The Chicago Bears are still in the market for another veteran pass rusher with about two months to go until training camp, but there is one notable free agent with a “significant” market who could help them address their biggest need.
According to Matt Lombardo of Heavy Sports, former Baltimore Ravens pass rusher Justin Houston drawing “significant interest” from multiple teams on the free agent market and is currently weighing his options for the 2023 season. Lombardo also listed Chicago as one of the four potential best fits for the four-time Pro Bowler next year.
” [Linebackers]T.J. Edwards’ and Tremaine Edmunds’ arrivals significantly bolster Chicago’s talent in the front-seven, but Houston would give the Bears’ pass-rush real teeth,” Lombardo wrote. “Houston is a disruptive force, who finished last season 28th in the league in pass-rush win rate, and 20th in pressure rate, could arrive in the Windy City and immediately push for a starting role.”
The Bears have been transparent about their desire to sign an experienced pass rusher in the wake of them not adding a single one in the 2023 NFL draft last month. While Chicago did add quality run defenders to their defensive end room in DeMarcus Walker and Rasheem Green, they could still use someone with a consistent track record as a pass rusher to bolster their ranks after finishing dead-last with 20 sacks in 2022.
“We’re working on it, we don’t stop working and looking at different avenues to bring players in,” Bears general manager Ryan Poles said May 12 on 670 The Score. “There are some options, potentially trade options. There’s also some guys on the street still that can potentially come in and help us. We’re kind of looking at everything right now, maybe something will happen sooner rather than later.”
Justin Houston Has Multiple Ties to Chicago’s Staff
Houston’s fit with Chicago goes beyond their need for a pass rusher, as there are a few things connecting him to the Bears’ current staff. For one, he has experience working with head coach Matt Eberflus from when they were both in Indianapolis together in 2019 and 2020, racking up 19 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and 30 quarterback hits over two seasons with the Colts. Poles was also in Kansas City for Houston’s first eight seasons in the league, indicating he has a good sense for the player and person.
The Bears also have the ability to solidly outbid other suitors for Houston if they decide they need him on their roster. Houston played on a one-year, $2.075 million contract for Baltimore in 2022, a number the Bears would have no problem exceeding with a league-most $32.6 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap. And unlike some of the more expensive free agent pass rushers — such as Yannick Ngakoue and Frank Clark — Houston on a one-year deal would fit nicely on the track of the Bears’ rebuilding plan.
Now, there are reasons to believe Houston wouldn’t want to come to Chicago. At 34, he might be looking to sign with a 2023 contender in order to make the most of his final seasons in the NFL. Houston has also functioned more often as an outside linebacker than a defensive end in his career and could be better suited for a 3-4 defense; although, he did play left defensive end during both of his seasons with Eberflus in Indy.
How Big of a Splash Do Bears Want to Make at EDGE?
Poles’ comments about “looking at everything” in regards to pass rushers suggest they will be making some form of an addition in the coming weeks, but it remains to be seen how much help the Bears truly believe they need at the position.
Pundits have been critical of Poles and the Bears for not drafting a pass rusher in 2023, but the Bears did improve the interior of their defensive line with the Day 2 selections of Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens. Perhaps they believe that more success on the inside will help produce better results on the outside, where both of their 2022 starters — Trevis Gipson and 2022 fifth-rounder Dominique Robinson — are set to return. In that case, the additions of Walker and Green could be enough to march into Week 1.
Conversely, the Bears could decide the best course of action for them is taking advantage of the late-stage free agent market and adding one of the still-available veterans on a reasonable, multi-year contract. Ngakoue is a popular possibility given that he is still relatively young (28) and hasn’t finished a season without at least eight sacks throughout his career, but others such as Clark, Leonard Floyd and Jadeveon Clowney could also add some pass-rushing force to their ranks for bigger money.