If nothing else, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles sees the same thing as the fans do when he looks at the roster – the absence of a proven pass rusher which is rather startling considering his franchise’s defense just tallied 20 sacks this past season, the fewest in the entire league.
They have gone through the bulk of free agency and the entire NFL Draft without adding a pure EDGE defender, instead adding veteran DeMarcus Walker – who is more of a hybrid lineman – and some undrafted free agents.
Appearing on ESPN 1000 on May 12, Poles addressed the current state of the roster and his plans to add a proven pass rusher to this group that made key additions at every other level.
Ryan Poles Hints at Plans to Fix Bears’ Roster Flaw
“I think of my group, and we’ve proven that we’re always investigating options – via trade, signing someone that’s still available post-free agency. So we don’t really stop looking for talent. And so right now, I would just say we’re active, looking around, and maybe something will happen here soon.”
Poles covered a slew of topics from expectations for the team (it’s always to win) to individual players such as wide receiver Chase Claypool whom Poles said he still believes can be a “high performer” in the NFL.
He also made a telling admission about Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter whom Poles passed on in trading out of the No. 9 overall pick allowing the Philadelphia Eagles to strike.
I'm happy with the decision we made, and specifically on Jalen, I think he went to a fantastic place that has their cement dried, and there foundation is what it is with a ton of leaders."
— Mark Grote (@markgrotesports) May 12, 2023
There is a lot of excitement about rookie defensive tackles Gervon Dexter Sr., Zacch Pickens, and Travis Bell, judging from Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus’ comments. Still, the lack of a bonafide pass rusher will remain the focal point of fans and detractors.
The Bears Free Agent EDGE Rushing Options
As Poles noted, there are two distinct paths the Bears can take and both have some fairly defined options given the team’s needs. Among free agents, their best options appear to be Frank Clark, Jadeveon Clowney, former Bear Leonard Floyd, and former Indianapolis Colts/journeyman sack artist Yannick Ngakoue.
Of those, Ngakoue, 28, led the way with 9.5 sacks this past season. He comes from the Colts and, while he missed Eberflus by one season, the coach likely has all of the intel he needs.
Floyd, 30, has had at least 9.0 sacks in each of his three seasons since leaving the Bears.
Clark and Clowney combined for 5.0 sacks last season while Walker recorded 7.0 in a breakout season for the Tennessee Titans. The rest of the options – names such as Trey Flowers (0 sacks), Markus Golden (4.0 sacks), or Kyle Van Noy (5.0 sacks) – don’t address the issue.
Veteran Justin Houston logged 9.5 sacks last season for the Baltimore Ravens but is 34 years old and likely looking to compete for a championship.
Beyond that are the likes of Al-Quadin Muhammad and Robert Quinn.
Potential Bears Trade Targets
One of the first names that come to mind when anyone mentions the possibility of trading for a pass rusher is Chase Young of the Washington Commanders who will play host to the Bears in Week 5 next season. Washington declined the former No. 2 overall pick’s fifth-year option. Young has appeared in just 12 games (11 starts) over the last two seasons due to injury.
However, not only is Young one of the best young pass rushers when he is healthy but the Commanders are set to undergo a change in ownership which clouds just how active they will look to be until then.
Another option is Carl Lawson, 27, who had 7.0 sacks last season. He is in the final year of a three-year, $45 million contract with a $15 million cap hit in 2023.
#Jets cap-space check:
They have $8.4M in cap room, per NFLPA data. That's more than enough to sign their draft picks, but they will have to do some tweaking to absorb a certain high-salaried QB.
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) April 20, 2023
Lawson is not expected to be cut so a trade would be the only way to use him to create space to accommodate other moves in the wake of adding Aaron Rodgers. If that is the case, the Bears might be wise to take a swing – as multiple teams likely would – even if there is a risk Lawson is a rental who bolts in free agency next season.