The Chicago Bears are undergoing an exciting transformation this offseason, but a pass rush off the edge remains an element still to be added to the roster.
After trading down from the No. 1 overall pick to the No. 9 spot in a deal with the Carolina Panthers, elite linebacker Will Anderson Jr. no longer appears an option for the Bears, meaning immediate help on the edge is more likely to come in free agency or via a trade.
One potential option is Za’Darius Smith who asked the Minnesota Vikings for his release on March 9, per a report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Bears Can Trade For Smith at Cost of Mid-Round Draft Pick
In the very same tweet, Rapoport reported that the Vikings don’t intend to grant Smith his request. However, the team has already signed an edge rusher in Marcus Davenport to a one-year deal worth $13 million, which means Minnesota’s intentions are most likely to trade Smith rather than keep a disgruntled player on the roster at a high price point.
That was the opinion of Maurice Moton of Bleacher Report when he suggested that Smith is among a handful of players who “must be traded” following the opening week of free agency and its developments.
“Thus far, the club has held on to Smith, likely in hopes to find a trade partner for a three-time Pro Bowl player coming off a 10-sack season,” Moton wrote on Sunday, March 19. “The Vikings should be able to get draft capital, a fourth-rounder at least, for Smith, who plays a premium position on defense.”
Bears Can Afford to Trade For Smith, But Contract Extension is Risky
Smith is under contract with the Vikings for two more seasons after signing a three-year deal for $42 million ahead of last season. He is owed $9.45 million and $14.45 million in base salary over the next two years and will earn a total just north of $33.8 million over that span unless he gets a new deal.
Smith is more than likely seeking a trade request in the hopes of earning an extension that will change the value of his current deal, both annually and in the long-term. He is 30 years old and has registered double-digit sack tallies in three of his previous four seasons. The only year he failed to do so was in 2021, when Smith sat out all but one regular season game with a back injury.
Chicago can afford to bring Smith into the fold with $41.4 million in available cap space for 2023 despite a slew of additions already this offseason. Smith’s position remains one of significant need for the Bears who, as of yet, have signed just one pass rusher in defensive end DeMarcus Walker, formerly of the Tennessee Titans. Walker tallied a career-high seven sacks in 2022 and signed a three-year, $21 million contract to come to Chicago.
The pertinent question for the Bears is do they want to bring in an edge rusher on the wrong side of 30 at a significant annual number for a significant number of years?
Trading for the final two seasons of Smith’s current deal isn’t the most dangerous move, particularly after he bounced back so well from the back injury he sustained the year prior while a member of the Green Bay Packers. That the trade might cost as little as a fourth-round draft pick also makes the notion appealing.
However, signing Smith to an extension that adds years to his contract renders the move a far more precarious proposition. And if the Bears aren’t willing to do that but trade for Smith anyway, the team runs the risk of picking up a disgruntled player whose production suffered an irrefutable dip toward the end of last season in Minnesota.