Bears free-agent primer: Analyzing their needs, money and more

Starting at 11 a.m. Monday, the Bears’ new general manager — and the other 31 around the league — will be allowed to negotiate with agents of soon-to-be free agents. They can agree to deals and then, when the league year starts Wednesday at 3 p.m., sign them.

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Bears general manager Ryan Poles speaks about what the he hopes to bring to the Bears organizations during a press conference at Halas Hall, Monday Jan. 31, 2022. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Anthony Vazquez, Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Ryan Poles is on the clock.

Starting at 11 a.m. Monday, the Bears’ new general manager — and the other 31 around the league — will be allowed to negotiate with agents of soon-to-be free agents. They can agree to deals and then, when the league year starts Wednesday at 3 p.m., sign them.

Some of the Bears’ most recognizable veterans are unlikely to return: defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, receiver Allen Robinson, quarterback Andy Dalton and tight end Jimmy Graham are all free agents. Linebacker Danny Trevathan is likely to join running back Tarik Cohen and defensive tackle Eddie Goldman on the list of players the Bears are cutting.

Poles’ trade of Khalil Mack to the Chargers for draft picks this week shows that he acknowledges what the rest of the league sees — that the Bears’ roster is in need of an overhaul. How much of that overhaul will come by signing free agents? Will he make another trade or two?

Look for the Bears to invest in free agents who can help their second-year quarterback, starting with blockers and pass-catchers. Poles said earlier this month the Bears will focus on “maximizing that second and third wave of free agency and making sure that we get the right type of players in.”

Here’s a primer for Poles’ busy week ahead:

Cap space

The Bears have money to spend.

The NFLPA’s public salary cap report lists the Bears with $22.7 million in cap space, which is the 14th most in the league. But once the team processes the Khalil Mack trade Wednesday — and the release of nose tackle Eddie Goldman and running back Tarik Cohen — that number will climb to $36.9 million, the fifth-most in the NFL, per They’ll have a lot of holes to fill: the Bears have 47 players under contract in that accounting, the fewest in the NFL.

Dead cap, too

The Bears will pay an estimated $48.64 million in dead cap charges ibn 2022, per — the most in the NFL. Those charges are made up of future unpaid guaranteed salary or past signing bonuses that haven’t already been accounted for in the cap.

In agreeing to trade Khalil Mack, they’ll still pay $24 million in dead cap charges — the most ever for someone who doesn’t play quarterback. Cutting Goldman and Cohen costs $8.6 million, though those figures could change if the team designates either as a post-June 1 cut for accounting reasons.

Other charges the Bears will pay for players not on their roster: $5 million for Andy Dalton, $4.6 million for Jimmy Graham, $2.8 million for Charles Leno and $1.5 million for Germain Ifedi.

Ranking the Bears’ needs:

  1. Offensive line. Justin Fields was sacked on 11.76 percent of his dropbacks last year, the third-highest single-season clip of any quarterback with at least 200 attempts since 2010.
  2. Wide receiver. Darnell Mooney and Dazz Newsome are the only receivers under contract in 2022 who caught a pass last year.
  3. Cornerback. Nickel cornerback is one of the three most important spots in an Eberflus defense. The Bears don’t have one of those. Or an outside corner to put opposite Jaylon Johnson.
  4. Defensive line. Mack and Goldman are out, Robert Quinn could be, and Hicks and Bilal Nichols are likely headed elsewhere in free agency.
  5. Linebacker. The Bears need a strong-side linebacker and someone to play either middle- or weak-side, depending on where they line up Roquan Smith.
  6. Tight end. Cole Kmet and Jesper Horsted are the only tight ends under contract next season.
  7. Safety. Four, including Tashaun Gipson, are set for free agency. Eddie Jackson, who remains, has a lot to prove.
  8. Specialist. The Bears could lose Pro Bowl returner Jakeem Grant, punter Pat O’Donnell and snapper Patrick Scales.
  9. Quarterback. Nick Foles is fine backup — unless anyone else wants him.
  10. Running back. David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert were dynamic last year.

Bears market

Below are Bears players slated to become unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents or exclusive-rights free agents Wednesday. The Bears have the right of first refusal on restricted free agents. Exclusive-rights free agents can’t negotiate with other teams.

Included is each player’s 2021 average annual salary, per All players are UFAs unless noted:


QB: Andy Dalton ($10M)

WR: Allen Robinson ($17.8M), Marquise Goodwin ($1.21M), Damiere Byrd ($1.13M)

RB: Damien Williams ($1.5M), RFA Ryan Nall ($850,000)

TE: Jimmy Graham ($8M), Jesse James ($1.65M), RFA JP Holtz ($850,000)

OL: Germain Ifedi ($4.25M), Jason Peters ($1.75M), James Daniels ($1.74M), Elijah Wilkinson ($1.13M), RFA Alex Bars ($850,000)


DL: Akiem Hicks ($12M), Bilal Nichols ($689,871)

LB: Christian Jones ($1.21M), Alec Ogletree ($1.08M), Joel Iyiegbuniwe ($784,644)

CB: Artie Burns ($990,000)

S: Tashaun Gipson ($2.55M), Deon Bush ($1.5M), DeAndre Houston-Carson ($1.13M), RFA Teez Tabor ($850,000)


KR/PR Jakeem Grant ($2.3M), P Pat O’Donnell ($1.75M), LS Patrick Scales ($1.13M)

WRs to watch

Five free-agent receivers that make sense for the Bears:

  1. Cardinals’ Christian Kirk — He can stretch the field from the slot — and is likely going to get overpaid.
  2. Packers’ Marquez Valdes-Scantling — New offensive coordinator Luke Getsy knows him from Green Bay. Two years ago, he led the NFL with 20.8 yards per catch.
  3. Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster — He played only five games last season before having shoulder surgery.
  4. Falcons’ Russell Gage — He has 138 catches for 1,556 yards over the last two seasons.
  5. Jaguars’ D.J. Chark — He’s coming off a broken ankle and needs a change of scenery.

Where’s Mitch going?

Believe it or not, Mitch Trubisky might be the most coveted free agent quarterback this offseason — or at least near the top of a list that includes Jameis Winston and Teddy Bridgewater.

The former Bears first-round pick threw only eight passes for the Bills last year, but these teams without a starter can squint and see what they want:

  1. Giants — He already knows head coach Brian Daboll’s offense from their year together in Buffalo. He could push Daniel Jones — and vice versa. The two share a skillset.
  2. Saints — They could prefer a reunion with Winston or Bridgewater, who have each played in New Orleans before.
  3. Steelers — They might be hunting for bigger fish. But Trubisky can beat out Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins and Josh Dobbs.

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