Bears Linked to Elite $26 Million Edge Rusher in Free Agency

Eberflus, Poles, Bears

Getty Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberflus (left) and general manager Ryan Poles (right) talk on the sideline ahead of an NFL game in 2023.

The Chicago Bears have several areas of need and a lacking edge rush is arguably chief among them.

General manager Ryan Poles can use the draft to tackle the team’s lack of quarterback pressure but even if he does, the Bears will probably sign at least one free agent pass rusher this offseason. There are a handful of quality options who will hit the market less than a month from now, including Yannick Ngakoue of the Indianapolis Colts.

Brendan Sugrue of USA Today’s Bears Wire laid out the case for Ngakoue on Sunday, February 19.

With nearly $100 million in cap space, the Bears can land any of the top edge rushers hitting the market. The players that jump out immediately are Yannick Ngakoue and Marcus Davenport.

Ngakoue continues to produce no matter where he plays. He’s had at least eight sacks in each season as a professional dating back to 2016 and is still just 27 years old. He had 29 tackles (eight for loss) with 9.5 sacks and a forced fumble last season for the Indianapolis Colts. Ngakoue signed a two-year deal worth $26 million ($21 million guaranteed) in 2021 and could command a similar deal.

Bears Could Pursue Multiple Free Agent Edge Rushers This Offseason

Yannick Ngakoue, Colts

GettyEdge rusher Yannick Ngakoue of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates sacking quarterback Kenny Pickett of the Pittsburgh Steelers during a game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 28, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

As Sugrue noted, Chicago has also been tied to Davenport, a former first-round pick coming off of the fifth and final year of his rookie contract with the New Orleans Saints. There is a legitimate chance that the Bears could pursue multiple edge rushers in free agency, with Ngakoue and Davenport topping the list of prospects.

Spotrac projects Ngakoue’s market value at nearly $15 million annually over four years and Davenport’s market value at approximately $23 million per season over a four-year contract. Combined, that would only soak up around 40% of the team’s salary cap space in 2023, leaving plenty left over to address the offensive line as well as the wide receiver position.

Spotrac’s projection for Davenport reads a bit high after he produced a down season in 2022. With his Pro-Bowl history, Ngakoue looks, at least on paper, like he would be money better spent for the Bears. The primary difference is Ngakoue is entering his eighth NFL season while Davenport will be playing his sixth.

If Davenport’s number is too high for Poles to justify, he could look at another option in Arden Key of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“Key has had success in both a 4-3 and 3-4 defense and is coming off 4.5 sacks for the Jaguars,” Sugrue wrote. “At 26 years old, he’s a solid player who is just entering his prime. It wouldn’t be a splashy move, but he would present an upgrade.”

Bears Linked to Pass Rushing Phenom Will Anderson Jr. in NFL Draft

Will Anderson Jr.

GettyLinebacker Will Anderson Jr. of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates a win against the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 4, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Of course, the best money the Bears could spend on the edge would be to draft Will Anderson Jr. out of Alabama.

Anderson had an insanely productive collegiate career and is arguably the most talented player in the 2023 NFL Draft class. He is among the frontrunners to land in Chicago, though the team will not necessarily have to expend the No. 1 overall pick to bring him there.

If the Bears decide to hold onto quarterback Justin Fields, they will more than likely trade back to No. 2 with the Houston Texans or No. 4 with the Colts to increase their pick tally. With both teams interested in QBs, only one player at most would be selected before Chicago’s turn at the podium. The Arizona Cardinals could pick Anderson at No. 3, in which case defensive tackle Jalen Carter out of Georgia would be available. He is also a more or less perfect fit with the Bears’ defensive scheme and can generate a pass rush of his own up the middle.

If Chicago goes defense in the first round, the team’s pass rush is almost certain to improve drastically via the draft. Whoever that pick is will almost certainly be supplemented in his rookie year by a quality free agent edge rusher like Ngakoue next season.

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