The Chicago Bears’ lackluster pass-rushing attack from the edges of their defensive line has another analyst projecting a “high-end” fit for them.
ESPN’s Matt Bowen recently evaluated some of the top remaining free agents and trade candidates in the NFL with the end of 2023 organized team activities coming up and became the latest reputable analyst to project the Bears as a potential landing spot for fan-favorite — and surprisingly still-available — defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
“In Chicago, [Ngakoue] would fill a void for coach Matt Eberflus’ defense, which added depth on the defensive line through free agency and the draft but still lacks a high-end edge rusher in passing situations,” Bowen wrote for ESPN on June 1. “With Ngakoue in the mix playing opposite of free agent addition DeMarcus Walker, the Bears can boost their edge production in nickel fronts, which is critical for a defense that had a league-low 20 sacks last season. Ngakoue isn’t a great run defender, but as a pass-rusher, he can play a role.”
Bowen also noted that, in the case of all of his free agent fits, the assumption is none of them are going to sign for multi-year contracts this late in the offseason. Because of this, the ESPN staff writer believes the Bears could add Ngakoue on a one-year, “low-risk” contract to boost their defensive end room for the upcoming 2023 season.
While the potential price tag on Ngakoue is debatable, the Bears are in a fortunate situation where — with roughly $32.5 million in remaining cap space — they can afford to make a high-priced, single-year investment in a veteran at a position of need. The 28-year-old Ngakoue is still young enough to have long-term value, but giving him a one-year contract would prevent the Bears from having to alter their roster-building plans.
Yannick Ngakoue Continues to Make Sense for Bears
Contrary to fans’ hopes, the Bears did not make any blockbuster changes to their defensive end position during the 2023 offseason. They signed DeMarcus Walker to a three-year, $21 million contract after his seven-sack season for Tennessee in 2022, but the structure of the deal presents them with an easy enough out next offseason if he doesn’t live up to expectations. They also took a one-year flier on Rasheem Green to add more low-risk, high-upside depth to their edge-rushing room for next season.
For a team that finished dead last in sacks (20) in 2022, though, the Bears are banking a little too much on the breakout potential of their personnel, which is where Ngakoue starts to make the most sense for them as July’s training camp inches closer.
Ngakoue might not have the best run-stopping record or even an above-average overall win rate on pass-rushing snaps, but the 28-year-old has astonishingly defied the metrics again and again over the course of his seven-year career. Not one time has he finished a season with fewer than eight sacks — which would be twice as many as the Bears’ 2022 sacks leader (four). He also hasn’t let a change in environment impact his sack artistry, playing for four different teams over the past three seasons.
More importantly, Ngakoue is an ideal scheme fit for Eberflus’ 4-3 defense. The Bears’ intent is to generate pressure from the interior of their defensive line, which was their motivation for sinking three of their 10 draft picks into defensive tackles in 2023, but having someone capable of capitalizing on those opportunities is still essential. Even if he is only on the field for pass-rushing reps, Ngakoue would be an asset for Chicago.
Could Trevis Gipson Change Bears’ Pass-Rush Needs?
If someone went searching, it would probably be difficult to find even a single analyst who believes the Bears have done enough work to improve their defensive end room for the 2023 season. But based on the latest intel from Heavy Sports NFL insider Matt Lombardo, the Bears may have a reason not to add to the room: Trevis Gipson.
Gipson looked like a potential breakout contender following his second season in 2021, racking up seven sacks, 16 hurries and 27 pressures as a fill-in for the injured superstar Khalil Mack. Based on Pro Football Focus’ evaluations, he was the ninth-highest-graded pass rusher in the NFL (87.0) in 2021, creating expectations for a big follow-up in 2022.
Gipson, however, struggled about as much as everyone for the Bears defense last year. While his pressures (30) and hurries (20) went up with his snap count, he registered just three sacks and was awful against the run with a poor 3.8 run-stop percentage.
With an improved interior pass rusher — at least on paper with second-rounder Gervon Dexter Sr., third-rounder Zacch Pickens and veteran signing Andrew Billings — the Bears remain optimistic about Gipson, though, and believe he could be part of their long-term plans if he takes a convincing step forward in 2023 for their defense.
“They like him a lot,” a league source with knowledge of the Bears’ thinking told Lombardo, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely. “That’s why they drafted interior help rather than taking an edge rusher.”