Bears' unexpected free-agency start leads to tough questions, few answers

Schrock: Bears' off-script FA start leads to tough questions originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Months of waiting and talking about cap space led to Monday when Bears general manager Ryan Poles was supposed to have the world at his fingertips. The offseason ran through the Bears.

But after losing out on Mike McGlinchey, Javon Hargrave, Dre'Mont Jones, and Jawaan Taylor, the Bears left Day 1 of the NFL's legal negotiating period with a revamped linebacking corps and a whole lot of work to do.

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Poles opened the day by agreeing to a three-year contract with tackling machine T.J. Edwards. Edwards wore the green dot as the MIKE linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles and will come home to do the same for the Bears.

The affordable deal for Edwards was an excellent start to the day.

But the Bears watched McGlinchey, who they were heavily involved in discussions with, agree to a massive five-year deal with the Denver Broncos. Shortly after that, Hargrave decided to head to the San Francisco 49ers, and Taylor got left tackle money to switch sides and play left tackle for the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

The gaping holes at tackle, three-technique, and edge rusher remained.

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Poles dove back into the pool, this time forking over a four-year, $72 million deal to linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. In Edmunds, the Bears get a 24-year-old rangy, athletic linebacker who attacks downhill and can cover in space. But while Edmunds has the traits head coach Matt Eberflus looks for in an off-ball linebacker, he doesn't have the production to meet the contract he was given.

For the Bears, it was a bet that everything finally clicked for Edmunds last season, and it wasn't a case of the contract-year bump, and he'll reach his ceiling in Chicago.

The Bears were shredded over the middle of the field in 2022. With Edwards and Edmunds in the second level, that shouldn't be the case in 2023.

Poles then added right guard Nate Davis, agreeing to a three-year, $30 million deal with the 26-year-old. Davis is a good zone run blocker and stepped up his pass protection in 2022. But he has only played right guard in his career, which leaves questions about Teven Jenkins' future in Chicago.

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Still, it felt like the Bears were bound to strike big and address their biggest weakness: the defensive line.

Jones was the perfect candidate. The former Broncos had interest from the Bears and Browns but ultimately agreed to a three-year $51 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks. It was a modest contract that the Bears, who desperately need to find a way to generate pressure, had no business not giving Jones. It was a curious whiff by the man with the money bags.

Poles rebounded with a high-upside addition of defensive end DeMarcus Walker. The 28-year-old has had back-to-back seasons of 30 pressures and should replace Al-Quadin Muhammad at left end.

The Bears added talent on Day 1. But it was an underwhelming opening to what was supposed to be a floor-raising shopping spree.

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At the NFL Scouting Combine, Poles admitted that finding value on Day 1 of free agency is challenging. You have to have your number, stick to it, and let the value fall to you. That's almost certainly why they didn't meet McGlinchey's asking price and why they watched Hargrave head to the Bay Area.

Being disciplined is important. The Bears have to spend smartly, yes. But at a certain point, a 3-14 team with holes across the board and $75 million in cap space has to make a splash in the critical areas. Edmunds is filled with talent, but Poles doled out a hefty contract to a player whose production doesn't fit the numbers.

RELATED: Schrock's Mock Draft 4.0: Where do Bears go after Panthers trade?

Meanwhile, the Bears still need at least one tackle -- Orlando Brown? -- a speed rusher, and a three-technique.

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Poles hit a home run on Friday when he fleeced the Carolina Panthers in a trade that saw the Bears add three draft picks and wide receiver D.J. Moore for the No. 1 overall pick. He had a chance to follow that up with a flurry Monday and supercharge the Bears' momentum heading toward the draft.

The offseason finally arrived Monday. Poles patched up the hole at linebacker with Quikrete, signing two linebackers fresh off career contract years. The hope is Edwards and Edmunds solidify what was a catastrophic second level of Bears' defense. Time will tell.

Even if they do, the Bears still failed to fill the two areas that devastated their team like a supermassive black hole tearing apart a star that wandered too close.

The trenches are still a massive issue for the Bears. Patience is a virtue. Poles is exercising discipline. Per OverTheCap, the Bears still have $50 million in cap space before the Walker signing. That's a lot to work with, but the impact options are dwindling. What does Poles do if the deals he seeks don't materialize? Does he hold firm? Or blink to add one of the few difference-makers left on the market?

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The Bears still have the draft, and Poles has added a star receiver, two athletic linebackers, and a starting guard in three days. It's a good reminder of the minuscule amount of talent the Bears were working with in 2022.

That it feels underwhelming underscores how much work the Bears have left to do.

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