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After Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace traded up in the NFL Draft for a first-round quarterback for the second time in five years, head coach Matt Nagy followed that up with a 6-11 record.

That double-dip cost Pace and Nagy their jobs.

Now, the uninspiring Pace/Nagy Era is officially over. The Bears are starting over with new GM Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus. Poles comes from the Kansas Coty Chiefs front office. Eberflus coordinated the Indianapolis Colts defense for the last four seasons.

Together, these two need to build a team primarily through free agency since Pace gave many of the team’s draft picks away in 2022. This means they’ll add pieces on the edges of an individually talented, veteran defense and rebuild the offense from the ground up around QB Justin Fields.

To accomplish these tasks, here are the five players the Bears should target in the 2022 free-agent period.

The Chicago Bears salary cap situation

(L-R) Chicago Bears possible 2022 free agent targets include Seattle Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs, Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen.
(L-R) Quandre Diggs, Mike Williams, Ryan Jensen | Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images, (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images, Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.

Despite being bereft of draft capital next season, Ryan Pace did leave the Chicago Bears in pretty good shape salary cap-wise. The Bears are currently in the top half of the league in terms of cap space, with an estimated $27.4 million heading into the new year.

Additionally, some minor cap maneuvering with the contracts of pass-rushers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, DT Eddie Goldman, QB Nick Foles, LB Danny Trevathan, and RB Tarik Cohen could free up another $20-plus-million.

The Bears need to use this cap space to both add more talent to a roster lacking impact players on the offensive side and get younger. Heading into 2022, Chicago is the fourth-oldest team in the league, with an average age of 27.02 years.

With these mandates in mind, here are the five free agents the Bears need to pursue in 2022.

5. Quandre Diggs, S

If the Chicago Bears turn things around and make the playoffs next season, it will likely be on the backs of the defense. That said, the bones of a playoff defense — led by budding superstar Roquan Smith — are already there. The front office just needs to add a piece here or there to push it to the next level.

Quandre Diggs is a ballhawk of the highest order, with 16 interceptions in the last two seasons. He’ll make a great partner for Eddie Jackson at the back of the defense, and if Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn come back and stay healthy, that pass rush could force a lot of stray balls into Diggs’ arms.

3. Laken Tomlinson, G

Adding a safety would be nice for the Chicago Bears, and maybe a defensive tackle and an inside linebacker, too. However, the primary focus of the team’s offseason needs to be building around Justin Fields on the offensive side of the ball. Remaking the offensive line is the best way to support Fields in year two.

Laken Tomlinson has missed one game in his seven-year career. He also made his first Pro Bowl this season, working in Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme in San Francisco. That’s exactly what new OC Luke Getsy will run in Chicago, and Tomlinson would be a perfect guard to get that going.   

4. Mike Williams, WR 

Second-year wideout Darnell Mooney developed a nice connection with Justin Fields this season, catching 81 balls for 1,055 yards. However, it never quite clicked with Fields and Allen Robinson II — because of Matt Nagy, according to the now-free-agent WR.

With Robinson likely out, the Bears could use a big target. This offseason, there’s no bigger target on the market than the 6-foot-4, 218-pound Mike Williams. He had a career year last season with Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers with 76 catches for 1,146 yards. Williams’ size and skill can help Fields immensely.

2. Cam Robinson, OT

When you have a new franchise QB, the next thing you need is a left tackle to protect his blindside. Cam Robinson is a true LT who’s held down the position for the Jacksonville Jaguars for the last five seasons. He’s also just 26, which means he could be a long-term partner for Fields.

There are a few better options at the position this free-agent period. However, Chicago doesn’t have the deep pockets or championship aspirations to lure a Terron Armstrong or Orlando Brown Jr. Despite that, Robinson is a great consolation prize.

1. Ryan Jensen, C 

When building an offensive line, the tackles get the glory, and the guards are the tough guys, but the center runs the show. They can call the protections, especially for a young QB, and set the tone for not just the line but the entire offense. That’s why if the Chicago Bears are going to pay big money for a lineman, Ryan Jensen is the guy.

Jensen is one of the best centers in the game, making the Pro Bowl in 2021. He’s also one of the nastiest and would give the Bears’ offense an edge that could help them take the next step. He’s a Super Bowl champ, working with Tom Brady the last two seasons, and the lessons learned there could help Justin Fields in a big way.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac


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