The Chicago Bears’ aggressive start to free agency has a common thread – young players entering their early years – The Mercury News


Ryan Poles wanted to pay Roquan Smith last summer – he just didn’t want to get the $20 million annual salary the linebacker wanted. Thus, the Chicago Bears opened 2023 free agency by spending even more money on the position.

The Bears agreed to four players on Monday after the two-day trading window opened, leading to the official start of free agency at 3 p.m. Headlining is Tremaine Edmunds, who the Buffalo Bills drafted with the 16th pick in 2018 — eight spots after the Bears drafted Smith.

Edmunds figures as the weakside linebacker alongside new middle linebacker TJ Edwards, who also agreed to terms. This makes Jack Sanborn a likely candidate to play on the strong side. The Bears also reached a deal with guard Nate Davis, the first piece in the offensive line overhaul, and defensive end DeMarcus Walker.

The Poles have talked about being calculated in free agency, and the first three signings have at least one significant trait in common: They all seem to be heading into the early years of their careers. That’s critical for a team like the Bears who aren’t a piece or two away from serious contention.

Edmunds, a former Virginia Tech star who rose through the last five seasons with the Bills, was the youngest player in his recruiting class, selected a week before his 20th birthday. He turns 25 in May.

Edwards, a Lake Villa native and Wisconsin alum who led the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles in tackles last season, turns 27 in August. Davis doesn’t turn 27 until September, so the Bears could stay young even with a strong push in free agency.

The Bears are banking on Edmunds’ skills being unlocked in coach Matt Eberflus’ scheme, which explains the four-year, $72 million contract with $41.8 million fully guaranteed. That $18 million annual average isn’t far off what Smith sought and ended up earning from the Baltimore Ravens after being traded mid-season.

Edwards’ three-year contract is worth $19.5 million, so the Bears have two linebackers at $24.5 million a year and a Ravens second-round pick over Smith at $20 million a year.

Whenever Eberflus references the meaning of player length, Edmunds is ideal. He is six feet tall, 250 pounds, and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds in the reconnaissance combine.

“Incredible range for a big man,” said one veteran scout. “It can swallow targets in the coverage zone because of its size. Instant impact skill and he played in a heavy zone scheme. Bigger, faster than anything they had in Chicago.

Edwards went from an undrafted rookie in Philadelphia to a rock in the middle of one of the best defenses in the league. He’s especially strong against the run and had some ball production with seven passes broken up last season, so the Bears now have a pair of durable, proven second-tier players.

Davis has started 54 games over the past four seasons for the Tennessee Titans and has a strong drop and anchor, making him strong at pass protection. As successful as the Titans are on the ball, he appears to be in good form and, as an athletic player, could project himself to play left guard.

If so, Cody Whitehair’s future could be up in the air. The Bears could save $9.9 million off the salary cap by designating Whitehair as a post-June 1 cut.

Unanswered is what the Bears will do on the defensive line to keep offensive linemen away from their linebackers. Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave agreed to a four-year, $84 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers; Dre’Mont Jones of the Denver Broncos has agreed to a three-year, $51.5 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks; and Zach Allen of the Arizona Cardinals replaced Jones at Denver for $45.75 million over three years. All three were potential three techniques for the Eberflus defense and now they are off the board.

It’s possible the Bears will rotate and sign an easier-to-find nose tackle and make a disruptive penetrating defensive tackle a priority in the draft. They got off to a small start in improving their meager passing rush, adding Walker in a three-year, $21 million contract with $16 million guaranteed. The 28-year-old had a career-high seven sacks and 16 QB hits, throwing 37% of snaps for the Titans last season.

Walker, a 2017 Broncos second-round pick, is joining his fourth team. He had 12½ sacks and 23 QB hits in his first five seasons. There wasn’t a lot of talent in the market, and that remains an issue the Bears need to address.

Multiple sources said the Bears were involved in talks with 49ers right back Mike McGlinchey before he secured a five-year, $87.5 million deal with the Broncos. One source said the Bears’ offer for McGlinchey came to around $17 million a year.

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Jawaan Taylor, the other premium offensive tackle on the market, has signed a four-year, $80 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.

So the Bears have pressing needs on the defensive line and more work to do on the offensive line, but getting wide receiver DJ Moore in Friday’s trade from the No. 1 draft pick to the Carolina Panthers added a veteran in a position of need. , and the team has four of the top 64 picks, starting with No. 9.

“They have young players and that’s always critical in free agency unless you’re hunting that veteran you need to fill the only gap you have,” said a personnel director. “But if you’re going to sign Edmunds, why sign Edwards? Why dump that amount of money on your linebackers when you don’t have any players up front?

“When your roster is deficient in talent, your hands can be forced into free agency. They had to be aggressive and they were. Ultimately they have some guys that should help them compete.”


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