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Understanding the Strange Bears Start to Free Agency

By Gene Chamberlain,

2023-03-14

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Analysis: Bears GM Ryan Poles wanted to be flexible in free agency and it's a good thing because he needed this ability.

When the NFL Scouting Combine was starting, Bears GM Ryan Poles said something decribing what actually happened to his team as free agency began on Monday.

Call it a premonition but he talked about how the Bears had "flexibility" in free agency and the draft.

They had the flexibility of a rubber band as this free agency began.

They came into it needing defensive ends and tackles and offensive tackles.  They needed other things, as they own a roster void of talent beyond D.J. Moore and Justin Fields.

Instead of the priorities, they wound up with the other things.

GM Ryan Poles got out of the spending gates quickly by signing linebacker T.J. Edwards at $19.5 million for three years, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The league network also reported they signed Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds for $72 million over four years with $50 million guaranteed and guard Nate Davis for three years, $30 million with $12.5 million guaranteed.

Only the Bears could enter free agency with a wad of cash and dozens of questions, then emerge with even more questions.

The first one this caused was how they're using these two linebackers. Both have talent, no doubt, but it would seem both are middle linebackers and the attacking weakside linebacker type is not on the roster.

It's possible Poles and coach Matt Eberflus actually do see weakside ability in one of these two. They'd better, considering how much they spent.

Edmunds has the Brian Urlacher reach and size at 6-5, 250 to be back deep and play the Tampa-2, but he also is speedy and can be disruptive like a weakside.

Edwards, the Lake Villa native, plays like a classic middle as the field general and is a strong pass coverage linebacker, but he's 6-1, 242 pounds and when the Bears ran this scheme in the past they had Lance Briggs at weakside, at 6-1, 244.

So this question will persist until Eberflus explains it. So don't expect an answer any time soon because last year they faced such questions about Roquan Smith and never made it clear until they got on the practice field.

The other signing causes real questions, as well. Nate Davis is a good run blocker, the 17th best Pro Football Focus guard in the league last year. However, he's a right guard and the Bears finally seemed to figure out a use for Teven Jenkins when he played right guard last year. He ranked the fourth-best guard in PFF's grading system.

So it would be easy to slate Davis in at left guard and see 31-year-old Cody Whitehair as a cap cut victim, except that's left guard while Davis has always been a right guard.

And then there is the possiblity they would move Jenkins back to right tackle, where they moved him from, but they seemed convinced last year he couldn't play there. Short arms make him more ideal for guard.

The biggest questions of all are what in the world are they going to do for the positions they really needed heading into the first day?

Three-technique tackle, defensive end and offensive tackle all are unfilled.

Dre'Mont Jones is still available as a pass-rushing defensive tackle in free agency and the price looks rather steep when Javon Hargrave was able to get four years and $84 million from San Francisco.

Few of the edge rushers in free agency caused any excitement except possibly Marcus Davenport of the Saints and he would be overvalued as a result.

When they decided Mike McGlinchey was out of their price range at $87 million, even though they had the most cap space, he went to Denver and they're still without a right tackle.

Much of the money is still burning a hole in Poles' pockets.

They definitely did not follow in the footsteps of Jacksonville, which charged into 2022 free agency with less cash available than the Bears had this year and came away with seven key players signed in a little over a day to help turn them into a playoff team.

They were flexible when they couldn't get the tackle and defensive tackle at reasonable rates early.

Now they have to hope the free agency pool fits their flexibility.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven

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