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Bears Free Agency Needs Have Changed

A need-specific ranking of what the Bears should be looking for and where they can find it when free agency begins on Monday.

Much has changed since a look at Bears offseason needs in January.

Eddie Jackson became one of the first safeties in the league-wide trend to cut safeties for cap purposes. Cody Whitehair was dispatched. Ryan Poles tagged Jaylon Johnson and then signed him. Patrick Scales even got signed.

Of course, Justin Fields hasn't been traded yet in anticipations of Caleb Williams being drrafted. This has been going on so long you wonder if they'll still be looking to deal him by the trarding deadling at midseason.

With free agency less than 72 hours away, it's time to revisit Bears offseason needs.

The thing about it is the needs are different for free agency than they are for the draft.

It's easier to find some talent at cost in the marketplace than to select one who falls to you in what basically is a lottery.

Here are the Bears' free agent needs ranked when the unrestricted market opens Monday at 11 a.m. Remember, those signings do not become official until 3 p.m Wednesday.

10. Punter

The inconsistency of Trenton Gill until the last couple games means they need to pick up another punter at least for camp competition.

9. Linebacker

Dylan Cole is a free agent so they'd be looking at a low-cost veteran for fiftth linebacker and special teams player, or they could simply re-sign the real thing.

8. Backup QB

Tyson Bagent is insufficient as a backup if you're going with a rookie quarterback starter. They need someone more experienced, like Colts free agent backup Gardner Minshew or Eagles free agent backup Marcus Mariota. Both will be more costly but they're paying very little for their starter if Williams is the starter.

7. Wide Receiver

Unless they pursue a slot receiver, the need for a wide receiver can more easily and more cheaply be met in the draft. They need two receivers but they also have one they didn't use much in Tyler Scott and their second first-round pick is ideally situated for a top receiver at a far cheaper rate than a high-priced free agent.

6. Safety

They can come up with a safety starter in the draft during Rounds 3 or 4 just as easily as they can find one in free agency. So the lack of urgency and abundant supply makes this less important. And the market is overflowing with free agents at this point as more and more safeties get cut every day for cap purposes. You can just about trip over one when you walk out the front door, there are so many available to replace Eddie Jackson. 

5. Running Back

Rumors of interest in Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs already indicates there is interest in another back to replace D'Onta Foreman. Going after either of those two would be cost more than some other backs. Usually the draft would be a better path because of cost but in this case the running back class in college is regarded by personnel people as sub-par and there are a lot of productive running backs so a large supply means lower prices. They need a back, but it doesn't necessarily have to be Barkley or Jacobs. 

4. Tight End

This ranks more dire than running back because they need two of them. It wouldn't be a shock to see them find both in free agency but defeinitely one. Seattle free agent Colby Parkinson has to be a natural to come to the Bears as a strong blocker and someone with knowledge of Shane Waldron's offense. Noah Fant, the other Seahawks tight end gets mentioned as well but the cost for one of the better pass-catching tight ends might be prohibitive considering how much they already throw to Cole Kmet.

3. Center

The Bears are well positioned in the draft to nab a wide receiver with the ninth pick or to move back in Round 1 and take someone from the next group of receivers like Brian Thomas Jr. or Keon Coleman. If they don't take a receiver with their second pick, they could be looking at a third-round receiver and the success rate for receivers taken after Round 2 in the last six years is nowhere near as good as in the first or second round. And they don't have a second-round pick. So if they use the second pick of Round 1 on a wide receiver and sign a good pass-rushing free agent tackle, their need for a pass-rushing edge wouldn't be as great. They could look to use their first third-round pick on a center, which is a real need. Sure, they traded a fifth-round pick for Ryan Bates but an acquisition for a fifth-rounder can't be considered Pro Bowl material or even a starter. He's good depth and could start until a rookie center was ready but not a long-term answer. There are free agent centers ranging from high-priced Lloyd Cushenberry, Andre James, Tyler Biadasz and Connor Williams to Aaron Brewer and Evan Brrown, who was in Shane Waldron's offense at Seattle.

2. Defensive End

It doesn't rate No. 1 because they can get an edge rusher in the draft, as well. They aren't going to get an interior defensive lineman who makes a big immediate impact like Jalen Carter did last season. Those types of players are not as readily available in this draft. And it usually takes a few years to develop interior defensive linemen. But there are ends in free agency and the draft both expensive Danielle Hunter, Chase Young and Jonathan Greenard and less expensive like Carl Lawson and A.J. Epenesa.

1. Defensive Tackle

Whether it's Chris Jones, Christian Wilkins, maybe even Sbeldon Rankins, the Bears must get a veteran 3-technique tackle signed.

When they left off with the development of Gervon Dexter and also Zacch Pickens, neither was at the level yet of Justin Jones. And Jones wasn't good enough to automatically be signed by the Bears. It's going to cost plenty to target either of the top two defensive tackles. After that, the investment would be smaller as would the return on investment.

The biggest problem the Bears face here is there are few 3-technique types. There are more classic noses or 1-techniques than 3-techniques. It could quickly become a situation where they must re-sign Justin Jones if they're not looking to spend something close to what Montez Sweat makes to get Wilkins, or much more for Chris Jones.

One good thing about pursuing Chris Jones would be they wouldn't need another pass-rushing end because he can slide outside or rush from inside and be a threat.

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