Three defensive free agents the Bears should be thinking about

Jacob Vanzuiden, Courier Staff

After exceeding all expectations in Year 1 under head coach Matt Nagy back in 2018, winning the NFC North and clinching their first playoff berth in nearly a decade, the Chicago Bears noticeably took a step back in 2019. The Monsters of the Midway dealt with a plethora of offsetting issues, including multiple injuries, questionable play-calling and regressing play from starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

With limited draft capital this year (no first-round picks), the Monsters of the Midway will be eager to make a splash in free agency. The current buzz around the organization, according to Adam Jahns, senior writer and Bears reporter for The Athletic Chicago, is that the team would like to use one, if not multiple of their primary early-round picks to bolster their offensive line. This suggests addressing the defense could be a primary focus through the open market. Thankfully, the 2020 NFL free agent class contains an intriguing group of players that could help fill some of Chicago’s biggest holes on the roster heading into next season. If they can manage to lure-in a couple of these names, they could be well on their way to returning as a legitimate contender in the NFC in 2020.

No. 1 S, Tony Jefferson

After losing Adrian Amos to the Green Bay Packers in free agency following the 2018 season, the Monsters of the Midway were able to temporarily plug the roster hole by signing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to a one-year “prove it” deal. Clinton- Dix did just that, as he went on to record 78 total tackles (third on the team), two interceptions (second) and five passes defensed (third). Still just 27 years old, he’s likely to command a handsome payday, something the Bears may not be able to afford with limited cap space and multiple positions to fill. Enter 28-year-old Tony Jefferson, who was released by the Baltimore Ravens last month after suffering a torn ACL (Week 5) that cut his 2019 campaign short. Jefferson earned his way into a nice contract with the Ravens back in 2017, compiling 153 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in his first two seasons with them. More importantly, Jefferson is more of a natural strong safety than Clinton- Dix, which should allow two-time Pro Bowler Eddie Jackson to revert to his free-roaming, ball-hawking role that he previously excelled in. General manager Ryan Pace is no stranger to taking shots on players with a “prove it” type of deal, something that could be done here.

No. 2 OLB, Dante Fowler Jr.

While the Bears’ front-seven was riddled with injuries in 2019 – Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan all significant time – pass-rush production (or lack thereof) on the opposite side of Khalil Mack greatly inhibited this team’s overall ability to get after the quarterback. While Mack was still solid (8.5 sacks), opponents were able to key-in on him, doubling, sometimes even triple teaming the five-time Pro Bowler. This was because edge-rusher Leonard Floyd’s lack of pressure in the pass-rush. Floyd looked to have promise in his rookie campaign, posting 7.5 sacks, but since has just 11.5 in his last three seasons. Bringing in some help in this area should be a top priority this off-season.

If Chicago opts to take the free agency route instead of the draft to fill this void, one player they should take a look at is former Los Angeles Ram Dante Fowler Jr. He was an all-around stud in 2019 in his first full season with the Rams, notching 11.5 sacks while doing his part in coverage as well (six passes defensed). At just 25 years old, Fowler Jr. is going to cost a pretty penny, but it may be worth it as he’d give the Bears someone to anchor the right side of the defensive front for years to come.

No. 3 CB, Chris Harris Jr.

Over the past couple seasons, Chicago has possessed one of the league’s strongest cornerback duos in Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara. However, Father Time began to creep up on Amukamara last season, as he was noticeably not his self of old while dealing with a nagging hamstring injury. One could even say he became a liability in coverage down the stretch, which forced the coaching staff’s hand into giving undrafted rookie Kevin Toliver more playing time. Now 31 years old, the Bears’ front office decided to cut bait with Amukamara last month, saving $8 million in cap space. While Toliver held his own on the field in limited snaps, he is still fairly unproven and heading into next season with him as the starting cornerback opposite of Fuller would be a massive risk. Since entering the league in 2011, Chris Harris Jr. has cemented himself as one of the top cover corners in the league. A four-time Pro Bowler, Harris Jr. has anchored the Broncos’ secondary for nearly a decade, helping lead them to a Super Bowl victory, but it appears his time in Denver has come to a close. Like Amukamara, Harris Jr. is now also 31 years of age, but didn’t show any signs of slowing down in 2019. He earned himself a rock-solid grade of 69.9 by Pro Football Focus on a bottomfeeding Broncos squad, and while his best years may be behind him, he proved he still has plenty left in the tank. Because of his age, he shouldn’t demand a crazy amount of money. Adding a proven playmaker in the secondary would do wonders for a Chicago team in win-now mode, making a two-to three- year contract for Harris Jr. a wise move.