Bears Wire free agency preview: Top dream and realistic targets (and who to avoid)

The Chicago Bears are gearing up for the start of what’s sure to be a busy free agency as general manager Ryan Poles looks to rebuild this roster.

Chicago is slated to have around $100 million in salary cap space in 2023, which is the most in the NFL by a wide margin. Poles will have plenty of money to work with, as he could land some big-name veterans to shore up some big needs.

When looking at the current roster, there are a slew of needs including defensive line, offensive line, wide receiver and linebacker. There are plenty of intriguing players set to hit the open market — both realistic and likely unattainable.

Our Bears Wire staff is sharing their thoughts on their top free agent targets — both realistic and dream scenarios, as well as which players to avoid.

Bears free agent to re-sign

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Alyssa Barbieri: RB David Montgomery

Montgomery is the Bears’ top free agent and someone who has been a key contributor on offense since he was drafted in 2019. Montgomery was the primary running back on Chicago’s top-ranked rushing attack, and he’s a leader on offense. And while he didn’t have as much success as his running mate Khalil Herbert (5.7 yards per carry), Montgomery has proven his worth in pass protection and in the passing game, areas where Herbert struggles. Both GM Ryan Poles and Montgomery have made it clear that they’d like him back in Chicago. But it comes down to whether they can find common ground on an extension.

Brendan Sugrue: RB David Montgomery

The best free agent available from the Bears is Montgomery and it’s not particularly close. He’s not the flashiest or best running back on the market but he’s effective and saw his stock rise exponentially when pending free agents Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard all had the franchise tag placed on them from their original teams. 

Montgomery’s departure would leave a hole at running back. He’s only eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in one season but he has value in pass protection and as someone who can catch passes out of the backfield. Bring him back on a short deal and draft someone who can provide a spark with him and Khalil Herbert.

Ryan Fedrau: RB David Montgomery

Montgomery might be the obvious answer here. He has been a killer for the Bears, rushing for 3,609 yards and 26 touchdowns over his first four seasons in the NFL. With Saquon Barkley now off the market, it’s hard to see where the Bears could upgrade at the position. Chicago cannot mess up and lose Montgomery.

Jarrett Bailey: LB Nicholas Morrow

The Bears defense had very few bright spots in 2022- Morrow was one of them. He had a career high in tackles (116), tackles for loss (11), and started all 17 games. His market value currently sits just under $4 million per season. He would be a cheap, reliable starter, and the Bears should bring him back.

Dream free agent target

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Alyssa Barbieri: OT Orlando Brown Jr.

It’s not often that premier left tackles in their prime hit the open market, which is why the Bears will should do their due diligence on Brown. Many expected the Chiefs to use the franchise tag on Brown for the second season — to keep their four-time Pro Bowl left tackle in place — but they’re going to let him test the open market. Brown is going to command a high price tag on the open market. And while the Bears certainly have the salary cap space to make it happen, Poles said he won’t overspend in free agency. You also have to wonder how Braxton Jones factors into things. Does Chicago let him continue to develop at left tackle? Or will they move him to the right side and bring in a new face?

Brendan Sugrue: OT Orlando Brown Jr.

Twenty-six year-old perennial Pro Bowl offensive linemen don’t normally become available on the free agent market. If they somehow do, you find a way to get them on your team. 

Brown is a rare find, hitting free agency after the Kansas City Chiefs chose not to place the franchise tag on him despite multiple stellar seasons at left tackle. He’s going to cost a ton of money but it’s a price the Bears can afford. Even though they’re high on Braxton Jones, Brown would be an instant upgrade and the anchor of the offensive line.

Ryan Fedrau: OT Orlando Brown Jr.

At 26, Brown would be the perfect offensive tackle to add to the rebuilding roster for Chicago. The Bears have the cap space to do it, but will they be able to pry him away from top contenders? Chicago is looking to build a solid offensive line in front of signal caller Justin Fields. Adding Brown as his left tackle could solidify that, making the offensive line just that much better with one signing.

