The Chicago Bears entered free agency with the most cap space in the NFL and an intention to use it. They made some of the biggest moves right before and during free agency and helped define the shape of the offseason.
But that doesn’t mean the Bears themselves got better. We grade the Bears’ free agency period overall, as well as their biggest individual moves.
Overall Chicago Bears Free Agency Grade
If we include the pre-free agency move the Bears made to trade the No. 1 overall pick for a heap of draft selections and WR DJ Moore, it’s fair to say that Chicago had one of the more impactful offseasons in the NFL — not just for themselves but for the entire league.
Adding Moore, as well as a variety of starting-level players in free agency, bolstered the defense in a big way and set up the whole team for success. The Bears have a lot of cap space and haven’t been afraid to use it.
Sometimes that turns out poorly, and teams overspend on mediocre free agents, but the Bears have been mostly judicious about their shots and have improved the team.
Bears Trade the No. 1 Overall Pick for 2 Firsts, 2 Seconds, and DJ Moore
The primary goal for the Bears this offseason was more about creating as optimal environment possible to evaluate QB Justin Fields fully and fairly than it was about finding the shortest path to winning games. To that end, the trade that sent the No. 1 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers for the ninth pick with some additional selections along the way and a top-end receiver was a great move.
With Moore and a bushel of picks, the Bears not only have a receiving corps with enormous upside in Moore, Darnell Mooney, and Chase Claypool — whose ceiling they hope to re-unlock this year — but also the potential to add more receivers and fill out their offensive line. They more than got value with the trade, especially when using new-school analytics-style trade charts.
Chicago Breaks the Bank on Tremaine Edmunds
Tremaine Edmunds played very well last year and was one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL. But 2022 was his only positive in coverage as a defender, and he remains more potential than proven. While he’s a super-athlete and can complement their other linebacker signing with sideline-to-sideline capability, it’s tough to justify his $18 million-per-year price tag.
But the deal isn’t nearly as bad as it looks and spikes in Year 2 in terms of cap hit while never exceeding nine percent of the projected cap. When compared to historical linebacker salaries, this isn’t too bad, and the rare decision to frontload the contract when there’s excess cap space is smart. The Bears never have to get out from under this deal.
T.J. Edwards Signing a Steal
One of the top linebackers in the NFL last year, T.J. Edwards could have signed for substantially more than he actually did with the Bears, a deal worth $19.5 million over three years. It’s an evenly spread out contract that never causes much pain for the Bears, and though Edwards’ athletic limitations prevent him from doing everything a linebacker can do, what he does is valuable, and he did it at a very high level over the past several years.
Bears Overpay DeMarcus Walker
DeMarcus Walker is an alright player who can reliably generate a decent pressure rate on a rotational basis. But he’s never had a full-time role, and although he’s one of the better role players at his position in the NFL, shelling out near-starting value for him is a mistake for a team that needs to make sure they maximize their shots building a core around Fields, whether that’s on offense or defense. We tagged this as one of the worst contracts in free agency.
Nate Davis Shores up Offensive Line
The Bears likely upgraded at guard after the Nate Davis signing, given his good track record as a run blocker and passable track record as a pass protector. But, on the whole, he’s fine and is coming off of his best year — not a guarantee he will continue to play at the acceptable overall level of play he’s managed.
But he’s being paid — even after accounting for structure and the expanding cap — like a high-level free agent. He’s not being paid like an elite player, so it’s not a drastic overpay, but it’s a notable one.
D’Onta Foreman Replaces David Montgomery
The Detroit Lions signed David Montgomery to a great deal, so it was beginning to look like the Bears missed out on an opportunity. But getting D’Onta Foreman on a prove-it deal worth $2 million is arguably better value, even if Foreman isn’t in the same class of back as Montgomery.
He’s had some high highs and low lows, but he can produce and has the athleticism to complement Fields’ style of play. They will need to add more in the running back room than they already have, but this is a great start.
Bears Add Running Back Depth With Travis Homer
The solution at running back for the Bears doesn’t have to be drastic, given the impact that running quarterbacks have on the running game — there’s not much marginal value gained in elite RB play compared to high-end RB play and so on — but there needs to be a baseline, and Travis Homer tests that limit.
The deal is near the league minimum, and it rounds out the running back room without committing too much to a decent pass catcher and inconsistent but largely below-average runner. It’s more a missed opportunity than a bad contract. Even so, it’s only one year of functional guarantees.
Andrew Billings Strengthens the Defensive Line
The Bears felt the impact of not having Eddie Goldman at nose tackle last year and were gashed in the running game as a result. Billings isn’t as good as Goldman was, but he’s a great deal better than who the Bears have had at the position. At $1.5 million and Billings’ history of production in similar systems to the Bears’ means Chicago probably got away with something here.