New GM Ryan Poles laid out his plans for the Chicago Bears in no uncertain terms. He wants to build this roster through the NFL draft and will be selective in free agency. In other words, the idea moving forward is to not spend like crazy on the veteran market anymore. An understandable idea. Teams that focus on the draft tend to have more long-term success than those that don’t.
Still, Poles finds himself in a tricky spot. He only has five picks in the upcoming 2022 draft. That is not a lot to work with, and he doesn’t exactly have too many methods available to acquire more. So he may have to dabble in free agency a little more than he’d like this year. That doesn’t mean he can’t find favorable bargains in the right places.
This upcoming cycle, Pro Football Focus did a terrific piece on the top 200 free agents. Among the information provided was contract projections. Using that information, here are six names that fit some of the Bears’ biggest needs and would be seen as affordable.
Chicago Bears free agent targets based on the price tags
Bradley Bozeman (C)
“Contract Projection: Three years, $21 million ($7M per year), $10 million total guaranteed”
Sam Mustipher was a stabilizing presence at center in 2020 for the Bears. However, it became clear in 2021 that his physical limitations were too much to ignore. He isn’t big enough or strong enough. Bozeman was a solid presence in the middle for the Baltimore Ravens, allowing just 21 pressures on Lamar Jackson in 16 games. He also established himself as a decent run blocker as well. Not a star by any means but a minor upgrade over what the Bears have.
Laken Tomlinson is a genuinely good guy. Here, he gives Darius Leonard a free ride to a local pumpkin patch. Selfless. pic.twitter.com/6wjQ3IftLT
— KP (@KP_Show) October 26, 2021
Laken Tomlinson (OG)
“Contract Projection: Three years, $27 million ($9M per year, $16.5 million total guaranteed)”
With Luke Getsy becoming the new offensive coordinator in Chicago, expectations are he will install a variation of the popular Shanahan offense. A wide zone blocking scheme. To accomplish this, it requires capable offensive linemen that are smart and can move well. Tomlinson just made the Pro Bowl under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. So it feels like a safe bet he’d be an excellent fit for what the Bears want to do. He just turned 30-years old, so he should have a few more good years in him.
Christian Kirk (WR)
“Contract Projection: Three years, $35 million ($11.67M per year, $24M total guaranteed)”
Many think that Kirk has never been used properly by the Arizona Cardinals since he was drafted in the 2nd round. His skillset seems ideal for a top slot receiver, but the team rarely employs him as such. Despite all of that, Kirk still had a career season in 2021, posting 982 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He is not a #1 target, but he could still bring excellent value to an offense in desperate need of good receivers. He and Darnell Mooney could make for a fun tandem.
Kyler Murray goes deep to Christian Kirk and connects for an 80-yard TD. What a grab in full stride by Kirk. #Cardinals are up 21-0. pic.twitter.com/D6iDhK3Chi
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) October 20, 2020
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR)
“Contract Projection: One year, $8 million”
Last season was a frustrating one for Smith-Schuster. It felt like coming out of 2020 that he was rediscovering what made him such a promising target in Pittsburgh, posting 831 yards and nine touchdowns. Then he injured his shoulder after just five games, missing the rest of the regular season. It is difficult to know how much of his regression since his Pro Bowl season in 2018 was him and how much was a mix of questionable coaching and the decline of Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, hence why his price tag appears so low.
Anthony Walker Jr. (LB)
“Contract Projection: Two years, $8 million ($4M per year), $5.25 million total guaranteed”
Somebody that new Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberflus is familiar with. Walker was a capable middle linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts from 2018 through 2020. Many on the team, including All-Pro Darius Leonard, were sad to see him leave as a free agent last year given his value as a leader on the field. His athleticism, range, and intelligence showed up often, especially in coverage. He was a big part of Cleveland’s significant improvement from 22nd in pass defense to 5th last year. Walker would make perfect sense if the Bears plan to move Roquan Smith to outside linebacker.
Darious Williams (CB)
“Contract Projection: Three years, $40M ($13.33M per year, $22.5 million total guaranteed)”
One of the unsung heroes of the world champion Los Angeles Rams. Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey get all the hype, but Williams was a big part of their defensive success the past few years. Despite being only 5’9, he is sticky in coverage with a good eye for the football and proved to be reliable as a run defender. With the Chicago Bears shifting towards a zone-style defense under Eberflus, somebody like Williams would be a good fit. This team needs another reliable corner outside of Jaylon Johnson.
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