The Chicago Bears need reinforcements on their defensive line with only Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson currently slated to start in 2023. To improve the team’s pass rush and run defense, general manager Ryan Poles must look to the free-agent market for impact players.

Here are seven defensive ends who are free agents that could help elevate the Bears’ defense next season, according to the CHGO Diehard database.

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Yannick Ngakoue, Indianapolis Colts (6-2, 246)

Yannick Ngakoue definitely wouldn’t be considered a “big-ticket” free agent, but the 6-foot-2, 246-pound defensive end has been consistent at applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Since he was drafted No. 69 overall in 2016, he has registered 65 total sacks — having at least eight in each of his seven seasons.

He started his career with the Jaguars where he made the Pro Bowl in his second season when he had a career-high 12 sacks. In 2020, he was traded to the Minnesota Vikings and played in six games before being traded to Baltimore that same season. Ngakoue then reached an agreement with the Raiders in 2021 and had 10 sacks in 17 games. Despite the production, Las Vegas traded Ngakoue to the Colts. He finished with 9.5 sacks in 15 games for Indianapolis.

Is he a fit for the Bears?

Ngakoue makes sense for the Bears because he can get to the quarterback — which was an area the Bears severely struggled with last season. One area of his game that has been inconsistent throughout his career is his inability to stop the run. According to Pro Football Focus, he has a 45.7 career run defense grade. There is a reason he has been on five different teams in seven years.

Arden Key, Jacksonville Jaguars (6-5, 240 lbs)

The Raiders moved up to draft Arden Key with the 87th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. But in three seasons with the Raiders, the former LSU Tiger only had three total sacks and 39 total tackles. In his second season with the team, he suffered a series of injuries, including a strained patellar tendon that forced him to miss one game and later a fractured foot in Week 9 that ended his regular season.

After Key’s brief stint with the Raiders, he signed a one-year deal with the 49ers. During the 2021 season, Key had a career-high in sacks (6.5) and added 22 total tackles. He then went on to play for the Jaguars last season — and had 4.5 sacks, 27 total tackles, two passes defensed and one fumble recovery.

Is he a fit for the Bears?

Key ended his season strong with the Jaguars, registering 10 quarterback hits from Weeks 14-20 (including two playoff games). The 6-foot-5, 240-pound edge rusher will be 27 in May, so the Bears — if they’re interested — would be getting a young player who still has what I believe is some untapped potential.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Houston Texans (6-2, 253)

The Los Angeles Rams selected Ogbonnia Okoronkwo out of Oklahoma in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Through his first three seasons with the Rams, Okoronkwo was a backup and accumulated 4.5 sacks and 34 total tackles in 43 games.

The Houston Texans signed Okoronkwo in free agency in 2022. He went from playing in a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 scheme under former Texans head coach Lovie Smith. This past season, he set a career-high in sacks with five and total tackles (44). He also posted a 75.1 overall grade, according to Pro Football Focus.

Is he a fit for the Bears?

Okoronkwo has one season under his belt in Smith’s defense, which would carry over nicely if the Bears expressed interest in him. He will be 28 in April, but after coming off his most productive season in the NFL, he could be an under-the-radar option for Chicago this upcoming offseason.

Charles Omenihu, San Francisco 49ers (6-5, 280)

Omenihu was drafted in the fifth round in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. In his first two seasons, he only started in five games and made 30 total tackles and seven sacks. His most productive game occurred in the Week 17 loss to the Titans in 2020. Omenihu had four combined tackles (three solo) and one sack.

After just two seasons, the Texans traded the 25-year-old to the 49ers. In nine games, he had just six tackles, one quarterback hit and pass defenses. In his first full season with San Francisco, Omenihu played in 53.5 percent of the defense snaps and made 20 tackles, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

Is he a fit for the Bears?

Omenihu appears to be an ascending young talent that would fit what the Bears need on the defensive front. However, a recent off-the-field issue brings an immediate and alarming red flag. Omenihu was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor domestic violence, according to the San Jose Police Department. Regardless of what ends up happening with Omenihu, this incident will impact how some teams view him and may even take him out of consideration as a potential free-agent target.

(Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

Melvin Ingram, Miami Dolphins (6-2, 247)

The 2023 season will be Melvin Ingram’s 12th year in the NFL. The veteran pass rusher spent nine of those seasons with the Chargers. While he was in San Diego/Los Angeles, Ingram had 360 total tackles, sacked opposing quarterbacks 49 total times and 14 forced fumbles.

After spending nine years with the Chargers, Ingram then went to play for the Chiefs and Steelers in 2021 and appeared most recently with the Dolphins. In Miami, Ingram only started in three games, according to Pro Football Reference. Still, he made 22 combined tackles, registered six sacks and scored his second-career touchdown.

Is he a fit for the Bears?

Before the 2023 regular season starts, Ingram will already be 34 years old. Obviously, Ingram’s best days are behind him, and if the Bears were to consider him, it would be depth purposes. However, Ingram does provide a veteran presence and should provide some much-needed pass rush for the Bears’ defense.

Justin Houston, Baltimore Ravens (6-3, 270)

Justin Houston knows a thing or two about getting to the quarterback. The 12-year veteran has 111.5 career sacks in his career. The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Houston in the third round in 2011, and during his eight years with the Chiefs, Houston was named a four-time Pro Bowler and once as an First-Team AP All-Pro.

He then went on to play with the Colts from 2019-2020. Houston crossed paths with current Bears coach Matt Eberflus, when he was the defensive coordinator with the Colts. He accumulated 19 sacks and 69 total tackles in two seasons in Indianapolis. For the past two seasons, Houston has been the Ravens. Even though he played limited snaps in 2022, he still sacked quarterbacks 9.5 times this past season.

Is he a fit for the Bears?

At 34 years old, Houston could be a veteran depth piece for a young Bears defense. It does help that he has played for Eberflus before, so Houston will know exactly what the “H.I.T.S” principle will ask of him. Given that the Bears need all sorts of help for the front seven, a one-year deal for Houston could be a possibility for the Bears.

Lorenzo Carter, Atlanta Falcons (6-5, 255)

The New York Giants drafted Lorenzo Carter with the No. 66 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. In four seasons with the Giants, Carter played in 33 games and registered 14.5 sacks and 153 total tackles. His third season was cut short to five games due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The Falcons signed the 6-foot-5, 255-pound defensive end on a one-year deal. For the first time in his young career, Carter played in all 17 regular season games. He posted a career-high in tackles with 58 and added four sacks for a Falcons defense that had only 21 on the season.

Is he a fit for the Bears?

For Carter to potentially fit in this Bears defense, he would have to make a transition from playing in a 3-4 defense in Atlanta to a 4-3 in Chicago. Trevis Gipson tried to make that adjustment and his pass rush production severely dipped. It would be interesting to see how a player like Carter would handle the change.


Nicholas Moreano is the Bears beat reporter for CHGO Bears. He has a master's degree in Communication from DePaul University and obtained his bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa.