Chicago Bears: 5 Big-Name Free Agents Team Could Still Sign

Connor Barwin Philadelphia Eagles

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After doing plenty of spending in the first wave of 2017 NFL free agency, the Chicago Bears could still add another big name or two before all is said and done.

We knew the Chicago Bears were going to be busy when 2017 NFL free agency underway. Not only did they have plenty of needs following a 3-13 campaign, but they also had plenty of cap space to spend.

Unfortunately, the first wave of free agency was a bit of a bust. Although they signed several players, most weren’t of the caliber the Bears were hoping for—they had to overpay for average talent. The loss of Alshon Jeffery was also a big disappointment, leaving Chicago extremely thin at wide receiver.

Sure, the signings of players such as Prince Amukamara, Mike Glennon and Quintin Demps were solid. However, overall the Bears failed to land some of their top targets heading into free agency. That doesn’t mean they should give up on finding more upgrades, even with most of the top talent already off the market. It does help that they still have about $21 million in cap space available, according to Spotrac.com.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few big-name free agents Chicago could target in the coming days. They’ve spent plenty of money this offseason, but it shouldn’t stop if they plan on getting out of the NFC North basement.

Dwight Freeney Atlanta Falcons

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5. Dwight Freeney, OLB – Atlanta Falcons

Realistically, outside linebacker isn’t a huge need for the Bears. However, when it comes to depth, it wouldn’t hurt to add more heading into 2017. Why? Because having more edge rushers is always a good thing, and many of Chicago’s top outside linebackers haven’t been able to stay healthy.

Willie Young is coming off knee surgery. Pernell McPhee dealt with knee issues last season, limiting him to only nine games. Lamarr Houston has torn his ACL in each of the last two years. Even 2016 first-round pick Leonard Floyd managed only 12 games as a rookie while dealing with concussions.

So you can see why adding more assets at outside linebacker would be ideal. The best part is Freeney is content in a situational role at this point in his career, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Last season, the Falcons got three sacks and plenty of pressure out of Freeney for only $1 million. It’s a small price to pay for an excellent situational pass rusher.

Is Freeney going to turn this defense around? Of course not. What he can do, though, is give the Bears more options on the edge with the potential to play an integral role in getting after opposing quarterbacks. Seems like a wise investment in my opinion.

Austin Pasztor Cleveland Browns

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4. Austin Pasztor, RT/G – Cleveland Browns

We knew the Bears were planning on addressing the offensive line this offseason. However, up to this point, all they’ve done is sign adequate backup Tom Compton. He’s a decent addition, but far from the impact player Chicago needed heading into 2017.

Unfortunately, at this point, most of the top offensive line talent is gone. Almost all of the big-name tackles have found new homes, leaving the Bears with limited options. Still, there are a couple of names out there who could push the incumbents for a starting job in 2017.

One in particular is Austin Pasztor, formerly a starter for the Browns. Although he began his NFL career at guard, Pasztor slid outside to right tackle in 2016 and didn’t disappoint. He held down the position well, earning outstanding marks as a pass protector from Pro Football Focus. His run blocking could use some work, but there’s no denying he can be a quality starter.

Based on the mild interest he’s received so far, I wouldn’t expect Pasztor to cost too much. Then again, with how offensive linemen have been paid this offseason, I wouldn’t be surprised if he commanded a sizable contract. It’s not like the Bears can’t handle it.

Connor Barwin Philadelphia Eagles

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3. Connor Barwin, OLB – Philadelphia Eagles

Again, adding at least one more experienced edge rusher would be ideal. I like the potential of Freeney serving as a situational rusher, but the Bears may be looking for someone to play a larger role. That’s where someone such as Connor Barwin could come into play.

Barwin, who recently became a cap casualty, has spent the last few seasons providing the Eagles with a quality option off the edge. Although he eventually started costing too much for cap-strapped Philadelphia to keep, he seems like an intriguing option for a Bears team in need of more reliability at outside linebacker.

Speaking of reliability, Barwin has played in all 16 games in each of the last six seasons. He’s also racked up at least five sacks in his last four campaigns, including a whopping 14.5 sacks in 2014. Even though the Eagles let him go, it’s difficult to argue that he can make an impact off the edge when given the opportunity.

Barwin visited with the Los Angeles Rams on Wednesday (via the LA Times‘ Gary Klein), but remains unsigned as of this writing. If he escapes California without a contract, the Bears would be wise to give his agent a call and see what type of money he’s looking for.

Sebastian Vollmer New England Patriots

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2. Sebastian Vollmer, OT – New England Patriots

If the Bears really aren’t sold on Bobby Massie as their starting right tackle, there are some riskier options available at this moment. Pasztor is a solid option with plenty of tread left on his tires, but Sebastian Vollmer is an aging option with significantly more talent.

Before a hip injury ended his 2016 campaign prematurely, Vollmer was seen as one of the best right tackles in the business. However, with the Patriots finding a capable replacement in the younger Marcus Cannon, they were ready to move on from their outstanding veteran blocker.

That could open the door for Chicago to make an upgrade on the right side. While Massie is a serviceable starter, Vollmer is much more reliable when healthy. He provides an outstanding mix of size, strength and footwork, excelling as a run blocker and pass protector. I’m sure Tom Brady would attest to that.

The only concern at this point is Vollmer’s health. The Patriots released him with a failed physical designation, and rumor has it he’s out of shape. If he doesn’t retire and gets back to playing condition, he’d be an interesting candidate to take his talents to the Windy City.

Johnathan Hankins New York Giants

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1. Johnathan Hankins, DT – New York Giants

There’s a lot of talk about the Bears adding an impact defensive end during the 2017 NFL Draft. While that makes plenty of sense, Chicago could also opt to address the position during free agency, saving the No. 3 pick to upgrade another position instead.

One of the top players still on the market, Johnathan Hankins, seems like a potential fit for Chicago’s defense. While the first four years of his career were spent as a three-technique, he could easily slide outside as a plus-size defensive end in the Bears’ 3-4 attack. We all know they could use an upgrade over Mitch Unrein.

Hankins has flashed the ability to shine as both a run defender and pass rusher. Although he may struggle at first with the transition, I believe the tools are there for him to succeed over time. The only concern would be financials, as Hankins is expected to command big bucks when he finally signs a new deal. It would be a high-risk, high-reward signing, that’s for sure.

Hankins may not be Solomon Thomas or Jonathan Allen. Still, he’s a plus starter who can make an immediate impact for this Bears defense. Better yet, his signing would allow Chicago to use that first-round pick at a different position. Maybe a young signal caller to eventually replace Glennon after he fails to develop into a franchise quarterback?

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