The Chicago Bears have added one pass rusher to the mix this offseason but are expected to continue pressing the position as a priority as the NFL Draft approaches.
Who will join DeMarcus Walker, formerly of the Tennessee Titans, on the Bears defensive front is a subject of some debate, but the options are narrowing as free agency progresses.
Alex Ballentine of Bleacher Report on Saturday, March 18, suggested that free agent and former Indianapolis Colts defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is the perfect fit in Chicago. The pass rusher is entering his eighth NFL campaign in 2023, made a Pro-Bowl in 2017 and has never produced fewer than eight sacks in a season.
Bears May Prove Long-Term Home For Journeyman Ngakoue
Ngakoue is the NFL equivalent of an Army brat, moving around a lot since entering the league with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a rookie in 2016. He also played for the Minnesota Vikings, the Baltimore Ravens and the Las Vegas Raiders before landing with the Colts last season.
Ballentine noted that may be because of the defensive end’s singular skill set. But what Ngakoue does well is what the Bears need to add to their roster more than almost anything else for the upcoming season.
Ngakoue’s constant movement is likely in part because he’s a one-trick pony. That one trick (getting after the quarterback) is pretty vital, though.
Ngakoue does not work well as a run defender. Instead, he uses his quickness and athleticism as a pass-rushing specialist. With 65 career sacks and 9.5 last season, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be available much longer.
He had nearly half as many sacks as the Bears’ entire defense had last season (20). They added DeMarcus Walker already, but he’s a very different player at 6’4″, 280 pounds. Ngakoue would be a pure pass-rusher who could be a vital part of their rotation.
Ngakoue, who will play next season at the age of 28, just finished out a two-year contract that paid him $26 million in total. Spotrac projects his market value at upwards of $15 million annually over a four-year deal, though other projections have Ngakoue valued at roughly the same yearly price he was paid in 2021 and 2022.
As of Monday, the Bears retained $41.4 million in salary cap space for 2023.
Bears Can Opt to Trade With Vikings For OLB Za’Darius Smith
Other edge-rushing options exist for the Bears in free agency, including the recently released Frank Clark, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs. However, the Bears could also look to the trade market to beef up their quarterback pressure.
Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith earlier this month asked the Vikings for his release. The team responded with a firm “n0,” though the three-time Pro Bowler is believed now to be a trade candidate in 2023.
Maurice Moton of Bleacher Report suggested Sunday that the Vikings might be willing to accept as little as a fourth-round draft pick in return for Smith’s contract, which has two years remaining at a total cost of roughly $33.8 million.
The danger is in extending Smith, who will play next season at the age of 31. Smith’s desire to exit Minnesota likely has something to do with hopes for a contract extension, which is a precarious proposition after he suffered a back injury that sidelined him for all but one regular season game in 2021.