By Andy Jachim
Here we go. I have been given the task of filling Ryan Poles’ shoes for the 2023 off-season to rebuild this Chicago Bears franchise from the ground up. Now, I will fully admit this isn’t the most realistic Mock Offseason I have done, but it is most certainly attainable. The driving force behind why this could be pulled off in theory is all of the cap space and draft capital the Bears possess. Financial flexibility in professional sports is a great feeling, and if I were to be hired to replace Ryan Poles this spring, I feel like I’d be nominated for executive of the year. I also know that cuts and extensions will happen, but I’ve chosen to focus on adding new talent for this version of my “Mock Off-Season”.
*ALL FREE AGENT $ AMOUNTS COURTESY OF www.sportrac.com *
(Cap Space heading into Re-Signings and Free Agency = $119,428,633)
Step 1. Re-Sign
When it comes to pending free agents from this past year’s squad, there isn’t much to look at. However, I have targeted a guy on each side of the ball that I would like to see return to Windy City.
I’ll address the elephant in the room by bringing back Monty. That $7.2 Million price tag doesn’t look pretty, although I firmly believe he will sign for less than this in terms of AAV. Also, I know running back is such a cutthroat position in this league and many are easily replaceable. However, I apply the saying “if it’s not broken why fix it” to David Montgomery. We know what he’s capable of, and he works well with Khalil Herbert in tandem. You can’t ask for much more if you ask me. Plus, it saves a mid-round pick of ours for a more pressing need.
I was a huge fan of the way Morrow stepped in as a last-minute addition to this defense in the offseason. He’s an efficient off-ball Linebacker who comes with a relatively cheap price tag, so bringing him back to this defense seems like a no-brainer.
Step 2. Free Agency
To give him a lasting career, Justin Fields needs better protection around him. Look no further than Orlando Brown Jr. to come into Chicago to protect Justin’s blindside for the next five or so seasons. Brown has been a Pro Bowler in four out of his five seasons in the league, and he’s going to cost a decent chump of change to bring in. I firmly believe spending over $22 Million on him would be the way to go in terms of acquiring O-Line help this offseason.
JuJu would certainly help the receiving corps for Luke Getsy and Justin Fields from one Kansas City Chief to another. I know he isn’t the most popular option that fans would love to see rep the orange and navy blue, but he probably is the best wide-out on the open market this offseason. With the free agency period coming before the draft, you can’t guarantee the Bears landing one of the big three pass catchers in the draft. Adding something is most certainly better than adding nothing, and that’s what I believe JuJu brings to the table here.
Dre’Mont Jones is a popular name that is seen as a “sleeper” in this free agency. I’ve seen him listed as both a DT and Edge, but for the sake of this mock offseason, he’s going to be an Edge for this Bears D-Line moving forward. At just 26 years old, Jones had 24 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble in just 13 games this season. A hip injury in mid-December abruptly ended his season, but that shouldn’t be a concern in contract negotiations this offseason. At just $7.2 Million per season, the value is too good to pass up on in terms of Jones’s potential.
There’s no secret that Edmunds has been an absolute force on the Bills’ defense for the last five seasons. Possessing over 560 total tackles in his career, he is still considered an “under the radar” Linebacker in this league. Despite still having Jack Sanborn and bringing back Morrow in this mock, a third backer is still needed in this group, and Edmunds would be a great leader to fill Roquan Smith’s shoes. At nearly half the price of the deal Roq just got, I’d bring in Edmunds at this price tag for sure.
Despite having a great #1 corner in Jaylon Johnson and a now second-year guy who had a solid end to the season in Kyler Gordon, this spot could still use some depth on the roster. At less than $10 Million a season, Cam Sutton brings just that. Not being able to predict how the draft board will shake out before free agency puts the Bears in a tough spot, as they don’t want to bank on getting CB depth there and then miss out on adding to the position altogether. Sutton is a nice insurance policy to assure Johnson and Gordon will have some help, along with any potential injuries the position could experience.
(Available Cap Space after Re-Signings and Free Agency: $45,628,633)
Step. 3 The Draft
*All draft selections were simulated on pff.com*
Colts Acquire: Round 1 (Pick 1)
Bears Acquire: DeForest Buckner ($21 Mil), Round 1 (Pick 4), Round 2 (Pick 35). 2024 1st, 2024 2nd.
What a package this would be from the Colts for the #1 pick. Their First and Second round selections for the 2024 draft along with this one were an expected return. However, adding a guy like DeForest Buckner to the mix makes things way more interesting. A big reason why you leave that much money available after the free agency period is for a potential addition like Buckner. The 28-year-old had 8 sacks from the interior this past season and would be a game-wrecker both against the run and pass.
Round 1 (Pick 4): Will Anderson – Edge – Alabama
I couldn’t believe that Anderson fell to me at 4 in this draft. Getting the #1 prospect while trading back and recouping as many assets as possible is the goal in this draft and Anderson being available at 4 is an absolute dream. In just three seasons at Alabama, Anderson had 34.5 sacks, with 17.5 of them coming in his Sophomore season. His ability to get to the Quarterback is unbelievable and he is arguably the best edge rushing prospect in my lifetime. If the Bears get the chance to snag him, they simply can’t pass him up.
Patriots Acquire: Round 2 (Pick 35)
Bears Acquire: Round 2 (Pick 46), Round 3 (Pick 76)
I wasn’t quite sure what the Patriots were thinking when they offered me this deal for the 35th pick, but hey I’ll take it. I didn’t love any of the options at 35, and I will gladly take an extra 3rd rounder in this draft.
Round 2 (Pick 46): Darnell Washington – TE – Georgia
Darnell Washington is an absolute monster. Standing at 6’7 and weighing 270 lbs, he has the opportunity to be a dominant Tight End in the NFL. His ceiling alone is worth the selection in the second round, and I believe running a two Tight End system could work out well in Luke Getsy’s offense. The potential on Washington is too much to pass up on in this spot.
