By Michael Fitzpatrick
The Chicago Bears had quite a few needs entering this offseason, and they’ve addressed some of them. They added a quarterback, even though it wasn’t the player the fan base wanted. They brought back Germain Ifedi and Alex Bars to boost depth on the offensive line, and Damien Williams was added to the backfield. Most importantly, Cairo Santos, Pat O’Donnell, and Patrick Scales were brought back to keep the Bears’ field goal unit intact—the Bears need all the advantages they can get when it comes to the kicking game.
However, Ryan Pace still has moves to make if he wants the Bears to be competitive next year. Here are three areas of the team in need of a boost either via free agency or the 2021 NFL Draft.
Anthony Miller’s departure from Chicago has been rumored since almost immediately after he was ejected from the Bears’ playoff loss to the for punching Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and it seems a trade is imminent at this point. Javon Wims, who was also ejected from a game last season for punching Gardner-Johnson, is likely on his way out as well. Riley Ridley has 10 career catches, so behind Allen Robinson II and Darnell Mooney, the cupboard is pretty bare at receiver for Chicago. Luckily the Bears have plenty of options to add with the No. 20 pick in the draft.
Mooney’s blazing speed added an element to the Bears’ passing game that they hadn’t had in years. Toney can add that as well. Slot receiver is where the Bears should be looking to fill out their receiving corps, and that is likely Toney’s ideal role early in his career. His versatility as a ball-carrier as well as a receiver can make him a weapon in a variety of areas for Matt Nagy to utilize. This past season at Florida, Toney caught 70 passes for 984 yards and 10 scores. He also carried the ball 19 times for 161 yards (8.5 ypc) and another touchdown.
Moore is similar to Toney in that he is best suited for the slot due to his size and was used in multiple different ways on offense in college. He was an effective returner in college, which could help mitigate the anticipated loss of Cordarrelle Patterson as well. Moore has only played seven games in the last two seasons due to injuries, though. If Moore can stay healthy, he’s a home-run pick at No. 20 for the Bears; that’s just a big if.
Chad Hansen (free agency)
Moving over to an inexpensive player on the free agent market, Bears fans should recognize Hansen’s name—he had seven catches against the Bears in their December game against the Houston Texans. Hansen came out of nowhere last season for the Texans after Will Fuller’s suspension. He played the final five games and caught 17 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown. That is on pace for 58 catches, 802 yards, and three touchdowns over a 17-game season. The Bears have very little cap space available, so adding a cheap option with upside like Hansen to take over in the slot seems like a good fit.
Signing Robert Quinn to a five-year, $70 million deal proved to be an unmitigated disaster for the Bears. To add insult to injury, Leonard Floyd signed with the Rams for a much cheaper $10 million and had more than five times as many sacks as Quinn. Khalil Mack needs help. James Vaughters or Quinn aren’t going to take enough attention away from Mack to allow him to be successful.
Vernon quietly got back to his old ways last season with nine sacks. He certainly benefited from playing with Myles Garrett and the attention that he garners. Bringing Vernon to the Windy City and allowing him to rush opposite Mack could create similar results when Vernon returns to full health. It certainly couldn’t be worse than Quinn’s two sacks.
Kerrigan quietly still puts up solid numbers even in the twilight of his career. He only played 38% of the defensive snaps for the Washington Football Team and still managed to get 5.5 sacks. The decreased snap count is a product of his age, but Washington also had a very deep group of defensive linemen, which took snaps away from Kerrigan. The Bears are not nearly as deep up front, so there would be more chances for Kerrigan. Even if he doesn’t play a lot, he can be a mentor for young guys like Vaughters and Trevis Gipson, while still being productive when he plays.
Quincy Roche (draft)
The Bears would probably be smart to add a veteran edge rusher to avoid hoping a rookie can jump right in and help out Mack, but if they do go the rookie route, grabbing Roche in the second or third round would be smart. Roche isn’t the biggest EDGE in the class, but he’s one of the smartest and most fundamentally sound. He has a wide variety of moves that he uses well off the edge and is serviceable in the run game. Those traits will allow him to be productive from day one. He has a ton of experience in college playing as a stand-up edge, too. His college production is impressive, 30.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles in 45 games. Roche’s experience and smarts make him a good fit on day two for the Bears because he can step in right away and be an effective player.
James Daniels, Charles Leno Jr., and Cody Whitehair have starting spots locked up on the Bears’ O-line, but only Leno Jr. has his position, left tackle, set in stone. Leno Jr. isn’t a world-beater at left tackle, but the Bears could do a lot worse. Whitehair has played center for most of his career with the Bears but late last season he moved to left guard and it revitalized the Bears’ running game. Sam Mustipher slid into the center spot and performed admirably, and likely secured himself the starting job this season. Then Daniels fits in at left guard and Whitehair bounces to right guard.
That leaves right tackle open. Of the guys currently on roster, Germain Ifedi would be the starting right tackle, but given his struggles in that role in Seattle, it doesn’t seem wise to bank on him for consistent play. The Bears have to explore other options to figure out their right tackle position.
Mayfield seems like the perfect answer to the Bears’ tackle problems if they can’t grab someone like Christian Darrisaw at No. 20. Even though he was raw, Mayfield held up well as a young right tackle at Michigan against NFL-caliber pass rushers in the Big Ten. He could slot in and start at right tackle on day one, while the Bears groom him to eventually take over for Leno Jr. at left tackle. Mayfield is athletic enough in space to be a very good tackle on either side. Drafting Mayfield and developing him kills two birds with one stone. They get their right tackle of now and their left tackle of the future.
Jenkins played both tackle spots and right guard in college. He could fit the Mayfield mold as the right tackle of right now and left tackle of the future, but there are concerns about his athleticism and ability to play tackle in the NFL. Jenkins could work out but there are more flags than there are with Mayfield.
Jermaine Eluemunor (free agency)
Eluemunor is similar to Ifedi. He’s a veteran who can play guard or tackle and is a valuable asset to any team because of his versatility. Eluemunor got off to a strong start last season as the Patriots’ right tackle. He started four of the first five games and played well. Then he went on injured reserve and started three games at left tackle and one at right tackle after he came back. Eluemunor’s history as an all-rookie performer in 2017 and his strong start to the 2020 season on the right side should give the Bears more confidence in him than in Ifedi.
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