Bears free agent targets to watch in NFC, AFC Championships originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Not sure if you’ve heard, but the Bears are projected to have the most cap space in the NFL this offseason by a large margin. It will be enough purchasing power for Ryan Poles to continue his overhaul of the Bears roster in earnest. Considering the team finished the season on a 10-game losing streak to land on a 3-14 record, they’ll need it. Practically every position on the depth chart will need to be addressed too, so if you’re playing Fantasy GM at home, feel free to dream up marquee signings anywhere on the field. If you’re looking to scout any of the potential signees, here’s a watch guide for the AFC and NFC Championship games.
JAVON HARGRAVE – DEFENSIVE TACKLE
The Bears need to entirely retool their defensive line, and they’ve offered hints that they’d like to do it from the inside-out. If they don’t land Daron Payne, who’s arguably the top DT set to hit the market, Hargrave would be another great option even though Hargrave is several years older. He’s been an absolute force for the Eagles, and seems to get better with age. Hargrave is coming off a career year with 11 sacks, 10 TFLs, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. He had a great 2021 campaign as well, and earned Pro Bowl honors that year. Hargrave may be more of a nose tackle than three-tech, and three-tech is the more coveted position in Eberflus’ defense, but that shouldn’t matter. Hargrave would bring a big boost to the line.
JAMES BRADBERRY – CORNERBACK
Darius Slay earns all the spotlight in the Eagles secondary, but Bradberry more than holds his own on the opposite side of the field. He allowed a paltry 45.3% completion percentage when targeted this year, and only gave up two touchdowns on the year. For his efforts, Bradberry was named an All-Pro Second-Teamer. Most importantly though, Bradberry has been a ballhawk for his entire career. Dating back to 2016, he has 18 interceptions. If Poles signs Bradberry, the Bears would feel pretty good about Jaylon Johnson and Bradberry locking down the boundaries and Kyler Gordon sticking in the slot.
C.J. GARDNER-JOHNSON – DEFENSIVE BACK
If the Bears decide they like Kyler Gordon more as an outside corner than a nickel corner, then they could look into signing C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Bears fans may remember Gardner-Johnson as the trash talker who coaxed both Anthony Miller and Javon Wims into throwing punches at him in 2020. This year, however, Gardner-Johnson cemented himself as one of the best defensive backs in the league, who can play both safety and slot corner. CJGJ tied for the NFL lead in 2022 with six interceptions.
MILES SANDERS – RUNNING BACK
By all accounts, the Bears want to re-sign David Montgomery and Montgomery wants to re-sign with the Bears. But that was the story with Roquan Smith last season, and the two sides were never able to find common ground. If the same happens with Montgomery, and the Bears don’t want to shell out to bring in Saquon Barkley, Miles Sanders could be an option. Sanders broke out for 1,269 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns in 2022 after some ho-hum statistical seasons in his first three seasons. But the lack of big numbers from 2019-2021 is mainly due to his lack of carries, not his lack of ability. Sanders only averaged 160 carries a year over that time, so it’s not like he’s accumulated too much wear and tear on his body, despite carrying the ball 259 times in 2022.
MIKE MCGLINCHEY – RIGHT TACKLE
McGlinchey has been a reliable right tackle for the Niners since he took over the position in 2019. He played 94% of the team’s snaps in 2022 and only gave up 27 pressures in 562 passing opportunities according to PFF. Yes, Micah Parsons tossed McGlinchey like a ragdoll in that one snap that made its way around social media last weekend. That one rep against one of the best defensive players in the league likely won’t sour Poles on McGlinchey entirely.
SAMSON EBUKAM – DEFENSIVE END
Ebukam is not a flashy defensive end like Nick Bosa, but he’s been a steady contributor for the 49ers. Over his two seasons with the team, he has 9.5 sacks, 74 tackles and 12 TFLs. He also has at least one forced fumble in every year of his career dating back to 2017.
JESSIE BATES – SAFETY
This signing may depend on Eddie Jackson’s health moving forward. Jackson had a resurgent season in 2022, but suffered a Lisfranc injury in Week 12. If he’s good to go moving forward, expect him to play beside Jaquan Brisker again. If not, Bates could replace Jackson’s ballhawking ability. Bates had four interceptions in 2022, and has 14 picks dating back to 2018. Further, he does well as the last line of defense and has had three 100-tackle seasons.
MAX SCHARPING – RIGHT GUARD
Much was made of the Bengals’ banged up offensive line when they traveled to Buffalo in the Divisional Round. However, the Bills defensive line was a non-factor throughout the game, in part due to the admirable play of Cincinnati’s backups. Max Scharping was one of those guys and availed himself of the opportunity now that he’s set to hit the market. We know Ryan Poles isn’t afraid to give backup offensive linemen bigger opportunities, and Scharping fits that bill.
ORLANDO BROWN JR. – LEFT TACKLE
If the Chiefs let Orlando Brown Jr. hit the market, you can bet Ryan Poles will try to bring him to Chicago. Brown Jr. has been one of the most reliable tackles in the NFL over the duration of his career and hasn’t missed a start since he earned a starting job in Week 7 of 2018, his rookie season. He’s been a Pro Bowler every year since 2019 and would instantly solidify the Bears line. Further, if the Bears sign Brown Jr. they’d be able to move Braxton Jones to right tackle where he may be able to take an even bigger step in his development.
JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER – WIDE RECEIVER
If the Bears don’t make a trade for a bonafide No. 1 wide receiver this offseason, Ryan Poles he’s comfortable fielding a group of talented, if not elite, pass catcher. In that case, Smith-Schuster is a player who could enter the mix. Smith-Schuster has never been able to replicate the production he had when Antonio Brown was lined up opposite him, but he still added value to the Chiefs as a reliable target this year. His 78 catches for 933 yards in 2022 aren’t eye-popping numbers, but they would’ve led all Bears pass catchers by a wide margin. Cole Kmet was the man who topped the Bears leaderboard in both categories this year, and he finished with 50 catches for 544 yards.
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