Predicting the Bears’ 2023 starting defense ahead of free agency

With free agency just around the corner, Bears general manager Ryan Poles has plenty work to do to rebuild this roster. That includes plenty of work along the trenches.

When looking at these projections on defense, it’s clear that Poles has plenty of work to do in free agency to shore up several positions. That starts with the entire defensive line, where there are needs at edge rusher and along the interior. Linebacker and cornerback are other positions that need to be addressed heading into free agency.

Ahead of free agency, we’re doing our best to predict what the Bears offense could look like heading into the 2023 season, including some potential free-agent moves.

DT Dre'Mont Jones

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The Bears need to find a dominant three-technique to power this defense, and Dre’Mont Jones certainly fits the bill. He was a disruptive force for the Broncos last season — particularly making things difficult on quarterbacks — and his interior pass rush will do wonders for this defense.

DT Justin Jones

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Justin Jones was the only defensive lineman worth bringing back on the league’s worst defensive line last season. Jones has one year left on his deal, and he could serve as a nice stopgap alongside three-technique Dre’Mont Jones.

DE Arden Key

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The Bears need help at edge rusher, and Arden Key would make a solid addition to the defensive line. Key has a 14.6% pressure rate over the last two years, which ranks 17th among edge rushers. He would be a sneaky good addition for Chicago’s defense.

DE Trevis Gipson

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This spot is likely to be filled by an incoming rookie or another veteran addition in free agency. But for now, Trevis Gipson gets to serve as the placeholder. While Gipson showed promise in 2021 — with a career-high 7 sacks — he struggled without a dominant edge rusher opposite him.

LB Bobby Okereke

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Not only does Bobby Okereke have experience in Matt Eberflus’ defense, but he’s someone who has played both WILL and MIKE linebacker. This free agency fit just makes too much sense. In this scenario, Okereke serves as the WILL linebacker, which is one of the most important positions in this defense.

LB Jack Sanborn

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Jack Sanborn showed enough in his rookie season to warrant a look as the starting MIKE linebacker. Sanborn had impressive instincts and was a solid tackler in limited action. With the Bears finding their WILL in Okereke, it allows Sanborn to return to the middle and quarterback the defense.

LB Matt Adams or Joe Thomas

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The SAM linebacker doesn’t see the field that much, so it would make sense to bring back a key veteran like Matt Adams or Joe Thomas on a one-year deal as a stopgap at linebacker. Not only do Adams and Thomas have an understanding of this defense, but they’ve shown that they can step in when called upon at different positions

CB Jaylon Johnson

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Jaylon Johnson in entering the final year of his rookie deal, where he’s in line for an extension. Johnson has been the Bears’ CB1 for the last couple of seasons, where he’s been able to hang with some of the NFL’s best receivers. Johnson will be looking to prove himself in a contract year.

CB Jamel Dean

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Kindle Vildor isn’t a viable starting option for the Bears on the outside, and Poles talked about prioritizing premium positions, including cornerback. So, in this scenario, the Bears land a prized gem in Jamel Dean to pair with Johnson on the outside, giving Chicago quite a punch in the secondary.

NCB Kyler Gordon

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Kyler Gordon played both outside and in the slot last year, which is difficult for anyone yet alone a rookie. Chicago needs to find a position for Gordon and have him stick there. That could very well be at nickel cornerback, which is one of the most important positions in this defense.

FS Eddie Jackson

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Eddie Jackson is coming off a bounce back year in 2022, where he notched a team-high four interceptions before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Jackson, who carries a $17.09 million cap hit, will be back at free safety, where he’ll be looking to be the ballhawk he was last year.

SS Jaquan Brisker

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Jaquan Brisker was Poles’ best draft pick last season, and his pairing with Jackson was a dream for the Bears. Brisker is the physical, hard-hitting box safety that complements Jackson. Now, the two will be back manning the strongest position group so far this offseason.

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Story originally appeared on Bears Wire