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Bears come out swinging as NFL's legal tampering period opens
National Football League

Bears come out swinging as NFL's legal tampering period opens

Updated Apr. 11, 2023 11:40 a.m. ET

With nearly $80 million is cap space to spend, the Chicago Bears wasted no time making moves for 2023 at the start of the NFL's legal tampering window.

Sure, that's an oxymoron but it's all part of the game and the Bears jumped ahead a few squares within minutes of noon E.T. on Monday. Chicago signed linebacker T.J. Edwards, a free agent fresh off a Super Bowl appearance with the Philadelphia Eagles, while later nabbing linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in a blockbuster deal and guard Nate Davis almost simultaneously.

Edwards, a former undrafted free agent, had a significant impact in Philadelphia by the time the team hoisted the Halas trophy in the NFC Championship this past January. He was the defensive signal caller, wearing the green dot to relay the plays on the field from defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.

The Chicago-area native played football at Wisconsin and was rated the sixth-best linebacker in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus. He was college teammates with current Bears linebacker and pleasant surprise Jack Sanborn, who went from undrafted to a starting role in his rookie season last season. With the reported terms for Edwards including just $12 million in guarantees, the Bears ended up with great value for a player who figures to be a defensive cornerstone on a three-year deal.


Bears get help for Justin Fields, secure their future by trading No. 1 pick

The Bears are young with their off-ball linebacking corps thanks to trading away Roquan Smith in the middle of the 2022 season. Nicholas Morrow moved to the weak side following Smith's departure but is due to be an unrestricted free agent. What did the Bears do? They upgraded at the position to Edmunds, who signed the biggest four-year deal of any off-ball linebacker when he reportedly agreed to terms on an $18 million annual salary for a total of $72 million, including $50 million guaranteed. Plus, is not even 25 years old. Edmunds has eclipsed 100 tackles every year he's been in the league, beginning in 2018 and has already been to two Pro Bowls. He figures to occupy the weak side of Chicago's base 4-3 system now. Whether he or Edwards calls the defense is yet to be determined.

It's a particularly good signing when you take into account the moves made with Smith. Sure, they could have stuck with the former Georgia Bulldog who the Bears drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft but Smith was seeking a max contract. It was the Ravens who traded for him, giving Chicago and second and fifth-round picks in exchange. They then signed Smith to a five-year $100-million deal with $60 million in guarantees.

Not only did Edmunds come in cheaper than that, he's younger than Smith and the Bears were able to get extra draft capital. They had so much of a surplus that they flipped their original second-round pick into wide receiver Chase Claypool right before the trade deadline. While Claypool has yet to contribute in any significant way, he's the team's third receiver heading into 2023.

It means general manager Ryan Poles got a younger linebacker of the same caliber as Smith but was also able to get a much-needed weapon for Fields and extra draft capital in the process.

Not to mention the weakside linebacker is one of the two most crucial positions in head coach Matt Eberflus' Tampa-2 defense. The Bears still have a question mark at the three-technique up front but they've gone the veteran/free agency route with their other critical position with the signing of Edmunds and/or Edwards (who ends up at which position between MIKE and WILL is yet to be determined). 

Jalen Carter was thought to be one of the Bears' 2023 draft targets, fitting the bill of an athletic, pass-rushing defensive tackle but with the off-field issues that have cropped up, Carter doesn't seem to be a likely option. Chicago traded the first overall pick last Friday to Carolina and will now make their first selection of the 2023 NFL Draft at No. 9 overall as a result.

Bears deal No. 1 overall pick

Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe react to the Bears trading the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft to the Panthers.

Not to be left out, the Bears addressed the offensive side of the ball by reinforcing the offensive line in front of quarterback Justin Fields. Having already gotten Fields a top wide receiver in their trade out of the first overall spot in DJ Moore, Poles turned his attention to protecting Fields. Davis is a notorious run blocker, playing a key role in the record-breaking success of running back Derrick Henry in Tennessee. Since Davis was drafted in 2019, Henry has rushed for 1,540 yards in Davis' rookie season, 2.027 yards in 2020, 937 yards in just eight games in 2021 and 1,538 yards despite issues all along the offensive line last season.

Henry was the league's leading rusher in Davis' first two years.

Perhaps that move could steer running back David Montgomery away from testing the open market and allow Chicago to retain their homegrown tailback. Montgomery is due to be a free agent but has provided stability on the Bears offense. He and Khalil Herbert could round out a backfield that includes the services of Fields to further stress opposing defenses as they settle into offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's tailor-made system.

Between trading the first overall pick on Friday and the flurry of moves on Monday, the Bears are sending their entire rebuild into overdrive. Though it still figures to be a multi-year process, the Bears could be looking at playoff contention as soon as the coming season. Never has there been such consensus on Bears Twitter about how well Chicago has positioned itself or how much faith fans now have in the front office.

The players have taken notice, too.

It seems the game Poles is playing is chess while the rest of the league is playing checkers.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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