The 2022 NFL season ended in a surprisingly pleasant way for the Chicago Bears, securing the No. 1 pick, following a last minute hail mary which propelled the Texans over the Colts. While not making the playoffs is often disappointing, the real payoff of the Bears’ 2022 season will (hopefully) come when free agency begins on March 15, 2023. Armed with well over $100 million in cap space, general manager Ryan Poles needs to prove that this rebuild has been worthwhile by going out and signing impact players at some of the Bears’ many positions of need. Even though free agency is still a few months away, it’s never too early to preview some players the Bears could target this offseason.
Nick Gates, OL, New York Giants
In four seasons with New York, Nick Gates has only been a full-time starter in one season, back in 2020. Although, he ended this past year as the team’s starting left guard for the final nine games of the year, including playoffs.
Gates has the ability to play both guard and center, and his best attribute definitely comes in the passing game. That’s where the Bears need help, and could use some competition. Protecting Justin Fields has to be priority number one going forward, in addition to getting him some more weaponry.
At only 27 years old, Gates has plenty of years left in him and would give the Bears a solid option as a starting guard going forward. He’d likely come fairly inexpensive as well, as he’s not as notable a name. In 368 snaps this past season, Gates only gave up a single sack on Daniel Jones.
Daron Payne, DL, Washington Commanders
Another player to keep an eye on for the Bears is Commanders defensive lineman Daron Payne. Payne, 25, is an ascending talent on the Commanders’ dominant defensive line. This season, he’s proven himself to be a dominant run stuffer and capable pass rusher, amassing 53 tackles and 8.5 sacks. Payne fills a clear need for the Bears, who have struggled to contain the run or generate any sort of aggressive pass rush. While the gaping hole at defensive tackle may be addressed early in this year’s draft (see: Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter), signing Payne would allow the Bears to fill a crucial need with an ascending player who’s just entering his prime without sacrificing premium draft capital.
Overall, Ryan Poles’ ability to make smart signings will make or break the upcoming offseason. Being able to sign Elgton Jenkins and/or Daron Payne would go a long way toward improving a talent-deficient Bears team.