The Bears have been busy on the first day, which teams are expected to be able to make deals with free agents. But their goals came as a bit of a surprise, particularly the move to add high-profile linebacker Tremaine Edmunds from the Buffalo Bills.
General manager Ryan Poles traded his own All-Pro, Roquan Smith, last season rather than comply with his contract demands. Jack Sanborn, an undrafted linebacker from the University of Wisconsin, played well as Smith’s replacement, but the Poles nonetheless reinvested the savings from the Smith trade into a deal with Edmunds.
The four-year, $72 million deal is nearly as much per season as Smith was aiming for, but comes in a year less than Smith eventually received from the Baltimore Raven. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that this is the biggest four-year deal ever given to an off-ball linebacker.
The Bears were expected to prioritize the defensive line over the linebackers. They similarly agreed to a deal with a guard, Tennessee’s Nate Davis, in lieu of a tackle that had been expected. Davis reportedly agreed to a three-year, $19.25 million deal. It’s unclear if he will make veteran guard Cody Whitehair expendable or allow Teven Jenkins to switch back to tackle after playing well as a guard in 2022.
Poles are believed to have been stalking San Francisco’s Mike McGlinchey before signing a five-year, $87.5 million offer from Denver.
The Bears started their business Monday with a linebacker deal. They agreed on a three-year, $19.5 million deal for Eagles linebacker TJ Edwards, who started in every game for the NFC champion last season.
They’ve focused on defensemen but haven’t used their salary cap flexibility to secure a deal with the Eagles’ Javon Hargrave. He agreed to a four-year, $81 million deal with San Francisco.
The Bears opened the day with an NFL-high $75.6 million in salary caps, despite putting All-Pro wide receiver DJ Moore on the payroll in last Friday’s first overall winner’s trade. Monday’s agreements reduced the workspace to about $45 million in caps depending on how the contracts are structured.
The Poles should be able to make at least one more big signing. Tackle Orlando Brown, the best offensive lineman on the market, and defensive line target Dre’Mont Jones had not reached an agreement Monday night.
Edmunds appealed to the Bears for a variety of reasons, including his age. He led Buffalo in tackles last season, playing at age 24 after being selected in the first round of the 2018 draft before his 20th birthday. Struggling with salary caps with their commitments to Josh Allen, Stefan Diggs, Von Miller, Tre’Davious White, Dion Dawkins and others, the Bills opted to re-sign Matt Milano on a two-year deal, with Matt Milano’s signing as a priority Two-year deal rather than making Edmunds one of their highest-paid players.
The Bears had been linked to free-agent linebacker Bobby Okereke, who played for Bears coach Matt Eberflus in Indianapolis. But the chance to land Edmunds trumped that interest, and Okereke reportedly agreed to a four-year, $40 million deal with the New York Giants.
It will be fascinating to see where the bears go from here. They grabbed first- and second-round picks from Carolina along with Moore in this year’s draft — in addition to a future first- and second-rounder. Poles wants to give quarterback Justin Fields the best possible opportunity to fulfill his potential, but is clearly focused on making the improvements needed on both sides of the ball.