If general manager Ryan Poles intends to completely rebuild the Chicago Bears’ defensive line during the 2023 offseason, Dalvin Tomlinson could potentially give him a prime free agent to target right in their own NFC North backyard.
Tomlinson — who turns 29 next month — is set to become an unrestricted free agent once he closes out the 2022 season with the Minnesota Vikings and could entice a number of teams looking to add an experienced defensive lineman to their ranks. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished the regular season with a career-high 29 quarterback pressures despite missing four games with an injury and received their eighth-highest grade as a pass rusher (79.1) among DL that played at least 500 snaps.
For the Bears specifically, Tomlinson is a veteran who could function as either a three-technique defensive tackle or a strongside defensive end, the latter role being what he played primarily in 2022 after the Vikings switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense. He has also been a game wrecker against the run game throughout his career.
Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox also agreed that Tomlinson could be a “tremendous” free agent target for the Bears, highlighting how “terrific” of a season he had for the Vikings despite the rest of his supporting cast on their line struggling to produce.
“The Bears finished the regular season 29th in yards allowed and dead last in points surrendered,” Knox wrote on January 13. “While Chicago could draft a blue-chip defender such as Will Anderson Jr. or Jalen Carter with the No. 1 overall pick — the top two prospects on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department’s big board — it could stand to sign a player like Tomlinson as well. The Bears could also lose defensive linemen Mike Pennel and Armon Watts in free agency. For them, pulling Tomlinson away from a division rival would make plenty of sense.”
How Much Would Dalvin Tomlinson Cost Bears?
The Bears are going to have quite a bit of spending power for the 2023 offseason with more than $100 million in projected cap space, giving them the ability to aggressively pursue some of their favorite targets on the free agent market. In terms of Tomlinson, though, he could be more of a value signing than some of the top-of-the-market defenders such as Washington’s Daron Payne or Philadelphia’s Javon Hargrave.
According to Spotrac, Tomlinson has a projected market value of $8.5 million per year for his next NFL contract, which is $2 million less than what he earned on a per-year basis throughout his two-year, $21 million contract with Minnesota. In other words, a reasonable offer from the Bears could be a two-year deal worth about $17-18 million.
Meanwhile, the Bears would be looking at paying out about $20 million per season if they wanted to sign either Payne or Hargrave for their defense. They could certainly still do that if they wanted — and would be justified in doing so after each defensive tackle put up double-digit sacks in 2022 — but it might make more sense for them to target someone like Tomlinson if they also have their eyes set on Georgia’s Jalen Carter in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft and plan on making him their new centerpiece.
Payne or Hargrave Make More Sense as Bears’ ‘Engine’
While Tomlinson could be a worthwhile option for the Bears to kick the tires on, it still makes far more sense for them to focus on one of the two big dogs in the free agency class and use their ample resources to lock down either Payne or Hargrave for 2023.
Not only are Payne and Hargrave high-level disruptors who are coming off career-best seasons for their respective teams, but the Bears’ defensive scheme under head coach Matt Eberflus is dependent on having a three-technique defensive tackle who can operate as the “engine” of the defense against both the run and the pass.
“We call it the engine that makes everything go because in the running game, you can’t run at the three and you can’t run away from him, so it’s hard to really dictate where you’re going to run the ball, number one, and it creates a lot of free lanes for your linebackers to run through in the run game,” Eberflus said back on December 19.
“But in the pass game, a lot of times when you have two of them, you have a three-technique and you have a defensive end opposite of him, it’s hard to move your line that way. He creates a lot of one-on-ones, and he’s typically overmatched on a guard. Typically your best offensive linemen are on the outside and if you have your best player on the inside, that’s certainly an advantage for you.”
Between the two of them, Payne is probably a better fit than Hargrave to fill that role for the Bears defense. He has gotten progressively better in each of his five seasons for the Commanders and is only just starting to enter his prime with his 26th birthday coming up in May. Meanwhile, Hargrave will turn 30 in about three weeks and could be more difficult for a rebuilding team to trust as the centerpiece of their defense.