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Well, it’s safe to say the Ryan Poles era is officially underway.
After spending a year tearing down the roster he inherited, Poles took the No. 1 overall pick and a boatload of cap space and went to work the last five days.
The pieces he’s added since include:
WR DJ Moore
LB Tremaine Edmunds
LB T.J. Edwards
OG Nate Davis
DL DeMarcus Walker
2023 second-round pick
2024 first-round pick
2025 second-round pick
Those three draft picks came via the Carolina Panthers after trading back to No. 9 overall. That move back puts the Bears in a position to take a long look at a key offensive lineman, which we’ll discuss later in this newsletter after attending Northwestern’s Pro Day Tuesday.
But first, we’ll start with sorting out a free agent haul that leaves questions about who is playing where. After many conversations with league sources over the last 36 hours, here are my takeaways on all four of the Bears’ key free agent signings:
(All contract information courtesy Spotrac.)
LB Tremaine Edmunds: 4 years, $72 million ($36.8 million fully guaranteed)
While I believe Edmunds could make a transition to the WILL linebacker position, the expectation is that he will be the Bears’ middle linebacker in 2023. Edmunds’ size, athleticism and coverage ability make him a perfect fit for the MIKE in Matt Eberflus’ defense. There’s a reason Edmunds was compared to Brian Urlacher coming out of college, but if the 24-year-old linebacker is going to take the next leap in his career, he needs to be more effective at the point of attack when playing downhill and he needs to make more plays on the football. Still, Edmunds is a really fun player to watch and should have a huge impact on a defense that fell apart last season after Roquan Smith was traded. It’s also worth noting that Edmunds’ contract is built in a way where the Bears can easily get out of it after the 2024 season (which is when a big Justin Fields contract could be hitting the books).
LB T.J. Edwards: 3 years, $19.5 million ($7.9 million fully guaranteed)
So if Edmunds is at the MIKE, that means T.J. Edwards will be moving over to the WILL. This is a projection the Bears are making after the linebacker played multiple different spots for the Eagles over the last four seasons. Edwards might not be the fastest linebacker, but he does have really good instincts and a knack for getting to the football. Keep in mind that the Bears typically stack their WILL behind the 3-technique, theoretically allowing the linebacker to run free to the hit. This is likely part of the calculus of moving Jack Sanborn back to the SAM, where he can use his physicality and instincts to take on fullback/H-back types to the 1-technique side.
OG Nate Davis: 3 years, $30 million ($17.5 million fully guaranteed)
An affordable addition to the offensive line, Davis is a strong run blocker who fits the Bears’ outside zone scheme. Though he has played exclusively at right guard in the NFL, expect the Bears to let Davis and Teven Jenkins sort that out during OTAs and training camp. That could mean a move to left guard for Jenkins. In the meantime, I do not expect the Bears to release Cody Whitehair. There’s really no need to let him go. He’s a team captain and the Bears don’t need to free up any salary cap space. In fact, it’s very possible (perhaps likely) he moves back to center, where he has logged 3,870 snaps in his career.
DL DeMarcus Walker: 3 years, $21 million ($10.5 million fully guaranteed)
After being somewhat of a journeyman, Walker had a breakout season (seven sacks) with the Titans last year and now cashes in with the Bears. While Walker will probably sit on the depth chart as the starting left defensive end, the Titans had success moving him inside-and-out on the defensive line and I expect the Bears to do the same. Walker has been working with independent pash rush coach Aaron Day this offseason and perhaps the second-round pick out of Florida State is a late bloomer. Walker and Justin Jones are decent pieces on the defensive line, but both would benefit from a true multiplier at the 3-technique. Remember, Walker had defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons in Tennessee.
Bears invade Northwestern Pro Day
The Bears made quite an impression in Evanston on Tuesday morning at Northwestern’s Pro Day with a large contingent of scouts and coaches. General manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus were on hand to watch while co-directors of player personnel Jeff King and Trey Koziol ran most of the event. Offensive line coach Chris Morgan worked out the offensive linemen, which included projected first-round pick Peter Skoronski, who is in play for the Bears with the No. 9 overall pick.
Depending on who you talk to, Skoronski’s arm length (32 1/4) could be an issue at the next level, but the overwhelming consensus is that it’s overblown. Skoronski walked over to Northwestern from Maine South during a disjointed COVID year and started at left tackle from Day 1. He never missed a practice or a game in three years. Almost everyone I’ve consulted believes Skoronski is going to be a very good NFL offensive lineman and I’d be surprised if the team that drafts him doesn’t start him at tackle first. He’s been too good and too consistent at left tackle to abandon that position without an NFL opportunity.
“Whatever,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said with a laugh when asked about Skoronski’s arm length Tuesday. “I mean, football is football, right? This is the over-analyze everything era and I think you pop on the tape and he’s played against the best defensive linemen in the country for three years and it’s never been a problem. Just watch the tape.”
If anything, the arm length will just determine where Skoronski goes in the first round. Is he the Bears’ top offensive tackle or No. 2 or No. 3? That’s the big question we probably won’t know until draft night. But Fitzgerald, a lifelong Bears fan, made it clear where he wants to see his left tackle end up:
“I think he’d look really good in a Chicago Bears uniform. I’ll just throw it out there as a Bear fan. When I saw the trade (back to No. 9), I said, ‘Skoronski to the Bears! Let’s go.’”
Meanwhile, Adetomiwa Adebawore followed up his record-setting Combine with an impressive Pro Day and the reality is that NFL teams are scratching their heads right now. When Northwestern’s disappointing 1-11 season ended in November, some teams viewed Adebawore as an undrafted free agent and wanted him to go back to school for another year to get more experience — specifically as a 3-technique. A few months later, you could argue that no prospect in the country has had a more impressive pre-draft climb than Adebawore, who checks every character and athleticism box there is to check in the evaluations. He’s literally testing better than any 3-technique ever has before the draft.
So why doesn’t the tape live up to what Adebawore has shown since January? Excuse or not, the reality is that he didn’t have a lot of help on Northwestern’s defense this year and the Wildcats were forced to move him around to play many roles and create more favorable matchups for their most athletic lineman.
Many teams believe Adebawore is strictly a 3-technique and with the information gathered Tuesday, I believe there is a chance he’ll still be available when the Bears select at No. 53 in the second round.
In case you missed it, Adebawore surprised us with an appearance on Tuesday’s CHGO Bears Podcast. Check that out here and make sure you’re glued to CHGO for all of our free agency coverage this week!
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