After a 3-14 season, NFL Media draft expert Daniel Jeremiah offered a frank assessment of what Bears general manager Ryan Poles needed to accomplish during the offseason and the 2023 NFL Draft.
"You look at the Bears and, gosh, you're trying to just get a competent group out there," Jeremiah said during a pre-combine conference call in February.
Competent, the 2022 Bears were not. That's unsurprising, given that Poles arrived in Chicago and immediately gutted a subpar roster. The 2022 season was a complete punt as Poles looked to the offseason to start an extensive rebuilding project.
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Months of talk about the Bears' mountain of salary cap space had fans and pundits dreaming about the massive injection of star-level talent that was about to arrive in Chicago.
But when Poles, head coach Matt Eberflus, and the Bears' staff evaluated the free-agent class and put players into "value buckets," it's clear only a few of the big names made the cut.
The Bears gave linebacker Tremaine Edmunds a four-year, $72 million contract to likely man the WILL linebacker spot. Chicago was in on right tackle Mike McGlinchey to the very end, but the Notre Dame product landed in Denver on a five-year, $87.5 million contract with the Broncos.
The rest of the Bears' free-agent haul hasn't involved big names or high prices. Poles' goal during this free agent cycle was to identify fit and add talent while also keeping the Bears flexible for future offseasons. This is just the first step in a multi-layer reconstruction.
What Poles has done so far with his additions is raise the Bears' floor. It was damn near subterranean in 2022, so that shouldn't be hard. But the Bears are more competent at many positions, especially linebacker, with the additions of Edmunds and T.J. Edwards.
The Bears missed a mountain of tackles in 2022. Safety Eddie Jackson was the team's best tackler because most of the guys in front of him made the "Ole! Hall of Fame." Edmunds and Edwards are athletic tackling machines who will automatically make a linebacking corps that had a 10.7 percent missed tackle rate better.
Poles signed defensive end DeMarcus Walker. Walker won't make any headlines, but his 32 pressures, seven sacks, and 16 quarterback hits would have led the Bears' woeful defensive line last season.
Baseline competency cometh.
That was also the theme of Thursday's moves when the Bears signed tight end Robert Tonyan, running back D'Onta Foreman, and defensive tackle Andrew Billings.
Billings is a veteran run-stuffer. He won't make much of an impact as a pass rusher, but at 6-foot-1, 311 pounds, he has incredible power to move interior offensive linemen, plug holes, and allow the Bears' new linebackers to get downhill and make plays. He'll give the Bears 20-to-25 snaps of solid run defense. The Bears' defensive line was a catastrophe in 2022. The Billings signing isn't worthy of a parade, but he's a quality pro who can help them in a key area.
The Tonyan signing gives the Bears a clear upgrade at the No. 2 tight end slot over Ryan Griffin and Trevon Wesco. While the former Packer isn't much of a blocker, he's a solid red-zone threat who has had a nose for the end zone in the past. Tonyan is a sure-handed receiver (two drops in five seasons per Pro Football Reference) who knows offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's scheme.
Foreman is the addition that caught my eye Thursday.
After letting David Montgomery leave in free agency, the Bears needed to find another reliable back to split carries with Khalil Herbert. Foreman is coming off a 2022 season in which he rushed for 913 yards and five touchdowns on 203 attempts. Foreman forced 34 missed tackles while racking up 21 explosive runs with a 33.2 breakaway percentage (percentage of yards gained on runs over 15 yards).
Montgomery had a breakaway percentage of just 8.9 and had only 17 explosive runs last season but did force 46 missed tackles.
The Bears want burst, explosion, and big-play ability from their backs. Montgomery is a workhorse but doesn't have the breakaway ability Poles and Eberflus are coveting.
Foreman isn't much of a threat as a pass-catcher and needs to improve as a pass-protector, but he should serve as a good compliment to Herbert as the Bears look to go with a running-back-by-committee approach.
Not every free-agent signing is worth doing backflips over.
But what Poles has done in the last week, both in free agency and in the blockbuster trade with the Panthers, is add a stable of solid veterans to go with the big acquisitions of Edmunds and wide receiver D.J. Moore, who came over in the trade from Carolina.
Rebuilding this roster into one that can compete for a playoff spot will take several offseasons. Having a presumed franchise quarterback in Fields can help move that process along.
But an essential first step is to raise the floor by adding proven veteran contributors to supplement the higher-end talent that is either already on the roster or will be added in the future.