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Market Might Have Passed Bears on D-Line

Analysis: Baltimore signing defensive tackle Justin Madubuike to a big contract has set a cash level for the position in free agency that the Bears might not be able to match.

The NFL salary cap and decisions every team must make in free agency could combine to keep the Bears from adding a potentially dominant, necessary piece to their defense.

It works like this: Justin Madubuike's new contract with the Baltimore Ravens and Chris Jones' deal with the Chiefs might wind up keeping the Bears from signing a defensive tackle, namely Miami's Christian Wilkins. The deals reset the market at a higher place, and it won't be an easy decision for the Bears to sign someone at that rate.

If the Bears are to run coach Matt Eberflus' defensive scheme in the desired manner, they require a dominant 3-technique defensive tackle.

They drafted two defensive tackles last year who are still with the team but neither Gervon Dexter nor Zacch Pickens were familiar enough with this style of play for the position to make big rookie impacts.

In fact, it's rare when rookie defensive tackles are at the highest performance levels the way Jalen Carter was for Philadelphia last season.

Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones is a free agent and they need a veteran or a superstar rookie to come into the mix and provide the inside push within their one-gap scheme at 3-technique.

Madubuike was not going to be in the mix for this position as he had a franchise tag, but what he signed for could very well push the Bears out of the market for a free agent replacement at the position. Madubuike got a deal for $75.5 million over four years and $53.5 million guaranteed. Chris Jones got a deal averaging almost $32 million a year.

The Bears are already paying three defensive players big cash along these lines. Montez Sweat's average annual value is $24.5 millon, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds' $18 million and cornerback Jaylon Johnson $19 million. Johnson's deal is structured so it costs the Bears only $13 million this year before going up significantly.

DJ Moore is actually second at $20.63 average annual contract cost but the Bears got him in the second year of his contract and are working off of that. It was structured to cost most before they even had him in 2022, but it's only a $16.05 million yearly cap cost the next two seasons.

Anyway, the Bears are paying out about $25 million more against the cap for defensive contracts this year than offensive contracts. So they're going to run out and sign Miami's Christian Wilkins, whose demands are going to be so much higher now after Madubuike and Jones got their big deals?

They'd have four big contracts on defense. If you based their defensive payout on actual production, T.J. Edwards ought to get a raise as he was the best defensive player over the course of all last season but makes only $6.5 million a year.

But Madubuike reset the market and Jones put the lid on it. Now the rest of the defensive tackles are going to want this kind of cash or more. In Wilkins' case, it going to be more. While the Bears rank among the leaders in available cap space, only a few deals like that are going to eat up their available stack of cash.

It could very well mean re-signing their own free agent, Justin Jones, or looking for a much lower cost veteran 3-technique to help until Dexter and Pickens begin to assert themselves more. 

Either way, it's going into the season once again without that one dominant player at a critical position for the scheme.

If they had a Carter-type defensive tackle available in the draft, it would solve plenty because the cost would be much lowerr.

Instead, the trending top defensive tackle is Texas' Byron Murphy. At 6-foot-1, 292 pounds, he's not the height Eberflus looks for in his 3-techs. The weight isn't a problem. DeForest Buckner was Eberflus' effective 3-technique and is 295 pounds. He's also 6-7. But even height isn't a huge issue. 

The real issue with drafting the best defensive tackle is Murphy is coming out of a 3-4 defense and not the 4-3 one-gap style like the Bears played. So he'd have a transition period just like Dexter and Pickens. 

This Bears defense needs that effective 3-technique now, not a few years. They're ready to go.

The spending on offense needs to increase in relation to the defense, though. 

That's another reason to think they're not likely to be actively looking for a high-priced free agent on defense like Kansas City's Chris Jones or Wilkins.

The end result might be trying to improve the edge rush on both sides while hoping the expertise of new defensive coordinator Eric Washington benefits the young defensive tackles. He was involved greatly in elevating the pass rush at Carolina and Buffalo both as a position coach and as a coordinator.

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