The Chicago Bears are going to make a splash in free agency this offseason, and the best places to start are with available players on the best teams in the NFL.
One such team is the Philadelphia Eagles, and one such player is safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson. The NFL’s leader in interceptions, Alex Shapiro of NBC Sports Chicago suggested that the Bears take a run at Gardner-Johnson depending on how they view their current personnel in the secondary heading into 2023.
“If the Bears decide they like Kyler Gordon more as an outside corner than a nickel corner, then they could look into signing C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Bears fans may remember Gardner-Johnson as the trash talker who coaxed both Anthony Miller and Javon Wims into throwing punches at him in 2020,” Shapiro wrote on Sunday, January 29. “This year, however, Gardner-Johnson cemented himself as one of the best defensive backs in the league, who can play both safety and slot corner. [He] tied for the NFL lead in 2022 with six interceptions.”
Gardner-Johnson Would Bring Edge to Young, Talented Bears Secondary
The Bears were 18th in the league against the pass last season, surrendering more than 232 yards per game through the air, according to NFL.com. The team also intercepted a middling 14 passes on the year, placing them in a six-way tie for 12th, but just one INT ahead of a tie for 17th.
Gardner-Johnson would add more than just an edge to the Bears’ defense, he would add playmaking to a secondary that could use an injection of it. The safety recorded 67 tackles, including five tackles for loss, eight passes defensed, six interceptions, two quarterback hits and a sack in 12 games played in 2022, per Pro Football Reference.
Safety Eddie Jackson led Chicago in interceptions with four picks, followed by Gordon with three. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson led the Bears with seven defensed passes, while Jackson and Gordon tied for second with six each.
Jackson is under contract for the next two seasons, scheduled to count for more than $17 million against the salary cap in 2023. Gordon, a second-round selection in last year’s draft, carries a cap number shy of $2 million.
Safety Jaquan Brisker, also a second-round pick in 2022, is under contract for three more years and carries a cap number just shy of $1.7 million next season. Johnson, a second-rounder in 2020, will play the fourth year of his rookie deal in 2023 with a cap hit north of $3.5 million.
Bears Likely to Add Defensive Talent in First Round of NFL Draft
Beyond expectations that the Bears will be active in free agency, the overwhelming likelihood is that they will add a load of talent to the defense in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Chicago owns the top overall pick, though the team is expected to trade down at least one spot, as a bidding war between the Houston Texans (No. 2) and the Indianapolis Colts (No. 4) is likely to break out for the No. 1 overall selection, per ESPN’s Todd McShay.
If the Bears drop to the second pick, they will have their choice of either Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter or Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. If Chicago goes down to the fourth pick, one of the two will probably be off the board, more likely Carter to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 3.
Either scenario would work out for the Bears, as they are also expected to be in on free agent defensive tackle Daron Payne of the Washington Commanders if they have a need after the draft is completed.