The Chicago Bears have been eliminated from playoff contention and even though it sounds a bit counterintuitive, that means the real excitement is about to begin.
Watching Justin Fields slash his way through opposing defenses on an absolute tear toward history has been electrifying, not to mention highly encouraging as it pertains to the franchise’s short- and long-term futures. To go along with the promise Fields provides for the next decade is a high draft choice for the Bears — currently the No. 2 pick in the first round — and a projected $115 million to spend during the offseason to revamp the roster.
First-year general manager Ryan Poles and company must feel like kids in a candy store as they scour the upcoming free agent class for dynamic players to add to the fold. One such player is Washington Commanders defensive tackle Daron Payne, who is having a breakout fifth season in 2022.
“DT Daron Payne. Disruptive on the tape vs. [New York Giants]. Two more sacks (up to 8.5 on the year),” Matt Bowen of ESPN tweeted on Tuesday, December 6. “Will be one of the top free agent DTs this offseason.”
Bowen added in a separate tweet, responding to a follower, that: “Yes, Daron Payne should be a top free agent target for Chicago.”
Daron Payne Blowing Up Opposing Backfields in Contract Year, Including Bears’
Payne, selected No. 13 overall in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Commanders, has yet to make a Pro Bowl, though that looks likely to change this season.
Standing at 6-feet, 3-inches tall and weighing 320 pounds, Payne has terrorized opposing quarterbacks via a powerful interior bull rush that has been next to impossible to stop through 13 contests in 2022. He has tallied 16 quarterback hits, 15 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, five passes defensed and a safety — all of which are already career highs with four games yet to play, per Pro Football Reference.
Payne has also been highly durable, appearing in 77 of a possible 78 games across his five-year NFL career, earning starts on 71 of those occasions. If added by the Bears, Payne would step in as the premier defensive tackle and interior presence in Chicago from day one.
Bears’ Pass Rush Likely Elite in 2023 if Chicago Selects LB Will Anderson Jr.
Should the Bears land Payne, there is a good chance the interior pass rusher will be paired alongside a potentially generational edge rusher in Will Anderson Jr., currently of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.
The SEC standout linebacker is arguably the best prospect in the entire 2023 draft class, which includes a handful of signal callers who have the potential to be franchise quarterbacks. ESPN draft experts Matt Miller and Jordan Reid believe Chicago won’t hesitate to select Anderson given the opportunity, even despite some obvious needs along the offensive line.
The Bears should be in position to do so if they maintain the No. 2 overall pick behind the Houston Texans, a franchise almost certain to use its top selection to bring in a quarterback.
Poles pulled Chicago’s defense apart in 2022, trading away linebackers Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith, as well as pass rusher Robert Quinn. While tough to watch them go, the organization’s vision for the its defense of the future is starting to take shape — and with the prospective additions of Payne and Anderson Jr., it is looking very bright indeed.