Reporter NFC North
With nearly $80 million in cap space to spend, the Chicago Bears wasted no time making moves for 2023 at the start of the NFL’s legal tampering window.
Of course, that’s an oxymoron, but it’s all part of the game, and the Bears moved up a few slots in the minutes of noon ET on Monday. Chicago signed linebacker TJ Edwards, a free agent fresh off a Super Bowl appearance with the Philadelphia Eagles, while later grabbing linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in a blockbuster deal and guard Nate Davis almost simultaneously.
Edwards, a former undrafted free agent, made a significant impact in Philadelphia when the team hoisted the Halas Trophy in the NFC Championship last January. It was the defensive signal caller, with the green dot relaying plays down the field for defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
The Chicago-area native played football at Wisconsin and was ranked as the sixth-best linebacker in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus. He was college teammates with current Bears linebacker and pleasant surprise Jack Sanborn, who went from undrafted to starting in his rookie season last season. With the reported terms for Edwards including just $12 million in guarantees, the Bears ended up getting great value for a player they consider a defensive cornerstone on a three-year deal.
Bears get help for Justin Fields and secure his future by trading the No. 1 pick
The Bears are young with their off-ball linebacking corps thanks to the Roquan Smith trade midway through the 2022 season. Nicholas Morrow moved to weakside after Smith left, but he has to be a unrestricted free agent. What did the bears do? They promoted Edmunds to the position, who signed the largest four-year deal of any off-ball linebacker when he reportedly agreed to terms for an annual salary of $18 million total of $72 million, including $50 million guaranteed. Besides, he’s not even 25 years old. Edmunds has eclipsed 100 tackles every year he’s been in the league, starting in 2018, and has already been to two Pro Bowls. He now mans the weak side of Chicago’s base 4-3 system. Whether he or Edwards calls the defense has yet to be determined.
It’s a particularly good signing when you consider the moves made with Smith. Sure, they could have stuck with the former Georgia Bulldog the Bears drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft, but Smith was looking for a max contract. It was the Ravens who traded for him, giving Chicago and second- and fifth-round picks in return. They then signed Smith to a five-year, $100 million deal with $60 million in guarantees.
Not only did Edmunds come out cheaper than that, but he’s younger than Smith and the Bears were able to get some extra draft capital. They had so much surplus that they flipped their original second-round pick on wide receiver Chase Claypool just before the trade deadline. While Claypool has yet to contribute significantly, he is the team’s No. 3 receiver heading into 2023.
That means general manager Ryan Poles got a younger linebacker of the same caliber as Smith, but was also able to get a much-needed weapon for Fields and some additional draft capital in the process.
Not to mention weakside is one of the two most crucial positions in coach Matt Eberflus’ Tampa-2 defense. The Bears still have a question mark at the three-technique up front, but have gone the veteran/free agency route with their other critical position by signing Edmunds and/or Edwards (which ends up at which position between MIKE and WILL). still to be determined).
Jalen Carter was thought to be one of the Bears’ 2023 draft targets, fitting the bill for an athletic, pass-rushing defensive tackle, but with the off-field issues that have cropped up, Carter doesn’t appear to be an option probable. Chicago traded the first overall pick last Friday to Carolina and will now make their first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft at No. 9 overall as a result.
The Bears deal the No. 1 overall pick
Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe react as the Bears trade the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft to the Panthers.
Not to be outdone, the Bears addressed the offensive side of the ball by bolstering the offensive line in front of quarterback Justin Fields. After getting Fields one of the best wide receivers in his trade for the top overall pick in DJ Moore, Poles turned his attention to protecting Fields. Davis is a notorious run blocker, playing a key role in running back Derrick Henry’s record-breaking success at Tennessee. Since Davis was drafted in 2019, Henry has rushed for 1,540 yards in Davis’ rookie season, 2,027 yards in 2020, 937 yards in just eight games in 2021 and 1,538 yards despite issues along the offensive line this season past
Henry was the league’s leading rusher during Davis’ first two years.
Perhaps this move could keep running back David Montgomery away from testing the open market and allow Chicago to retain its homegrown tailback. Montgomery is due to be a free agent, but has provided stability to the Bears’ offense. He and Khalil Herbert could round out a backfield that includes Fields’ services to further stress opposing defenses as they settle into offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s custom system.
Between trading the first overall pick on Friday and the flurry of moves on Monday, the Bears are sending their entire rebuild into overdrive. While still considered a multi-year process, the Bears could be looking at playoff contention as early as next season. There has never been such a consensus on Bears Twitter about how well Chicago has positioned itself or how much faith fans have in the front office.
The players have noticed too.
It seems the game the Poles are playing is chess, while the rest of the league is playing checkers.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, adding the title of Super Bowl champion (and boat parade participant) to her resume. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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