NFL free agency officially begins at 3 p.m. March 15, but the negotiating period opens at 11 a.m. Monday, meaning impending free agents can begin speaking with other teams. The free-agent frenzy will truly kick into gear Monday and Tuesday.
With $98 million in available salary cap space, the Bears have more money to spend than any other NFL team this year. General manager Ryan Poles has nearly unlimited options ahead of him for bolstering an offense led by quarterback Justin Fields.
Below are 10 potential options for the Bears’ offense in free agency. These aren’t predictions so much as players who the Bears could take into consideration.
Note: Contract estimates are based off player valuation at Spotrac.com, OverTheCap.com and Shaw Local’s best educated guess.
With Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard receiving the franchise tag, David Montgomery and Miles Sanders are the clear top options at the position. Statistically, they have had similar four-year careers thus far. Poles might be more inclined to find a cheaper option in the draft.
David Montgomery: With so much familiarity, re-signing Montgomery makes a lot of sense, but it comes down to if the money is right. If the Bears don’t want to pay him, someone else will. Estimated cost: three years, $33 million.
Miles Sanders: Coming off the best season of his career, Sanders will command a similar price tag to Montgomery. A $12 million per year salary would put him among the top 10 highest-paid running backs. Estimated cost: four years, $48 million.
[ Chicago Bears decline to use franchise tag, David Montgomery likely to hit free agency ]
The 2023 free-agent wide receiver class is weak. There’s no clear No. 1 receiver available. Given that, Poles will be likely looking for complementary pieces, not superstars, at this position.
Darius Slayton: Slayton, 26, led the Giants in receiving yards, despite his offense seemingly ignoring him for the first month of the season. As far as high-upside bargains, Slayton might be the best of the bunch. Estimated cost: two years, $10 million.
Mecole Hardman: Hardman is fresh off his second Super Bowl title. He missed half of last season because of injury, which is a concern, but he has blazing fast speed. Poles was there in 2019 when the Chiefs drafted him and turned him into a Pro Bowler as a rookie. Estimated cost: three years, $30 million.
The Bears probably aren’t going to sign an expensive tight end. Cole Kmet is due for a contract extension and a significant raise. There’s no need to pay two tight ends top dollar. But the Bears could find a complementary piece in free agency or the draft.
Robert Tonyan: A McHenry native, Tonyan paired with Kmet would make the Bears’ tight end position the top spot for hometown heroes. Tonyan’s not that far removed from an 11-touchdown season in 2020. Estimated cost: one year, $5 million.
If the Bears are going to spend big money on offense, it feels most likely to come on the offensive line. There are several experienced veterans available at both tackle spots.
Mike McGlinchey: The 28-year-old McGlinchey has been a mainstay at right tackle for the 49ers. The Bears have a significant need on the right side of an O-line that runs the same scheme as the 49ers. Estimated cost: four years, $64 million.
Kaleb McGary: Deciding between McGlinchey and McGary is tough. Both are solid right tackles in the run game, while McGlinchey might be rated slightly higher in pass protection. They are the same age and will command similar dollars on the market. McGary previously played for Bears’ O-line coach Chris Morgan in Atlanta. Estimated cost: four years, $62 million.
Orlando Brown Jr.: Brown is easily the best left tackle on the market. He’ll be 27 next season, is in the prime of his career and has missed only one game during his five-year career. In this scenario, the Bears probably would bump Braxton Jones to right tackle. Estimated cost: five years, $115 million.
Interior offensive line
The Bears signed Lucas Patrick to play center last offseason, and Patrick spent most of the year injured. With Patrick and guards Cody Whitehair and Teven Jenkins, the interior is most likely going to look the same in 2023. But if Poles did consider an upgrade, here’s a few options.
Garrett Bradbury: The Vikings center is set to hit free agency after the best year of his career. Signing a starting center would give the Bears the option to make Patrick their top backup off the bench at all three interior positions. Estimated cost: three years, $20 million.
Ethan Pocic: Pocic, a Lemont native, played well as the Browns’ center in 13 games last season. He might be the top center available on the free-agent market. He will be 28 next season and has 53 career starts under his belt. Estimated cost: three years, $22 million.