Just as it is on the offensive side of the ball with the wide Receiver position the Bears greatest need and the topic most commonly discussed among fans and media members is the outside Linebacker/Edge Defender position. The Bears cut Willie Young and Pernell McPhee and Sam Ocho and Lamarr Houston are both Free Agents so it’s beyond merely upgrading the position. They’re devoid of bodies to fill the depth chart at that position. The latter two are certainly candidates to return. Both actually played well and statistically were among the most productive of all the Free Agents at the position.
The player the Bears may target as their top priority at the position in Free Agency is Jeremiah Attaochu. He had a very productive 2015 and was a combine star coming out of his draft season. In 2016 he went on injured reserve with a broken foot, and last season struggled with hamstring injuries early on. He eventually fell out of favor with the chargers and appeared in only 4 games with most of his DNP’s being healthy scratches. However, he is young and oozing with potential so he does fit the profile for what Pace will be looking for in Free Agency. Vic Fangio may be able to get his potential realized under his tutelage.
another player who has yet to realize his potential and may flourish under Fangio is Barkevious Mingo. He is similar to Leonard Floyd in build and athleticism and may benefit from a stout interior like the Bears have as well as another top-flight Edge on the other side.
Junior Galette is another guy the Bears may target and someone Ryan Pace is intimately familiar with as he was in New Orleans when Galette was drafted. He’s had a productive career. He dropped off some last year, but is still only 29 and should have some good years ahead of him.
Other names to keep an eye on are Akeem Ayers, Larentee McCray, Connor Barwin, Elvis Dumervil and Tahir Whitehead. However, expect the Bears to draft an edge defender high and likely dip into that position at least once more in the draft. That’s where their most likely difference maker comes from.
The Bears are pretty good here as they have Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski on the roster and both played well last season. They also have John Timu and Jon Anderson there as well. Of course, injury is always a concern with Trevathan so expect them to acquire at least one more guy. Starting with bringing back one of their own Free Agents. Christian Jones is a very productive backup who fills a lot of roles and is a special teams fixture. Expect him to return. I don’t expect them to go after anyone of note at this spot in Free Agency, but Zach Brown is available and he is a big-time difference maker should the Bears decide to add a speedy Linebacker that can cover.
This has become a position of need as the Bears need bodies as well as upgrades at the position. Kyle Fuller has the Transition tag put on him but can negotiate with other teams and be offered a contract that the Bears could match but it’s very possible he gets priced out of the Bears price range. Their Cornerbacks played well last year. However, Bryce Callahan and Prince Amukamara are both Free Agents and are candidates to return. Both were solid and Callahan spectacular when he does play. That’s the big issue with him. Availability. The Bears could opt to go after Patrick Robinson to man the slot. He has been productive and among the best Nickel corners in the league. The two big fish on the outside will be Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler but both will be pricey. I am a fan of them going after Johnson myself.
Other names to keep an eye on at corner are Jonathan Joseph, Brent Grimes, David Amerson, Davon House, and the Bears very own Free Agent Sherrick McMannis who is likely to be offered a contract for special teams as much as anything else.
At safety, the Bears had a resurgence with Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos playing well and appear to be set with the starters. They also have Deon Bush, Deandre Houston-Carson as well as Deiondre Hall on the roster so they have the bodies. However, if they do decide to cut someone loose and upgrade the draft is the likely route here as they’ll be looking for backups. However, for shits and giggles here are some names at Safety that will be available for the Bears. Morgan Burnett, T.J. Ward, Nate Allen, Kenny Vaccaro, Ed Reid and Jairus Byrd.
This is another position group I don’t think the Bears will spend big on in the Free Agent market. There were reports out there that the Bears were close to an extension for Eddie Goldman and it’s more likely they’ll bring back their own Free Agent as their primary interior Defensive Lineman backup in Mitch Unrein. However, there are a lot of names out there the Bears can go with at both Defensive End and Tackle in their 3-4 hybrid scheme. It starts with a couple of ex-Jets in Sheldon Richardson and Mohammed Wilkerson. Richardson has had problems off the field and disruptive in the locker room and Wilkerson after getting paid has disappeared so expect both to get incentive laden deals should they sign either of them.
The Bears own Free Agent John Jenkins is also a candidate to return. He played well and is familiar with the system. Other intriguing names available are Dontari Poe, Bennie Logan, Nick Fairley, Alan Branch, Star Lotulilei, Dominique Easley, Ricky Jean Francois and Courtney Upshaw.
Special Teams: The Bears need to fill the Kicker and Punter spots. It’s likely the Bears bring back Pat O’Donnel as the punter as he’s been steady and productive and still is young enough to last another 5 seasons at top production. Even though they have Patrick Scales at Long snapper on the roster his contract is not guaranteed and it’s possible they return Andrew DePaola to compete with Scales in camp who did a respectable job replacing Scales after he was placed on injured reserve.
As for kicker that’s been a problem area since the Bears decided to move on from fan favorite Robbie Gould. That’s a position that is an absolute must to be filled with someone who can be reliable and bring some longetivty. The Bears may even use a late pick on one just to solve that spot once and for all. Certainly signing a priority free agent is a consideration. However, their own free agent Mike Nuget is certainly a guy they may bring back. Not much else out there other than the very old Sebastian Janikowski.