Bears Urged to Sign $15 Million ‘Missing Piece’ for Defense

Christian Wilkins Bears Rumors NFL Rumors

Getty Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins could be a 2024 free agent target for the Bears.

The Chicago Bears made noticeable improvements on defense during the 2023 season, especially after acquiring Montez Sweat in a trade with Washington. To reach the next level, though, at least one Bears insider believes they will need to emphasize finding their “missing piece” — a 3-technique defensive tackle — for 2024.

Bears insider Courtney Cronin and several ESPN colleagues recently broke down the 2024 offseason picture for the Bears and identified the 3-tech position as their “under-the-radar priority” for next season. Cronin also listed a few high-end options for them to consider signing in free agency once the new league year begins on March 13.

“The missing piece that can take the Bears’ defense from good to elite is a disruptive 3-technique defensive tackle,” Cronin wrote. “Chicago is pleased with Gervon Dexter’s development as a rookie, and while that could be the role he ultimately earns more time in, the Bears’ to-do list in free agency should include testing the market on Kansas City’s Chris Jones, Miami’s Christian Wilkins or Baltimore’s Justin Madubuike.”

Jones, a five-time All-Pro, is still a high-level player but will be turning 30 before next season. And Baltimore is unlikely to let the 26-year-old Madubuike walk after notching 13 sacks this past season that earned him both Pro Bowl and All-Pro recognition.

As a result, Wilkins might be the most appealing option of the three if the Bears head into free agency looking to acquire an upgrade for the middle of their defensive line.

Christian Wilkins May Fall Outside Bears’ Price Range

Christian Wilkins could be one of the hottest free agents on the market when March rolls around. The 2019 first-round pick finished his fifth season with a career-high nine sacks along with 10 tackles for loss and 23 quarterback hits. He also played in every game for a third consecutive season, making him an ideal combination of disruptive and available.

The Dolphins would likely prefer to keep Wilkins on their payroll, but that might not be an option for them considering they must clear roughly $51.9 million in cap space just to get into the black before the start of the new league year in March. They also already tried to negotiate an extension with Wilkins before the regular season, a process that saw Wilkins stage a hold-in during training camp and end without a new deal in place.

Wilkins ended up playing out the 2023 season on a $15.4 million fifth-year option.

In other words, Wilkins appears to have a high chance of hitting free agency. But even if he is available, would the Bears consider spending top dollar to acquire his talents?

According to Over the Cap, the Bears are projected to have about $46.87 million in cap space for 2024, but they are expected to put some of that money toward retaining star cornerback Jaylon Johnson, whether it be extending him or franchise-tagging him. They also have a few other needs — wide receivers, center, offensive tackle — to consider crossing off their list with free agent investments, so the money could run out fast.

Even if the Bears want to pursue a veteran defensive tackle in free agency, they might not shell out $20 million or more annually for someone of Wilkins’ caliber.

Should Bears Pursue Veteran DT in 2024 Free Agency?

Cronin is a knowledgeable, well-informed insider and is correct to suspect the Bears may have an interest in acquiring a veteran 3-technique defensive tackle for 2024. That said, there are reasons to think they will not make a huge splash at the position.

The Bears have three interior defensive linemen locked into place for next season, including 2023 rookies Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens. Dexter showed much more promise — and played more snaps — than Pickens in their first NFL season, but both figure to have bigger roles for their defensive line as second-year guys in 2024.

The Bears also signed Andrew Billings to a two-year, $8 million extension during the 2023 season, rewarding the immediate impact he brought to their defensive line. He might not be a budding superstar at nearly 29, but he is a consistent player who will also have a key role for the team moving forward. So, where does a new piece fit?

The Bears will need to find a replacement for Justin Jones unless they intend to re-sign him to a new deal before free agency. Dexter could realistically step into his shoes, but they could just as easily add another veteran to the mix and let them compete. Then again, they might decide drafting another interior defensive lineman is the most cost-effective way to handle Jones’ departure — even one with a Day 1 or Day 2 selection.

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