The Chicago Bears should be busy in 2017 NFL free agency. Which players on defense might they target?
2017 NFL free agency officially starts on March 9, but the legal tampering period begins on March 7. The Chicago Bears, coming off a dismal 3-13 season, are flushed with cash (an estimated $58 million in cap space, per Spotrac) and figure to be big players in free agency. Besides re-signing some of their own players, general manager Ryan Pace and the Bears will have a ton of interest in those free agents who can significantly upgrade the amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball.
One could make a case that almost every defensive position is in need of some more talent (or depth). With that being said, here are some free agents who could be wearing the “blue and orange” next season:
Houston Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye is garnering a lot of attention from teams and figures to get paid like a true shutdown corner. The problem with Bouye, however, is the fact that he is essentially a one-year wonder. He started the 2016 campaign as the Texans fourth corner, but worked his way up the depth chart after players ahead of him got hurt. He played well, but the real question is if he can do it again.
Stephon Gilmore, on the other hand, has been a three-year starter for the Buffalo Bills. Even though he had an inconsistent 2016 season (five interceptions, allowed 15.6 yards per catch), he has received high marks from Pro Football Focus the past three seasons and has the skills to be a No. 1 cornerback. He might cost a little more, but it could be money well spent.
Concussions have been the biggest issue for Sam Shields, and it’s still not clear if he’ll be able to return to his former self. He figures to get a one-year “prove-it” deal this offseason, and the Bears could be the team who gives it to him. When healthy, Shields has proven to be a solid starter, and as Bears’ fan can testify, he can give fits to big-bodied receivers (i.e. Alshon Jeffery). A one-year deal would work for both sides. For the Bears, they could potentially get a starting cornerback at a great price; for Shields, he can prove he still has it and can cash-in next offseason.
As any Bears fan will tell you, safety has been an issue for years. Tony Jefferson could change that. A box-safety, Jefferson received a run defense grade of 98.0 from Pro Football Focus, second-highest of any safety in the league last year. He missed only five tackles, and showed enough range in coverage to not be considered a liability. Jefferson would be an immediate upgrade at the position, and finally give the Bears a reliable, playmaking safety.
Continuing on the safety theme, Barry Church could be another potential target for the Bears. He has always been great against the run, but in 2016, he really improved his play against the pass. He was graded as Pro Football Focus’ 11t-best safety, and he received above average marks in both run and pass defense. He missed four games due to injury, but his track record has been solid. He’s not an elite option, but he would definitely be an upgrade both on the field and in the locker room.
Not a lot of people know who John Simon is, but he could add very valuable depth to the Bears linebacking corps. With Leonard Floyd and Pernell McPhee entrenched as the starters, the Bears don’t necessarily need a starting-caliber player, so Simon could be perfect. In his time with the Texans, Simon always played the run well, but in 2016, it was his pass rushing skills that developed (he had a sack against Chicago in Week 1). He missed several games due to injury, but in just 205 pass-rushing snaps, he generated 26 pressures and two batted passes. He’s a versatile player who knows the 3-4 defense well, and with Lamarr Houston’s future in doubt, he could slide in nicely.
This is sort of a pipe dream, but wouldn’t it be neat if Kyle Long’s older brother could join the team? Chris Long has seen his best days behind him, but as a situational pass rusher, he still can get the job done. In addition to this, Long would be a good player to mentor Leonard Floyd and whoever else the Bears decide to draft in April. This is a long shot, but a fit is definitely there.