Bears free agency primer: Potential targets at important positions

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Examining potential Bears free-agent targets at WR, LB, and EDGE originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Welcome back to our Bears free-agency primer series.

In Part 1, we looked at some potential options at defensive tackle, offensive tackle, and interior offensive line.

Now, we shift our focus to different areas of glaring need on both sides of the ball.

We’ll start at edge rusher before moving to wide receiver and linebacker.

Edge rusher

Big fish: Marcus Davenport
Plan B: Dre’Mont Jones
Bargain: Melvin Ingram, Charles Omenihu

The Bears got almost nothing from their edge rushers in 2022. Per Pro Football Focus, Trevis Gipson and Dominque Robinson combined for 45 pressures and six sacks this season.

Chicago has to find reliable pressure-creators off the edge.

It’s not a great free-agent class for one of the premium positions in modern football, but the Bears should still be able to add talent to the relatively empty cupboard on the defensive line.

Let’s start with Marcus Davenport.

Before this season, Davenport hadn’t played more than 13 games since being drafted by the Saints in 2018. Due to his inability to play more than 500 snaps (once in five seasons), Davenport’s sack numbers aren’t impressive. But he has registered 34 or more pressures in each of the last four seasons and racked up nine sacks in just 297 pass-rush snaps in 2021.

He’s a gamble due to his injury history, but the potential might be worth the risk.

Jones is an interesting option. He’s a versatile defensive lineman who lined up over the B gap, over the tackle, and outside the tackle for the Broncos. He has been very effective as an interior pass rusher early in his career, but he also has the skill set to be a defensive end that wreaks havoc. Jones probably fits best as an end in a 3-4 defense, but the Bears could find a spot for a guy who racked up 45 pressures and seven sacks in 13 games this season.

If the Bears wade around in the shallower end of the free-agent pool, Omenihu could be an intriguing option. The 25-year-old is coming off a season in which he recorded 54 pressures and five sacks for the 49ers. While he’s not the best run defender, Omenihu is a young, rotational edge rusher with upside.

At 33, Ingram likely will be looking to latch onto a contender. But the Bears could use more veterans in the locker room, and Ingram can still get after the quarterback.

Wide receiver

Plan A: Michael Thomas
Plan B: D.J. Chark, Allen Lazard
Why not? Mike Gesicki

The Bears went out and traded for Chase Claypool because the free-agent market is bleak at receiver.

But after the Saints restructured Thomas’ contract, it appears they are planning to move on from the 29-year-old receiver this offseason. If Thomas does hit the market, the Bears should be first in line to snatch him up. As long as Thomas is healthy, he’ll give the Bears the true X receiver they need.

With over $100 million to spend, Thomas is well worth the gamble for a Bears offense that needs to surround quarterback Justin Fields with more talent to aid his development.

There’s a pretty significant drop-off after Thomas. I expect the New England Patriots to re-sign Jakobi Meyers, and I wouldn’t be interested in spending big on JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Given his familiarity with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy from their time together in Green Bay, I could see the Bears making a run at Lazard.

Otherwise, I’d look to Gesicki. I know he technically is classified as a tight end, but given that he plays almost all of his snaps out wide and isn’t a great blocker, I’m going to classify him as the “big slot receiver” he technically is.

The Bears need weapons of all shapes and sizes. Gesicki would give Fields another big body to target on third down and in the red zone.

Linebacker

Big fish: Lavonte David
Easy target: Bobby Okereke

The Bears could have backed up the Brinks truck for Roquan Smith, but they couldn’t find common ground on a number and instead traded the star linebacker to Baltimore midseason. Smith never flashed as the WILL linebacker in Matt Eberflus’ defense and didn’t have the “ball production” to warrant the contract he wanted.

As such, the Bears are still searching for a WILL who can thrive in Eberflus’ scheme.

Even at 32, David can still flat-out go. He still has incredible instincts and is one of the best off-ball coverage linebackers in the NFL.

David likely falls into the “looking for a contender” category, but he’d immediately give the second level of the Bears’ defense a facelift.

Okereke just makes too much sense for the Bears.

The fourth-year linebacker is familiar with Eberflus and his defense from their time together in Indianapolis. While Okereke has been playing the MIKE position, he moved over to WILL this season and was very effective.

The Colts have a lot of money tied up in linebacker Shaquille Leonard, so they likely won’t be able to bring back Okereke.

His age, knowledge of the system, and improving play make him a likely free-agent target for the Bears.

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