The franchise tag deadline has come and gone, and while the Bears opted not to tag Allen Robinson for the second-straight season, decisions made across the league may have had an even bigger impact on what Ryan Poles decides to do when free agency opens next week.
Let’s start with the wide receiver group. Both Davante Adams and Chris Godwin were tagged on Tuesday, with Mike Williams and the Chargers coming together for a contract extension. Besides Amari Cooper, who is expected to be released by the Cowboys before the new league year begins, those were the top names set to hit the market. Now none of them will reach free agency. There are still big-name playmakers available for sure, like Odell Beckham Jr. But with fewer players available in the market, it will likely cost more to bring in Cooper or OBJ than it would have if Godwin and Williams were available too.
It should be noted that there’s still a chance一 albeit a slim chance一 Robinson returns to the Bears. Poles said earlier this month that he’s open to repairing the broken relationship between the Bears and Robinson. It’s unclear what kinds of offers Robinson will receive on the open market since he’s consistently performed as a No. 1 wideout, but he’s coming off a down year in 2021. If Robinson doesn’t get the deal he’s looking for as a free agent, a one-year “prove it” deal may be in his best interest. Again, all of that coming together, and coming together in Chicago feels like a longshot, though.
Then there are the tackles. Cam Robinson was tagged by the Jaguars, while the Chiefs tagged Orlando Brown. Poles has hinted that change will be coming on the Bears line, but we don’t know the extent of those changes. It really comes down to how Poles evaluates both Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom, as they prepare for their second seasons. If Poles thinks either player is better suited as a guard, this could be an area where he decides to pay a premium in free agency, given his focus on improving the offense from the trenches out. Now, if Poles wants to bring in a marquee left tackle to improve Justin Fields’ protection, Terron Armstead looks like the best bet. And just like the wide receivers, fewer players hitting the market likely means the Bears will have to pay a higher price if they do decide to sign Armstead.
The other players tagged today include three tight ends (Mike Gesicki, David Njoku and Dalton Schultz) and a safety (Jessie Bates). The Bears can essentially ignore the tight end moves, since they’re set with Cole Kmet, and likely wouldn’t look to sign Gesicki, Njoku or Schultz. They will need to fill out the position group, as Kmet is the only tight end under contract for 2022. But look for the team to bring in a blocking/special teams specialist like J.P. Holtz, or a secondary target like Jesper Horsted.
The Bears do need to find a safety to play alongside Eddie Jackson, but the Bates tag isn’t as impactful as the WR or LT tags. It seems unlikely for the Bears to make a splash signing here, since they have bigger needs elsewhere, like wide receiver, cornerback or defensive tackle. If Matt Eberflus convinces Poles that safety should be a priority in free agency, they will have more options to consider, too. With Tyrann Mathieu, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Williams and more available, the Bears will have more opportunities to take big swings if they happen to miss out on one particular player.
It bears repeating that we don’t really know what to expect from Poles and his staff as they go through free agency for the first time. Poles has said he’d like to maximize the value that can be found by signing players in the second and third waves of free agency. But if Poles believes one of these top-tier free agents could be a key piece as he and Eberflus build the new Bears foundation, he seems convicted enough to make his move. Now that these eight players are officially off the board, Poles can focus his free agency search even more.
Teams can begin negotiating with free agents on March 14 at 11 a.m. Then free agency officially opens, and teams can begin signing players, on March 16 at 3 p.m.