NFL free agency officially begins at 3 p.m. Wednesday, 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 coach Matt Eberflus’ defense.
Below are 10 potential options for the Bears’ defense in free agency. These aren’t predictions so much as players who the Bears could take into consideration. With Jaquan Brisker and Eddie Jackson returning, the Bears are set at safety, so that position was not included here.
Note: Contract estimates are based off player valuation at Spotrac.com, OverTheCap.com and Shaw Local’s best educated guess.
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The Bears have a huge need on the edge, but the position doesn’t have a ton of no-brainer options in free agency. New Orleans’ Marcus Davenport probably will get the most money, but he had 0.5 sacks last season.
Frank Clark: The Chiefs released Clark, a three-time Pro Bowler, last week to clear cap space. He had been entering the final year of his two-year, $30 million contract. His 13.5 postseason sacks are third-most in league history. Poles will be quite familiar with the former Chiefs pass rusher. Estimated cost: two years, $30 million.
Justin Houston: Signing a 34-year-old won’t excite anyone, but pairing him with young talent in the draft could be an ideal scenario. Houston had 9.5 sacks last season in 14 games with Baltimore, and he has experience playing for Eberflus. Estimated cost: one year, $5 million.
Dre’Mont Jones: Jones is a somewhat unique option, because he has played both defensive tackle and on the edge. Jones had at least 5.5 sacks in each of the past three seasons. In 13 games last year, he totaled 6.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. At 26, he’s still young and could have room to grow. Estimated cost: four years, $60 million.
Defensive tackle will be another focus for the Bears this offseason. The Commanders tagged Daron Payne, who would’ve been the biggest fish in the pond, but there still are several intriguing options.
Javon Hargrave: His body of work speaks for itself, but Hargrave just turned 30 years old. He’s coming off his best season with 11 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Many teams should want Hargrave; the question becomes who is willing to commit to multiple years? Estimated cost: three years, $60 million.
Dalvin Tomlinson: Snatching Tomlinson would be a win-win, because it would mean he no longer plays for the rival Vikings. At 6-foot-3, 325 pounds, Tomlinson is an absolute space-eater, which is exactly what the Bears have missed since Akiem Hicks left. Estimated cost: three years, $27 million.
Given all that transpired with Roquan Smith last year, it would be a surprise to see the Bears spend big on an off-ball linebacker. Jack Sanborn will return. It could be worthwhile to re-sign Nicholas Morrow, who will come cheap, but the Bears could look to add someone in free agency or the draft.
T.J. Edwards: A hometown hero from from suburban Lake Villa, Edwards will command a hefty contract four years after going undrafted coming out of Wisconsin. Edwards finished last season tied for fifth in the NFL with 159 combined tackles. Estimated cost: four years, $50 million.
Bobby Okereke: Okereke has played in the shadow of Shaquille Leonard in Indianapolis, and the Colts don’t appear to want to pay them both. Okereke has a ton of familiarity with Eberflus’ system. He’s 26 years old and finished last season with 151 combined tackles. Estimated cost: Three years, $27 million.
The Bears most likely aren’t going to spend money at cornerback with Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon and Kindle Vildor all returning. If they did, here are a couple options:
Byron Murphy Jr.: Murphy missed eight games last season for the Cardinals, but in 2021 he totaled four interceptions and 12 passes defended in 16 games. Murphy is just 25 years old, which will be intriguing for teams. Estimated cost: three years, $25 million.
Rock Ya-Sin: Eberflus was the defensive coordinator in Indianapolis when the Colts drafted Ya-Sin. Injuries are a bit of a concern. Ya-Sin hasn’t played more than 13 games since his rookie season in 2019. He has only two interceptions in his career, but he’s considered a versatile coverage man. Estimated cost: three years, $27 million.