Round 2 (Pick 54): John Michael Schmitz – C – Minnesota
The Bears have a glaring hole at the Center position, which is where John Michael Schmitz comes in. In my eyes, Schmitz is the best Center in this draft, as he has the frame and IQ of an exceptional starting Center in the NFL. He has the rare ability to run block well (especially on the inside zone between the guards) and protect the passing attack which is exactly what the Bears need. Plus, he’s a hometown kid as he played his high school ball at Homewood Flossmoor, so that’s cool too.
Round 3 (Pick 64): Zach Harrison – Edge – Ohio State
Full transparency, I wanted to select Jaylin Hyatt here. Sadly, he wasn’t on the board, so Zach Harrison became the next best option. Selecting two edge rushers in the first three rounds doesn’t look amazing on paper, but there is some justification behind this selection. Outside of Anderson and Dre’Mont Jones, the Bears have absolutely 0 edges rushing on the roster. Trevis Gipson is atrocious against the run, so he’s essentially useless and as much as I love Dominique Robinson, he’s still unproven due to lack of opportunity. Therefore the #3 edge rushing spot, (aka the rotational job) is wide open. Enter Zach Harrison, a four-year player at Ohio State. Harrison has plenty of experience rushing the passer at a high level and he could become something beyond college. However, his full potential has yet to be untapped, which could be good or bad depending on how you look at it.
Round 3 (Pick 76): Dawand Jones – OT – Ohio State
Jones has been ranked by multiple scouting platforms as a top-10 tackle in this class. For what it’s worth, that makes him a pretty solid value pick in the top half of the third round. Despite signing Orlando Brown this offseason (in this mock) and having Braxton Jones on the roster, you can never have enough protection for JF1. Jones is a big dude, standing at 6’8 and weighing in at 359 lbs. That alone makes me want to have him as a Bear for the next few years.
Round 4 (Pick 103): Henry To’oTo’o – LB – Alabama
I will admit taking To’oTo’o with the first pick in the 4th round is a bit of a reach, but I wanted to make sure I snagged him in this draft and didn’t want to wait for another 33 picks to get him. To’oTo’o played four years of college ball (all in the SEC) with his first two years being at Tennessee and the final two being at Alabama. His breakout season came his Junior year when he recorded 111 total tackles. This put Henry on the map, making him a known mid-round draft candidate for 2023. The hope would be for him to play well enough to crack the lineup and make Nicholas Morrow a cut candidate next off-season.
Round 5 (Pick 136): Xavier Hutchinson – WR – Iowa State
The 6’3 wideout from Jacksonville, FL had a quietly successful three-year career in Ames with the Iowa State Cyclones. He improved in each statistical category every season and even eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2022. A big-body receiver like Hutchinson is worth a day-three selection, and his improving numbers offer plenty of optimism.
Round 5 (Pick 149): Jaelyn Duncan – OT – Maryland
At one point Duncan was considered to be a day two selection in this draft, so I’ll gladly snag him here in the middle of the 5th round. Standing at 6’6 and weighing in at 320 lbs, Duncan can play four out of the five positions on the line. His versatility only makes him more valuable, as his frame and excellent athleticism make him an intriguing prospect.
Round 6 (Pick 176): DJ Turner – CB – Michigan
The value of Turner here is absurd. I’ve seen him go as high as the late second round in other mocks, so he is a steal here in the 6th. He is wicked fast, reported to run a 4.28 40-yard dash at his quickest. Turner is able to use his speed to defend slot receivers pretty well in man coverage, which can definitely translate to the next level.
Round 6 (Pick 197): Mohamed Ibrahim – RB – Minnesota
Mohamed Ibrahim’s historic five-year career at the University of Minnesota rewards him with a selection by the Bears in the 6th round. Technically, Ibrahim only played four actual seasons, as he lost the majority of his 2021 campaign with a ruptured Achilles. In his time as a Gopher, Ibrahim rushed for over 1,000 yards in three different seasons and has 53 career rushing TDs at the college level. His final season was his best to date, which is huge with him proving he can come back from a major injury and still thrive. If the Bears keep Monty (or bring in a different free-agent RB) it doesn’t hurt to add depth to the position. Trestan Ebner was a miss in last year’s draft and I don’t see Darrynton Evans making the squad next year, so the opportunity for Ibrahim to be the RB3 is wide open.
Round 7 (Pick 217) – Jadon Haselwood – WR – Arkansas
Last but certainly not least, I have Jadon Haselwood being the Bears’ lone 7th-round pick in this year’s draft. Haselwood played his first three seasons of college ball at Oklahoma, before transferring to Arkansas for the final year of his collegiate career. The move to the SEC paid off for the Atlanta, GA native, as it was his best college campaign. He had 59 receptions for 702 yards and 3 scores. A wideout of his potential is worth the flyer in the last round of the draft, especially with the physical play he brings to the table.
(Available Cap Space after Draft: $24,628,633) – Not including rookie salaries
Projected Starting 11 on each side of the ball: (* = Rookie)
QB: Justin Fields
RB: David Montgomery/Khalil Herbert
WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool
TE: Cole Kmet/Darnell Washington*
OT (2): Orlando Brown Jr., Braxton Jones
OG (2): Cody Whitehair, Teven Jenkins
C (1): John Michael Schmitz*
DE/Edge: Will Anderson*, Dre’Mont Jones
DT: DeForest Buckner, Justin Jones
LB (3): Nicholas Morrow, Jack Sanborn, Tremaine Edmunds
CB (2): Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon/Cameron Sutton
S (2): Eddie Jackson, Jaquan Brisker