Bears need DE Montez Sweat to be game-changer Sunday — and for years to come

The absence of a pass rush has undermined any progress Ryan Poles has made rebuilding the defense. Sweat can be the first step toward fixing that.

SHARE Bears need DE Montez Sweat to be game-changer Sunday — and for years to come
A photo of Montez Sweat warming up before a game.

Montez Sweat has 35 1⁄2 sacks in 4 1⁄2 seasons.

Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Defensive end Montez Sweat has been a good player. But when the Bears debut their newest addition Sunday against the Saints, they need him to be great.

Big picture, they’re banking on Sweat — who arrived Wednesday from the Commanders and practiced twice — to change their entire defense. The Bears have had the weakest pass rush in the NFL the last two seasons, and it has crippled them. The priority list for any general manager building a roster is, first, to find a quarterback and, second, to find someone who wrecks everyone else’s. The delays in Ryan Poles solving those problems have been exhausting, with shortfalls in those areas the biggest reasons the Bears are 5-20 in their last 25 games.

At quarterback, Poles has gone the reasonable route of trying to develop Justin Fields. There should be resolution on that by the end of this season: Either Fields proves he’s the guy or Poles uses a high draft pick, possibly No. 1, to bring in the next candidate in April.

Poles has sought to supercharge the pass rush, too, but claims the opportunities simply haven’t lined up. That’s ironic, of course, because he inherited potential Hall of Fame linebacker Khalil Mack when he took the job — although the more prudent path for a rebuilding team was to escape Mack’s massive contract and stockpile draft picks.

Elite pass rushers usually aren’t available in free agency, a reality that factored into Poles trading a 2024 second-round pick — currently slotted at No. 35 overall — to the Commanders for Sweat.

It’s also hard to get elite pass rushers in the draft without a really high pick. The Bears didn’t have a first-round selection in Poles’ first year in 2022, and this year he traded down from No. 1 to No. 9 because he preferred what the Panthers offered: an extra 2024 first-round pick, an extra 2025 second-round pick and wide receiver DJ Moore. That put the Bears out of reach of Alabama defensive end Will Anderson (No. 3 overall, Texans) and Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson (No. 7, Raiders). Perhaps Poles will feel differently about his decision once it’s clear how good those two are.

From his perspective, Poles has addressed the problems he could whenever the opportunities matched the Bears’ resources. He spent on right guard Nate Davis and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in free agency, filling needs, and used his first- and second-round draft picks at right tackle and defensive tackle and in the secondary — again, all glaring needs.

But the progress he has made has been undercut by the absence of a pass rush. The secondary, for example, is loaded with talent and arguably the Bears’ strongest unit. But the cornerbacks and safeties have to hold their coverage longer than most because the defense pressures quarterbacks just 16.7% of the time — second-to-last in the NFL.

That’s where the Bears need Sweat to have a ripple effect.

Over the last season and a half — the entirety of the Poles-Eberflus era — the Bears are last in the league with 30 sacks and 141 pressures in 25 games. Not surprisingly, they also have given up the second-highest completion percentage (68.1) and passer rating (97.1) over that span, and from there it’s predictable that they’ve allowed a league-worst 27.2 points per game.

The need for someone like Sweat, who has 35½ sacks in 4½ seasons, is urgent but also long-term. The future of the defensive line should be rookie tackles Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens in the middle, with Sweat and a high draft pick on the outside.

That’s why an extension for Sweat is near certain — it would be nonsensical for the 2-6 Bears to give up such a high pick for merely a rental. So it’s a huge investment, and Poles gets his first peek at the return Sunday.

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