The NFL’s first wave of free agency passes quickly, and most of the big deals are closed in the trade period, which takes about two weeks of haggling before teams reassess and turn their focus to the draft.
The Chicago Bears haven’t missed a beat as they shift from bigger acquisitions like linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and TJ Edwards and guard Nate Davis to more modest additions like tight end Robert Tonyan, nose tackle Andrew Billings and running back D’ Onta Foreman, all of whom signed contracts Friday.
All figure to be in a position to play significant roles. Tonyan offers a lot more as a receiver than last year’s No. 2 tight end Ryan Griffin. Tonyan has the added benefit of knowing the offense as well as any outsider, based on his time in Green Bay with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.
Billings, who will earn $3.5 million on a one-year deal, projects himself as the starting base defense, a capable player who was needed if the Bears hoped Edmunds and Edwards would get a chance to shine.
Foreman is coming off the best season of his career with the Carolina Panthers and enters a position that needs to replace the 201 carries David Mongtomery had in 2022.
General Manager Ryan Poles spent most of his time as a free agent last year at the thrift store, and what turned into a 3-14 team pretty much got what he paid for. Fullback Khari Blasingame and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown were re-signed after playing on one-year contracts. They made modest contributions. None of the free agents the Bears had were home runs, and wide receiver Byron Pringle and defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad both flopped.
The Bears should get a lot more from rookies this year. Edmunds and Edwards will hope to lead a defensive turnaround. Davis is a solid addition to the lineup’s interior. The baseline additions that follow – Tonyan, Billings and Foreman – need to be more effective for the team to fill key roles with more than substitute-level players.
Looks like Getsy did a good job selling Tonyan on how he would fit in with what they’re doing.
“That offense goes to tight ends, whether it’s blocking, passing, whatever,” Tonyan said Friday. “Cole is a great tight end. He’s big, he’s strong, and I think adding that – that can complement me and him. I’m super excited. We haven’t really talked in detail because it’s early days, but I’m excited to get into this building and get things rolling and just be part of a team that’s moving up in the right direction.”
Billings, who started 14 games for the Las Vegas Raiders last season, is comfortable knowing he will be asked to coach.
“That’s how I was introduced to the NFL when I played four years with the Bengals,” he said. “So it’s something I know I can do and I see myself fitting in really well.”
Billings has a compact, powerful frame at 6’10”, 311 pounds, and while it won’t help a fast pass that still needs a total overhaul, it can push the pocket. One scout said he played with good footwork and lateral movement last season. He and DeMarcus Walker consider it to be just the beginning of a renovation on the line that may need another offseason to complete.
For a running back who entered the league in 2017, Foreman has low mileage. He had a career-high 203 rushes for 914 yards and five touchdowns, becoming the top defensive back at Carolina after Christian McCaffrey was traded. He’s a physical downhill runner at 6-1, 236, and the Bears could have a productive tandem with Khalil Herbert, especially considering the small investment — Foreman is on a one-year, $3 million contract.
Foreman didn’t have much work to do because of bad luck with an injury. He suffered a torn Achilles tendon as a rookie with the Houston Texans in 2017. In Indianapolis in 2019, he suffered a torn biceps. But he managed 133 carries at Tennessee in 2021 and has done even better with more opportunities for the Panthers.
“I can’t speak for the coaches and the plan they have,” Foreman said on Friday. “I came here to try to be the guy. If I didn’t come here with that mindset, I would be doing myself a disservice. I think I would be doing the team a disservice. With all due respect, humble trust, without trying to make it sound like anything other than exactly what it is. It’s just me being confident in myself and feeling like I could come in and be the guy and be a guy that people count on and that I can help us win.
“I didn’t come here to take a back seat. I’m a team guy. I want to do anything I can to help in whatever role they put me in, but coming here with the mindset of wanting to be the guy, wanting to be a person who can help this team and make a lot of plays for this team. I know that’s my mindset and I plan on doing that.”
If Foreman and a few other smaller signings the Poles make in free agency can “be the guy,” that will be added to a free agent class with players expected be the guy.
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