loss during the 2023 season.

His departure leaves a hole in the Bears’ starting lineup at defensive tackle. Andrew Billings has one defensive tackle spot locked down, but the other one is now up in the air. Rookies Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens served in reserve roles last season. It’s possible one of them could step into the starting lineup.

It’s also possible the Bears could be looking to bring in a free agent to take Jones’ spot.

Kirk Cousins signs with Atlanta

In news that greatly impacts the NFC North division, former Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is signing a four-year, $180 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons, per multiple reports. The Deal is worth $100 million in guaranteed money, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

With Cousins and Russell Wilson finding new homes, the number of teams looking for veteran quarterbacks appears to be dwindling. That’s not a good thing for the Bears, who are potentially trying to trade Justin Fields.

Here’s a look at what the latest deals mean for Fields’ trade market and if the Bears can find a team willing to pay a decent price for the 25-year-old quarterback.

Bears expected to sign RB D’Andre Swift, per reports

The Bears are expected to sign free agent running back D’Andre Swift to a three-year, $24.5 million contract, per a report from the NFL Network.

Swift is one of a number of top running backs on the free agent market this year. The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport noted that Swift is expected to become the starter for the Bears. The deal includes $15 million in guaranteed money.

Swift is fresh off a 1,000-yard season as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles last season. Prior to that, he spent the previous three seasons playing against the Bears for their NFC North division rival Detroit Lions.

In Detroit, Swift often shared the spotlight with several other running backs. In Philadelphia last season, he was the go-to back for the Eagles. He ran for 1,049 yards and five touchdowns on 229 attempts. He also caught 39 passes for 214 yards and one touchdown.

The Bears currently have running backs Khalil Herbert and Roschon Johnson on the roster. Herbert began last season as the lead back, but also shared duties with Johnson and D’Onta Foreman (who is a free agent).

What are the Bears looking for in free agency?

Last year, the Bears spent big money at linebacker, defensive and and offensive guard in free agency. They brought in linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (four years, $72 million), linebacker TJ Edwards (three years, $19.5 million), defensive end DeMarcus Walker (three years, $21 million) and guard Nate Davis (three years, $30 million).

But last year the Bears were coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history in 2022. They had a pretty bare roster to build upon.

Since taking over as GM in 2022, Poles has always been selective with where he spends his money. That is likely to remain the case this time around. Don’t expect a massive spending spree.

The Bears already made one big addition on Sunday, signing veteran safety Kevin Byard to a two-year, $15 million contract. The Eagles cut Byard earlier this month, making him eligible to become a free agent immediately.

Still, the Bears could be looking to make additions in key spots: along the defensive line, at wide receiver and possibly at center. Here’s a look at the Bears’ top positions of need entering free agency.

Are the Bears going to trade Justin Fields?

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields looks for a receiver as Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson pressures him during their game Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Maybe the biggest question mark facing the Bears this week isn’t about a potential free agent. It’s about whether the team will trade quarterback Justin Fields.

The Bears appear destined to select a quarterback with the No. 1 overall draft pick. Whether they take USC’s Caleb Williams (as most people expect), North Carolina’s Drake Maye or someone else, the most likely scenario feels like they will be finding a new quarterback in the draft.

For the Bears, it might’ve been ideal to trade Fields before free agency, when more teams were weighing their options at quarterback. That, however, did not come to pass. Instead, the Bears will likely have to wait and see what happens with top free agents Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson. Once those first few dominoes fall, the Bears might have a better idea of what the market for Fields looks like.

Could a trade happen this week? Maybe. But the trade market remains fluid.

Who are some of the top free agents?

Quarterbacks will always dominate the conversation. Cousins, Wilson, Baker Mayfield and Ryan Tannehill highlight this year’s free agent group. As discussed above, what happens at QB will affect the Fields trade market.

But other positions are much deeper than the quarterback position in free agency. Defensive tackle and pass rusher are two of them. Former Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins could be the top defender on the market. Former Vikings pass rusher Danielle Hunter will also command a huge contract. A team looking for a top pass rusher will have options: Hunter, Jonathan Greenard, Bryce Huff and Chase Young, to name a few.

One interesting position to watch will be running back, where there are some big names available. Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard are all free agents. Will those running backs find the huge contracts they’re looking for? With teams more and more hesitant to pay running backs top dollar, it might be tough.

Does Jaylon Johnson’s new contract affect the Bears’ spending?

Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson wraps up Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner during their game Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The Bears signed top cornerback Jaylon Johnson to a four-year, $76 million contract extension Thursday. That isn’t likely to limit the Bears’ spending in free agency, though.

Johnson’s new deal, per, is structured so that only $13 million counts against the Bears’ 2024 salary cap (future years will cost $21 million). Even after the deal, the Bears have more than $63 million in space available for 2024. After factoring in what they’ll have to set aside for draft picks, they effectively have $51 million to spend in free agency.

In no way will Johnson’s new deal limit Poles’ spending power during free agency.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.