Should Ryan Poles, Bears make a free-agency splash with Mike Williams? Let's weigh the option

Ryan Poles and the Bears front office have been semi-active in free agency this offseason.

Most notably, they signed running back D’Andre Swift to a lucrative three-year deal that’s set to make him $8 million per year. They beefed up their offensive line with Ryan Bates and Coleman Shelton. And they got a “quarterback on defense” in safety Kevin Byard.

But one of the positions everyone’s wondering about is wide receiver. Edge rusher remains a prominent box to check, too. But the Bears could use some upgrades in the pass-catching department, especially if Poles plans to tie his name to a new quarterback in Caleb Williams with the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL draft.

Recently, an opportunity to fill the void opened up, as the Chargers released Mike Williams on Wednesday, saving themselves $20 million in cap space. The Chagers were fighting to get under the NFL’s cap line by Wednesday, releasing Williams and restructuring Khalil Mack’s contract in the process.

Williams, 29, would make a great fit on any NFL team, including the Bears. He has a big frame (6-foot-4 and 218 pounds) with a knack for making contested catches and catching the deep ball. He accounts for the third-most receiving yards over expected from vertical routes between 2018-22, trailing only Justin Jefferson and Davante Adams in that category, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

There are drawbacks to signing Williams though, too. In 2022, Williams fractured his back during the team’s regular-season finale, missing their first playoff game against the Jaguars. During Week 3 of last season, Williams tore his ACL, forcing him to miss the entire year.

He’s likely seeking a hefty price tag for his services, as his previous contract with the Chargers saw him earning $20 million per year. Williams is probably expecting the same, or close to the same amount of money from whoever looks to ink him next.

The Chargers are hoping to sign Williams back to the team, as he and Keenan Allen have performed as one of the league’s best wide receiver duos. But, according to multiple reports, Williams would likely have to return on a team-friendly deal.

From a Bears’ perspective, signing Williams would ultimately create a strong receiving cohort, featuring Williams, DJ Moore, Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett, who the Bears signed this offseason. That would solidify a formidable pass-catching unit for whoever their quarterback is in 2024.

Chris Beatty, the Bears newly appointed wide receivers coach, was that for the Chargers between 2021-23. There, he worked with Williams, who executed arguably two of his best seasons during that time frame, excluding his ACL injury that forced him out of the 2023 season.

If the Bears are serious about signing Williams, they’d have to take several steps. A medical check would be a prerequisite to his signing. After that, Poles would need to figure out the money. As it stands, the Bears have the fourth most cap space in the NFL (~$57 million). But you have to factor in money for draft picks and potentially funds allocated towards a blue-chip edge rusher to pair with Montez Sweat.

The Bears should have an opportunity in the draft to select a wide receiver with the No. 9 pick, should they desire to go that route. With the Titans and Falcons — who draft before the Bears’ No. 9 pick — locking down their receiver corps in free agency, the Bears have a more than likely shot of seeing one of either Malik Nabers, Rome Odunze, or Brock Bowers at No. 9.

If they opt to sign Williams, too, their draft picture becomes as much clearer, as they would likely take Williams with the No. 1 pick before drafting an edge rusher with the No. 9 pick. In that scenario, they should have their pick at one of either Dallas Turner, Jared Verse, or Laiatu Latu.

It’s worth noting the wide receiver free-agent market is highlighted by Williams. Behind him, it’s Tyler Boyd, Marquise Brown, Michael Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr., Hunter Renfrow, etc. Nothing to write home about.

But Williams, if healthy, would make for a solid addition to the Bears receiver corps.

How will the Bears fill the gaps in their receiving corps? Stay tuned.

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