The Bears were busy on the first day teams can agree to deals with free agents, as expected. But their targets were somewhat surprising, especially a move to add big-ticket linebacker Tremaine Edmunds of the Buffalo Bills.
General Manager Ryan Poles last season traded his own All-Pro, Roquan Smith, rather than acquiesce to his contract demands. Jack Sanborn, an undrafted linebacker from the University of Wisconsin, played well in replacing Smith but Poles nevertheless re-invested savings from the Smith trade into a deal with Edmunds.
The four-year, $72 million agreement is almost as much per season as Smith was seeking but comes in one year less than Smith eventually received from the Baltimore Raven. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported it is the biggest four-year deal ever given an off-ball linebacker.
The Bears had been expected to prioritize the defensive line over linebackers. They similarly agreed to a deal with a guard, Tennessee’s Nate Davis, rather than a tackle, which had been expected. Davis reportedly agreed to a three-year, $19.25 million deal. It’s unclear if he makes veteran guard Cody Whitehair expendable or will allow Teven Jenkins to be shifted back to tackle after playing well at guard in 2022.
Poles is believed to have pursued San Francisco’s Mike McGlinchey before he signed took a five-year, $87.5 million offer from Denver.
The Bears had begun their business on Monday with a deal for a linebacker. They agreed to a three-year, $19.5 million deal for Eagles linebacker T.J. Edwards, who started every game for the NFC champions last season.
They have been focusing on defensive linemen but did not use their salary cap flexibility to get a deal done with the Eagles’ Javon Hargrave. He agreed to a four-year, $81 million deal with San Francisco.
The Bears opened the day with an NFL-high $75.6 million in salary cap space despite adding All-Pro wide receiver D.J. Moore to the payroll in last Friday’s trade of the first overall pick. The agreements on Monday reduced the amount of working space to about $45 million in cap room, depending on how the contracts are structure.
Poles should be able to make at least one more major signing. Tackle Orlando Brown, the top offensive lineman on the market, and defensive line target Dre’Mont Jones had not reached agreement entering Monday night.
Edmunds appealed to the Bears for a variety of reasons, including his age. He led Buffalo in tackles last season and was playing at age 24, having been selected in the first round of the 2018 draft before his 20th birthday. The Bills are battling salary cap issues with their commitments to Josh Allen, Stefan Diggs, Von Miller, Tre’Davious White, Dion Dawkins and others, and opted to re-sign Matt Milano for a two-year prioritized the signing of Matt Milano with a two-year contract rather than make Edmunds one of their highest paid players.
The Bears had been linked to free agent linebacker Bobby Okereke, who played for Bears coach Matt Eberflus in Indianapolis. But the chance to land Edmunds trumped that interest, and Okereke reportedly agreed to a four-year, $40 million deal with the New York Giants.
It’s going to be fascinating to see where the Bears go from here. They picked up first- and second-round picks from Carolina in this year’s draft — in addition to a future first- and second-rounder — along with Moore. Poles is looking to give quarterback Justin Fields the best opportunity possible to reach his potential but clearly is focused to making needed improvements on both sides of the ball.