Bears’ biggest priorities heading into 2023 offseason

The Chicago Bears are in the midst of an important offseason, where they essentially control both free agency and the 2023 NFL draft.

Chicago is projected to have $116 million in salary cap space (nearly double the next team) and they possess the first overall pick, which is sure to garner plenty of quarterback-needy suitors leading up to the draft.

There are plenty of areas the Bears need to address this offseason, including building around quarterback Justin Fields and addressing big holes on the defensive side.

With no shortage of work to be done for general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus, here’s what should be the Bears’ top priorities this offseason:

Get Justin Fields a No. 1 receiver

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When you look at the young quarterbacks who have taken the next step forward, they all have a No. 1 receiver to throw to. Unfortunately, there aren’t any of those receivers in free agency (which is a shame considering the Bears have plenty of money to spend). But there could be some options via the trade market, including DeAndre Hopkins, as there’s a management shift in Arizona. There are also plenty of options in the NFL draft, including TCU’s Quentin Johnston, USC’s Jordan Addison and Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Right now, Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool, who Chicago traded a second-round (borderline first-round) pick for, are the top options heading into 2023. The hope is they can be reliable targets. But you really want the Bears to go out and make a move for a true game changer at receiver.

Fix the offensive line

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As a former offensive lineman, there’s no one that understands the importance of a good offensive line when it comes to quarterback production more than Ryan Poles. Look for the offensive line to be a focal point this offseason. There’s no starting job that’s guaranteed along the offensive line heading into 2023, although Teven Jenkins and rookie Braxton Jones definitely made impressions on Poles this season. While some free-agent targets are already off the board, including Elgton Jenkins, there are still some top options available. Whether it’s tackles like Orlando Brown Jr., Mike McGlinchey and Jawaan Taylor or interior linemen like Ben Powers, Ethan Pocic and Garrett Bradbury. There will also be options in the draft, where the Bears are expected to have a good amount of capital. They’re in possession of the No. 1 overall pick, which Poles will likely trade in order to acquire additional selections. One thing is clear: What happened this season — Justin Fields being sacked 55 times — can’t happen again if this team hopes to contend.

Find a dominant three-technique

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The defensive line was the Bears’ biggest weakness this season, both along the interior and the edge. But considering what we know about Matt Eberflus’ defense, the three-technique is one of the most important positions. While Justin Jones did a fine job this season, Chicago needs a true game-wrecker at the position to serve as the motor of this defense. There are plenty of options between free agency and the NFL draft, and it’s up to Poles and the Bears to make the right evaluation and decide where to address this gaping hole. If it’s free agency, there are players like Washington’s Da’Ron Payne and Philadelphia’s Javon Hargrave. If it’s the draft, Georgia’s Jalen Carter has been a name frequently mentioned as a target for Chicago (even amid a trade back from No. 1).

Fix the pass rush

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The pass rush was the biggest disappointment for the Bears this season, which is saying a lot considering the 3-14 record and 10-game losing streak. Chicago struggled to get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2022, which put too much pressure on their secondary, which was ravaged by injuries down the stretch. The Bears had 20 sacks this season, which was the worst in the entire NFL. Sure, they traded both Khalil Mack in the offseason and Robert Quinn during the season. But those absences shone a light on just how weak the edge rushers are for Chicago. Luckily, Poles has the resources to address defensive end this offseason. Whether they’re in a position to draft Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. (considering the Bears are likely trading back from No. 1) or targeting guys like Indianapolis’ Yannick Ngakoue and New Orleans’ Marcus Davenport in free agency.

Lock down Darnell Mooney, Jaylon Johnson, Cole Kmet to extensions

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No doubt free agency will be important for the Bears. But Chicago also has three players from the 2020 draft class that are due for contract extensions in receiver Darnell Mooney, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and tight end Cole Kmet. All three are foundational pieces on this team, and locking them down to extensions should be a priority for Poles this offseason. Mooney, a former fifth-round pick, has been Justin Fields’ go-to guy and has been a key contributor since his rookie season. Johnson has established himself as the Bears’ CB1, and he’s a key part of this secondary moving forward alongside rookies Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon. Kmet is coming off a breakout season, where he led the team with seven touchdowns. When listening to Poles talk about Kmet in his end-of-year press conference, it certainly sounds like Poles wants to keep him in Chicago.

Find a suitor for No. 1 draft pick

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The Bears will have no shortage of suitors who could be calling to move up to that top spot in the NFL draft. Unlike last year, there are several top quarterback prospects in Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Levis. When examining the teams that could be in the market for a quarterback, it’s hard to imagine Chicago not trading back from No. 1. The Colts have emerged as a popular trade suitor for the Bears, especially after their GM Chris Ballard said he’d do “whatever it takes” to get his quarterback. But there are plenty of others, including the Raiders, Panthers, Falcons and the Texans, who might want to prevent another team from getting their top guy. There’s a scenario where Chicago could trade back from first overall and still land a star defensive prospect in the top five. Heck, they might even be able to trade back twice and still land a pick in the top 10 (along with a whole lot of capital). Luckily, trading back is right up Poles’ alley.

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Story originally appeared on Bears Wire