It took most of the first day of the NFL’s legal tampering period for the Chicago Bears to do it, but they have finally added a veteran to their defensive line.
According to ESPN’s Courtney Cronin, the Bears are signing former Tennessee Titans veteran defensive end DeMarcus Walker — who had a breakout seven-sack season in 2022 — to a three-year contract worth $21 million with $16 million fully guaranteed. The move was first reported by Mike Garafolo of NFL Network.
Walker had a notable breakout for the Titans defense in 2022 with seven sacks, 32 pressures and 16 quarterback hits over 17 games, according to Pro Football Focus. While he doesn’t have the prestige of guys like Javon Hargrave or Dre’Mont Jones, he should be able to provide an immediate impact for a Bears defense that finished with the fewest sacks (20) and quarterback hits (24) in the league last season.
Walker, 28, is the third defensive investment of the day for the Bears, who also agreed to deals with linebackers T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds on Monday. All three of the signings won’t become official until the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 15 — which is worth remembering for Bears fans who thought their team signed Larry Ogunjobi last year only to have him fail his physical and not sign.
DeMarcus Walker Adds Solid Talent to Needy DL
Walker isn’t as flashy of a signing as some of the big-name defensive linemen who found new teams on the first day of negotiations, but Bears general manager Ryan Poles is all about the value and appears to have found a good and necessary investment in a seventh-year pro who just started to realize his potential in 2022.
Walker has struggled to find a proper fit over his first six seasons. Part of the problem has been his own health and durability, but the Denver Broncos didn’t do him any favors with how they mismanaged his rookie season. Despite him being 280 pounds coming into the league, the Broncos opted to have him cut weight and converted him to an outside linebacker for their scheme, a role in which he did not thrive as a rookie. They atoned for their mistake by moving him back in 2018, but his rookie season had already gone to waste and his development had been slowed as a result.
Walker finally started to come into his own once Vic Fangio arrived as head coach in 2019, recording 8.5 sacks over his next two seasons, but his uptick in production didn’t stave off his issues with injuries. Between his four seasons with the Broncos and his fifth year in 2021 with the Houston Texans, he has missed a total of 31 career games.
On a gamble, the Titans finally got a taste of what Walker can do when fully healthy in 2022. He played all 17 games, starting six of them, and finished with career-high marks across the board, including recording a third-most seven sacks for the Titans defense. If he can keep things going — even if he only delivers about the same production in 2023 — it could be a significant upgrade for the Bears coming off the edge.
Bears Signed 4 Free Agents on 1st Day of Negotiations
Walker was the last-reported free agent move of the day for the Bears, but they made off with a pretty good first-day haul once it was all said and done. According to Cronin, they agreed to terms on contracts with offensive guard Nate Davis and inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds on Monday, making some big-money investments into several positions of need across their 2023 roster.
Don’t expect the Bears to suddenly fall passive, though. There is still work to do.
Even with Walker inked, the Bears could stand to add another free agent — or a few — to their defensive line room. Hargrave and Jones are off the market, but Yannick Ngakoue, Arden Key, Frank Clark, Kyle Van Noy, Samson Ebukam and Jadeveon Clowney are still out there and could offer them a few good options off the edge. There are also guys like Sheldon Rankins, Larry Ogunjobi, Matt Ioannidis and Morgan Fox who can help shore up the interior, even though they will probably need significant draft investment.
The Bears could also stand to add an offensive tackle. Poles might be eyeing either Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. or Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski for their No. 9 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft, but adding a veteran to the room feels like a necessary move given the best tackle they have currently is second-year Braxton Jones. Orlando Brown Jr. is still available if they want to make a high-level investment in a left tackle, but Kaleb McGary — who plays on the right side — might make more sense if they would prefer to find a complement for Jones rather than a replacement at left tackle.