The coming year is mostly about which players the Chicago Bears will add to the roster, but at least a couple of starters are prime candidates to be cut.
Joe Tansey of Bleacher Report on Wednesday, February 1, suggested that the Bears seriously consider parting ways with both offensive lineman Lucas Patrick and defensive tackle Justin Jones. The primary motivation for those moves would be allowing Chicago to add to its NFL-leading $98 million of salary cap space in 2023, as tallied by Spotrac.
Both Patrick and Jones were regular starters for the Bears when healthy in 2022, but the offensive and defensive lines are each top priorities heading into the offseason. Patrick carries a cap hit of nearly $5.4 million next season, while Jones’ cap hit is $7.4 million. Both are slotted to hit unrestricted free agency in 2024.
Lucas Patrick Failed to Play to Contract After Joining Bears in 2022
Chicago was excited about Patrick after signing him away from the rival Green Bay Packers last year, with general manger Ryan Poles offering high praise of the positionally versatile offensive lineman on his way into the fold.
“The things he was screaming on the phone after we got a deal done kind of showed what he’s all about,” Poles said in March. “He embodies that. He’s a prick, and he knows it. And that’s how he survives, and that’s what we need up front.”
The biggest problem for Patrick was that he was unable to survive up front, at least in terms of his availability. Patrick played in just seven of 17 games for the Bears in his initial campaign, starting five of those. That was due to a toe injury he suffered in Week 7 against the New England Patriots, which ultimately required surgery and cost the offensive lineman the rest of the season.
When he was on the field, his performance was well below the league average. Pro Football Focus gave Patrick an overall grade of 55.9 at the center position, including grades of 62.5 as a run blocker and an abysmal 30.8 as a pass blocker.
“The Bears have a few offensive linemen on their roster that they would love to keep in starting spots, including Teven Jenkins,” Tansey wrote. “A top-tier addition on the outside could force someone like Jenkins back to the inside, which would keep playing time away from Patrick. … He could be let go at a relatively low cost to pursue a better opportunity elsewhere.”
Justin Jones May be Out in Chicago Due to D-Line Additions
While Jones’ advanced analytics also fell short of spectacular during his first year in Chicago, the 2022 team captain is less on the chopping block due to his performance and availability, and more so because the Bears are expected to push for big-time upgrades at his position.
Jones started all 17 games last season, amassing 52 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits, four passes defensed, three sacks and one fumble recovery, per Pro Football Reference.
However, Chicago is expected to be an active free agent player for defensive tackles like Daron Payne of the Washington Commanders and Javon Hargrave of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bears may also look to the defensive tackle position in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Chicago owns the top overall pick, though the team is expected to trade down at least once, most likely either to No. 2 with the Houston Texans or No. 4 with the Indianapolis Colts.
Depending on how everything shakes out at the top of the draft, the Bears may find themselves able to select Jalen Carter out of the University of Georgia, who is projected to be a generational talent at defensive tackle and is currently the top prospect across all positions in the 2023 class, according to the big board of ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.