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Chicago Bears free-agency news: Kevin Byard, a 2-time All-Pro safety, agrees to a 2-year deal

The NFL’s new league year begins at 3 p.m. Wednesday. But the free-agency frenzy gets underway at 11 a.m. Monday with teams allowed to begin negotiating contracts with players set to hit the open market.

The Chicago Bears, with general manager Ryan Poles at the controls, will enter free agency with plenty of room under the NFL’s inflated $255.4 million salary cap for 2024. That opens the door for Poles to be aggressive on the open market if he so chooses. But the third-year GM also has taken a practical and disciplined approach to free agency during his first two offseasons and might again pick his spots, choosing how to invest most wisely.

As the action heats up, the Tribune is tracking all of the Bears-related news around the league.

March 10

The Bears agreed to a two-year contract with safety Kevin Byard.

What it means: The Bears are banking on Byard, a two-time All-Pro, having more high-level play remaining than their former decorated free safety, Eddie Jackson.

The deal with Byard fills a significant roster need in advance of the negotiating window that opens at 11 a.m. Monday and leads into the start of free agency Wednesday.

The Bears released Jackson on Feb. 15 as they weren’t going to pay him $14 million for 2024, and that left them in search of a veteran presence for what remains a young secondary. Enter Byard, 30, who visited Halas Hall on Friday and got a deal done before the end of the weekend.

Byard was selected as an All-Pro in 2017 and 2021 with the Tennessee Titans and is also a two-time Pro Bowl selection. A third-round pick out of Middle Tennessee State in 2016, Byard was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in October for defensive back Terrell Edmunds and fifth- and sixth-round draft picks.

In Philadelphia, Byard had 75 tackles and one interception in 10 games for a team that faded down the stretch. Byard, who turns 31 in August, has not missed a game in his eight-year career, so there’s no question his durability appealed to the Bears.

March 8

The Bears are re-signing long snapper Patrick Scales to a one-year contract, his agent tweeted.

What it means: Scales, the longest-tenured Bears player, returns on a deal with more than $1 million in guarantees, NFL Network reported. Scales, 36, has played in 120 games since joining the Bears in 2015. He is a part of the unit that has helped kicker Cairo Santos make more than 91% of his field goals in three of his last four seasons. Santos signed a four-year, $16 million extension in December.

The Bears announced two other moves Friday. They renegotiated and extended wide receiver Collin Johnson, who played in three games and had one catch last season. And they signed safety Tarvarius Moore, who last played for the San Francisco 49ers in 2022. Moore was with the Green Bay Packers in 2023 training camp but suffered a knee injury, and they released him with a settlement. He has started 13 NFL games since 2018.

March 5

The Bears signed cornerback Jaylon Johnson to a four-year, $76 million contract.

What it means: Two days after the Bears applied the franchise tag to Johnson, the two parties reached a deal that reportedly includes $54 million in guarantees and could keep the team’s top cornerback in Chicago through 2027. Drafted at No. 50 in 2020, Johnson was selected to the Pro Bowl last season and honored as a second-team All-Pro, punctuating a breakout year in which he had four interceptions and established himself as one of the league’s best cover cornerbacks.

Johnson wasn’t shy in expressing his desires to cash in with his second contract, aiming to be rewarded as one of the top defenders in the league. At the NFL scouting combine, Poles emphasized he had extended an offer to Johnson that the Bears believed was fair in terms of cash value, guaranteed money and term length. A little more than a week later, they settled on the deal.

Feb. 15

The Bears released safety Eddie Jackson and offensive lineman Cody Whitehair.

What it means: Jackson and Whitehair played their entire careers with the Bears, served as team captains at different points and were entering the final year of their contracts.

Whitehair, a second-round draft pick in 2016, started 118 games at center and guard in eight seasons, including 11 games in 2023. Jackson, a fourth-round pick in 2017, started 100 games in seven seasons, including 12 last season. Jackson, an All-Pro in 2018, leaves the Bears with 15 career interceptions, 44 passes defended, 10 forced fumbles, six return touchdowns and 459 tackles.

Cutting Whitehair will clear $9.15 million in salary-cap space, according to overthecap.com, while cutting Jackson will clear $12.56 million.