The list of potential defensive end free agent signings for the Bears got a little shorter on Monday. Per Ian Rapoport, Leonard Floyd is set to join former Rams teammate Von Miller with the Buffalo Bills.
There are legitimate questions as to whether Floyd and the Bears would have been a good fit, but it’s no secret that the Bears are monitoring the market and are open to adding another piece to their pass rush before training camp begins in late July.
The Bears made 10 selections in the draft, and loaded up at defensive tackles with three picks at the position. Accordingly, that’s led many to believe DE will be a position the team addresses in the later waves of free agency. However, more than a month after the draft, the market has hardly moved. Outside of the Floyd deal, Poona Ford also signed a deal with the Bills, the Seahawks brought in Mario Edwards Jr. and the Commanders traded for Za’Darius Smith. That’s been about it.
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That means there are still plenty of players available for the Bears to sign now. Of course DEs on other teams will be cut now that the draft is in the rear view mirror. For now, though, let’s focus on players who are currently on the market, and who could sign with the Bears when free agency heats up again. Note, all the ages listed are how old a player will be when the regular season kicks off.
DAWUANE SMOOT - 28 years old
Smoot is coming off a torn achilles injury, so the medicals might dissuade the Bears from signing him. However, if the medicals are all good Smoot could be an interesting option. Smoot was an ascending player for the Jaguars before he started ceding snaps to other players in 2022. However, Smoot still managed to produce while playing less. He recorded five sacks while only playing 44% of the team’s snaps last year. Smoot has 22.5 career sacks, 27 TFL, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries since joining the league in 2017. But things really didn’t start clicking for Smoot until 2019.
FRANK CLARK - 30 years old
Ryan Poles knows exactly what he’s going to get in Clark from watching him in Kansas City from 2019-2021. It just so happens that Clark put together three Pro Bowl campaigns during that stretch. That familiarity could be the key in getting a free agent deal done as OTAs approach. Clark is still a productive player, too. Last season, his 56 total pressures tied for 20th-most in the NFL among edge players per PFF. Clark has 58.5 career sacks, 67 TFL, 14 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries in eight seasons.
JUSTIN HOUSTON - 34 years old
Houston has two big connections to the Bears. First, he crossed paths with Poles in KC from 2011-2018. Then Houston went to Indianapolis where he played really well in Matt Eberflus’ defense in 2019 and 2020. Houston’s 22 sacks days are likely well behind him, but he proved he still has something left in the tank last year when he took a 20.1% pass rush win rate (17th-best in NFL among edge players per PFF) and notched 9.5 sacks in Baltimore, despite playing a career-low 44% of his team’s snaps. That could be exactly what the team is looking for, as they continue to develop their younger players. Houston has 111.5 career sacks, 130 TFL, 19 forced fumbles and 14 fumble recoveries in 12 years.
YANNICK NGAKOUE - 28 years old
Ngakoue recently said he’s looking for two things: a multi-year contract, and a team that’s ready to contend or has shown signs it's on the up and up. Both of those criteria could disqualify the Bears. Poles has shown he’s going to be disciplined when signing players to long-term deals, reserving those types of contracts for players he’s convicted can be cornerstone players. Considering Ngakoue has played for five teams in seven seasons, he may not fit that bill. Of course, Ngakoue could see the Bears’ 3-14 record last season, see a QB who needs to improve in the passing attack in Justin Fields and pass himself. If things do come together though, the Bears would get an instant boost to their pass rush. In just seven seasons, Ngakoue has 65 sacks and 65 TFL. He’s had at least eight sacks every year. Most importantly, he’s great at creating takeaways. Ngakoue already has an incredible 21 forced fumbles to his name, which is the fifth-most in the NFL since he came into the league in 2016.
CARLOS DUNLAP - 34 years old
Dunlap’s career is winding down, so he may not want to play on a rebuilding team like the Bears, but if he doesn’t get interest elsewhere the Bears may want to bring him in. Dunlap finally got a Super Bowl ring with the Chiefs last season, so Poles can call up his buddies in KC to get some info on what he brought to the locker room. Last year, Dunlap had four sacks, six TFL and one forced fumble while playing 50% of KC’s snaps. He also had 17 stops in the run game, per PFF, which was tied for 30th in the league among edge players. Over his 13 year career he has 100 sacks, 123 TFL, 22 forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries.
MELVIN INGRAM - 34 years old
Ingram is another older player, so like Dunlap he may prefer to chase a ring on another team. After lackluster seasons in 2020 and 2021 it looked like Ingram might be done, but he enjoyed a resurgence with the Ravens last season. In 11 seasons he has 57 sacks, 81 TFL, 16 forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries.
ROBERT QUINN - 33 years old
Everyone in the Bears locker room loves Robert Quinn. He brought tangible veteran leadership to the team, so for that reason alone the Bears might want to bring him back. However, Quinn was “highly upset” when he was traded last year, so he may not want to return. In 2021, Quinn set a Bears record with 18.5 sacks, but his production dropped sharply last year. He only managed one sack in 13 games.