Jarrett Bailey: DT Javon Hargrave

Hargrave had a career year in 2022 with the Eagles. He had a career high 11 sacks, as well as 10 tackles for loss, and 16 hits on the quarterback. If the Bears sign Hargrave and draft Will Anderson, that would make for a fearsome front four.

Realistic free agent target

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Alyssa Barbieri: OT Mike McGlinchey

The Bears have a glaring hole at tackle right now, and there’s been buzz building about McGlinchey being a top target for Chicago in free agency. At it makes plenty of sense. McGlinchey is a good scheme fit for this wide-zone run scheme, and he’s someone who’s been impressive in run blocking and solid enough in pass protection, which is what the Bears are looking for. McGlinchey has been a quality starting right tackle since joining the league in 2018, and, for the most part, he’s avoided missing time due to injury. McGlinchey seems like an obvious addition for Chicago ahead of free agency.

Brendan Sugrue: OT Jawaan Taylor

Offensive line will be a major focus when free agency opens, but chances are the Bears will be focused on the right side of the line. That’s where Taylor comes in. Though he’s not on Brown’s level, Taylor is one of the best tackles available and would instantly upgrade the Bears pass protection after helping keep Trevor Lawrence upright in Jacksonville.

Taylor will likely command a lot of money still, but a move like this shores up the right side of the line and allows the Bears to continue with Jones at left tackle. Other options like Mike McGlinchy and Kaleb McGary could also get the job done but given Taylor’s skills as a pass blocker, he makes sense as the ideal target.

Ryan Fedrau: LB Bobby Okereke

After trading away Roquan Smith, the Bears’ linebacker group was cut down thin. Signing Okereke, someone who played under Matt Eberflus in Indianapolis, could help build that group back up. Okereke had 152 tackles in 2022, along with two fumble recoveries. He would fit well alongside linebacker Jack Sanborn as the Bears rebuild their defense.

Jarrett Bailey: WR Sterling Shepard

It’s no secret that the Bears need receivers. This free agent class isn’t deep, and lacks any elite names. That said, Shepard can be brought in on a relatively cheap, short-term deal and immediately bolster a thin receiving core.

Free agent to avoid

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Alyssa Barbieri: WR Jakobi Meyers

Chicago needs help at wide receiver, but there aren’t any true No. 1 wideouts set to hit free agency. Meyers is arguably the top wide receiver on the open market, and he would no doubt make this Bears receiving room better. He’s coming off an impressive season with the Patriots, where he recorded 67 catches for 804 yards and six touchdowns. With that said, Chicago should avoid overpaying for Meyers, who is reportedly asking for $15 to $20 million a year. Poles will look to address certain positions in free agency, and it certainly feels like receiver could be a bigger focus in the NFL draft.

Brendan Sugrue: WR Mecole Hardman

While one Kansas City Chief should be the top target in free agency, another should be avoided. Wide receiver Mecole Hardman is a young, athletic player who has familiarity with both Ryan Poles and Justin Fields. Poles was in Kansas City when Hardman was drafted and the former Georgia Bulldog caught passes from Fields for a brief period of time.

But Hardman has failed to live up to expectations with the Chiefs, even with Patrick Mahomes throwing him the ball. He’s never reached 700 receiving yards in a season and struggled to become a consistent offensive threat, especially this past year when the door was wide open for him following the departure of Tyreek Hill. The Bears need a playmaker they can rely on and Hardman isn’t that guy. 

Ryan Fedrau: WR Julio Jones

The Bears need help at wide receiver and hopefully their eyes aren’t set on Jones. Jones hasn’t had a 1,000 yard season since 2019 and hasn’t had 100 catches since 2018. Since leaving Atlanta in 2020, he played with both Tom Brady and Ryan Tannehill and was only able to muster three touchdowns and 733 yards in 20 games. Though he’s a big body and fits the size Chicago should be looking for, the talent isn’t there anymore. Jones is past his prime. He should be avoided.

Jarrett Bailey: EDGE Bud Dupree

Dupree had two good seasons with the Steelers in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Since signing with the Titans ahead of the 2021 season, though, he has totaled only seven sacks over the last two seasons and has struggled to stay healthy. The Bears shouldn’t look his way.

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Story originally appeared on Bears Wire