Bears Expected to Poach Star Defender From Super Bowl Team

Javon Hargrave, Eagles

Getty Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave of the Philadelphia Eagles smiles from the sidelines against the San Francisco 49ers during the NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 29, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

One thing Chicago Bears fans can be certain of is that there will be at least one new and menacing presence on their defensive front next season.

David Kenyon of Bleacher Report wrote on February 1 that the most likely candidate in this regard is a soon-to-be free agent who will compete with the Philadelphia Eagles next weekend for a Super Bowl trophy —  Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Javon Hargrave.

Among the Eagles’ many excellent players, Hargrave has become a force in the middle of the defensive line.

It’s possible Hargrave has played his way beyond the Eagles’ financial limitations. Philly has 2022 first-round selection Jordan Davis ready to occupy a larger role. He and Hargrave can coexist up front, but the Eagles could instead lean on Davis and a less expensive player.

The Bears have money to burn ($90.9 million). Although the agreement fell through, Chicago quickly targeted Larry Ogunjobi last offseason to headline new head coach Matt Eberflus‘ defense. Eberflus has been very public about the unit’s need for an “engine” on the D-line.

Hargrave produced a career-year in 2022, tallying 60 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits, 11 sacks, two defensed passes, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble, per Pro Football Reference.

Hargrave One of Several Good Free Agent Options For Bears’ D-Line

Javon Hargrave, Aaron Rodgers

GettyDefensive tackle Javon Hargrave of the Philadelphia Eagles dives to bring down quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers during a game at Lincoln Financial Field on November 27, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Hargrave’s market value heading into next season is listed at more than $60 million over three years ($20.1 million annually), per Spotrac. The former third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2016 just finished the final year of his second professional contract (three years, $39 million) and will play next season at the age of 29.

As Kenyon noted last week, the Bears can afford to go a little crazy and that’s exactly what they are expected to do in free agency. The only question is where to spend the money? Hargrave makes a ton of sense as arguably the best defensive tackle in this year’s free agent class, though Daron Payne of the Washington Commanders is in the mix as well.

Which player Chicago pursues, if either, will come down to two factors — the first being overall cost. Payne is a little younger than Hargrave, turning 26 years old in May. He will be looking for his second professional contract in unrestricted free agency rather than his third, and carries a market value of $19.4 million annually, per Spotrac. While that projection is less than Hargrave’s by about $700,000 per season, it is spread out over five years for a total investment of nearly $97.5 million — over $37 million more than the three-year projection for Hargrave.

That Payne will seek, and probably will be able to command, more years on a deal ahead of the 2023 campaign is not necessarily a reason the Bears will look to Hargrave first. Payne also had a breakout year with 20 quarterback hits, 18 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and five defensed passes. However, shorter contracts are often less complicated and offer more flexibility, which may be why Bleacher Report favors a move to bring Hargrave to Chicago over a similar play for Payne.

Bears’ Draft Decisions Will Impact Free Agency Pursuit of Hargrave

Will Anderson Jr., Alabama

GettyLinebacker Will Anderson Jr. of the Alabama Crimson Tide throws aside tight end Josh Sterzer of the Utah State Aggies at Bryant Denny Stadium on September 3, 2022 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images)

The second factor to consider is the Bears’ No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft.

In all likelihood, Chicago will trade off of that position. However, if the Bears select first they may decide to take defensive tackle Jalen Carter out of Georgia. He is the highest-rated prospect across all positions in the 2023 draft class, per ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., and can easily fill Eberflus’ need for an “engine” up front.

But despite Carter’s proven propensity for NFL greatness, simply picking him first does not maximize the value of the top overall selection. Instead, the Bears can trade down to No. 2 with the Houston Texans or to No. 4 with the Indianapolis Colts, both teams that need quarterbacks. Carter will still be there with the second pick and may be there with the fourth. But even if he isn’t, that means that Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. is almost certainly going to be.

Chicago general manager Ryan Poles traded away much of the team’s pass rush last year in a series of moves to get younger, faster and cheaper across the roster. As such, a high-end edge rusher is also at the top of the list of the Bears’ needs.

A scenario in which Chicago trades down from No. 1 to No. 4, collects a handful of extra draft picks, selects Anderson with the fourth overall pick and signs Hargrave to a big free agency deal makes a ton of sense — addressing the need on the D-line, the need on the edge and the need for more draft capital this year and beyond.

It’s just one of several situations that could play out in Chicago, though Hargrave ends up at the center of the Bears’ defense in many of the team’s best-case scenarios.

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