Bears get DT for 4-3 in former Bengal Larry Ogunjobi
New GM Ryan Poles agreed to terms with Ogunjobi on a three-year, $40.5 million deal. Ogunjobi is coming off foot surgery after suffering an injury in the Bengals’ wild-card win Jan. 15.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles wants to build through the draft and rely more on the second and third waves of free agency than the first. But he also knows he’ll have to pick his spots to splurge.
Poles seemed to do that in a prudent manner Monday when the Bears agreed to terms on a three-year, $40.5 million contract with former Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, sources confirmed. It’s a significant investment (including $26.35 million guaranteed) but at a significant position — Ogunjobi will play the three-technique defensive tackle that is considered the key position on the defensive line, if not the entire 4-3 defense coach Matt Eberflus runs.
Ogunjobi, who will turn 28 in June, filled that upgrade role for the Bengals last year after signing a one-year, $6.2 million contract in free agency after playing his first four NFL seasons with the Browns.
With Ogunjobi as a key part of a revamped defense, the Bengals’ run defense improved from 29th to fifth in yards allowed per game and from 31st to 13th in yards per carry. Ogunjobi had career-best marks of seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits.
The Browns had a similar improvement in run defense with Ogunjobi at tackle — jumping from 30th to ninth in yards per game and from 30th to 12th in yards per carry in 2020 before Ogunjobi, a third-round draft pick out of Charlotte in 2017, left for the Bengals.
The Bears’ risk is more than just the financial investment. The 6-4, 305-pound Ogunjobi is coming off foot surgery after suffering an injury in the Bengals’ wild-card playoff victory against the Raiders on Jan. 15. He missed victories over the Titans and Chiefs and their loss to the Rams in the Super Bowl.
It remains to be seen how soon Ogunjobi will be ready to play — a particularly key factor with the Bears installing a new defense under Eberflus and coordinator Alan Williams. The Bears’ offseason program officially begins April 4. Their first minicamp is April 19 to 21.
In that respect, the signing of Ogunjobi could provide an early indication of how well the Bears’ new regime manages injuries — a bugaboo at times for the Bears under Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy.
With Ogunjobi aboard, Poles and Eberflus continue to quickly put their stamp on the post-Pace roster. The Bears officially released nose tackle Eddie Goldman on Monday. At his best, Goldman, 28, is a better defensive tackle than Ogunjobi — and had two years remaining on his contract.
But Goldman has been a 3-4 nose tackle throughout his six-year NFL career and is coming off a mostly unproductive 2021 season after opting out of the 2020 season because of concerns about the coronavirus. Ogunjobi, who was a nose tackle in college, has more experience at the three-technique and has shown he has the traits Eberflus is looking for in a three-technique.
“You’ve got to be disruptive,” Eberflus said. “No. 1, you’ve got to win your one-on-one matchup. And when they run zone away from you, you’ve got to be able to stay in the ‘B’ gap. It’s that simple. Those are two things we look for, and they come in all shapes and sizes. But explosive athletic ability is the No. 1 trait.”
The Bears also figure to lose Akiem Hicks, who was a candidate to re-sign but is likely to sign elsewhere. He also has done his best work in a 3-4 defense, though a transition to 4-3 -defensive tackle was not out of the -question.
Hicks still plays at a high level. But at 32, with wear-and-tear showing the last three seasons, he’s more likely to land in a defense better-suited to his ability.