Ranking the Chicago Bears’ positions of need ahead of NFL free agency

NFL free agency negotiations can begin Monday

Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins in action against Philadelphia Eagles guard Sua Opeta (78) during an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Philadelphia.

The NFL Scouting Combine is over, and the football world is turning its attention to free agency. Players on expiring contracts do not technically become free agents until 3 p.m. Wednesday, but the fireworks will begin Monday.

Teams and agents can begin negotiations at 11 a.m. Monday. The biggest free agency news will begin to leak out Monday.

Even after signing cornerback Jaylon Johnson to a reported four-year, $76 million extension Thursday, the Bears still rank sixth among 32 NFL teams in available salary cap space. General manager Ryan Poles and the Bears will have about $56.3 million to spend after accounting for Johnson’s new salary, per After setting aside money for expected draft picks, the Bears will have about $44.3 million to spend.

If Poles wants to, he can be a big spender once again. He spent handsomely last year when he signed linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (four years, $72 million), linebacker TJ Edwards (three years, $19.5 million), offensive guard Nate Davis (three years, $30 million) and defensive end DeMarcus Walker (three years, $21 million).

He also committed big contracts to tight end Cole Kmet (four years, $50 million) and defensive end Montez Sweat (four years, $98 million), which kick in for the 2024 season.

So where might the Bears spend their $44.3 million? Here’s a few ideas.

Defensive tackle

Best fits: Chris Jones, Christian Wilkins

The Bears feel destined to spend money on the defensive line. The question is whether the money will be spent on an edge rusher or a defensive tackle. Poles’ journey to finding a dominant “3-technique” defensive tackle has been quite a tale. Two years ago, his deal with free agent Larry Ogunjobi fell through for medical reasons. Last year, he passed on stud defensive tackle Jalen Carter in the draft largely because of character concerns.

Now might be the time to finally take a big swing. Yes, the Bears drafted Gervon Dexter with a second-round pick last year, but Dexter is a young player (22 years old) who is developing. Jones and Wilkins are elite defensive tackles who fit exactly what head coach Matt Eberflus wants for his 3-technique. Yes, they would cost north of $20 million per year, but they instantly would turn the Bears’ D-line into one of the best in football. The defensive tackle market is top heavy. It makes sense to either spend big or don’t spend at all.

Defensive end

Best fits: Danielle Hunter, Jonathan Greenard, Bryce Huff, Chase Young

Poles took his big swing at defensive end when he traded for Sweat and subsequently signed him to a monster contract. That doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t make another big splash at the position. The Bears have the cap space to absorb a big contract at either defensive tackle or defensive end, but probably not both. Sweat needs help, and it could be as simple as finding another defensive end to play on the other side.

Hunter, the longtime Vikings pass rusher who had 16.5 sacks last season, is the star of this free agent class. Greenard led Houston with 12.5 sacks last season. Huff and Young are likely more of a bargain but also less of a sure thing.

Washington Commanders wide receiver Curtis Samuel (4) carries the ball against the New York Jets during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J.

Wide receiver

Best fits: Calvin Ridley, Marquise Brown, Gabe Davis, Curtis Samuel

The Bears are in a unique position to potentially draft Caleb Williams at No. 1 and select a receiver at No. 9. Even if they do bring in a top receiver, they need more help at the position. The receiver room looks like this: DJ Moore, Velus Jones Jr. and Tyler Scott. The Bears need to make multiple moves here.

Moore can pretty much do everything. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bears look for both a bigger-bodied receiver and a smaller, faster guy at some point during the offseason. Ridley and Davis are bigger targets. Samuel and Brown are smaller, faster receivers. Poles likely will be cautious with his money at receiver.


Best fits: Quandre Diggs, Xavier McKinney, Jordan Poyer, Julian Blackmon, Jordan Fuller

The Bears cut safety Eddie Jackson last month, creating a hole in the starting lineup. The Bears could find a starter in the draft, but that likely would require drafting a safety pretty high. Free agency feels like a more likely route, although they’re not going to pay top dollar.

Diggs and McKinney are the top safeties on the market and could be expensive. Blackmon or Fuller could be more realistic options. Eberflus and the Colts drafted Blackmon in 2020. Following an Achilles tear in 2021, Blackmon finally looked like himself again in 2023 after having an up-and-down season in 2022.

Running back

Best fits: D’Andre Swift, Austin Ekeler, J.K. Dobbins, Devin Singletary, Antonio Gibson

Yes, Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard are on the market. The Bears are not likely to spend on any of them. Poles comes from a Chiefs organization that hasn’t given out a big running back contract since handing Jamaal Charles a two-year, $18.1 million deal in 2014. Kansas City’s leading rushers during their three Super Bowl seasons were a cheap free agent (Damien Williams) in 2019 and a seventh-round draft pick (Isiah Pacheco) in 2022 and 2023.

The Bears are more likely to spend money on a running back in the mold of D’Onta Foreman, who signed last year for $2 million. They also could look to draft another running back.

Honorable mention: Tight end

Kmet is the only tight end on the roster who played a snap for the offense in 2023. The Bears will sign a tight end, but it probably won’t be a big name.

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.