Dreams of the Bears landing Daron Payne in free agency appear to be dashed already, and the new league year hasn’t even started. Reports out of Washington indicate that the Commanders plan to use the franchise tag on Payne, meaning the defensive tackle won’t hit the open market this March.
So where do the Bears go from here? The team could stand to improve at every single position on the defensive line, and they won’t be able to address all their needs up front in the draft alone. Here are three players that Ryan Poles could target next month when he starts putting his free agency dollars to work.
JAVON HARGRAVE - EAGLES
Fletcher Cox and Haason Reddick garnered the most attention for the vaunted Eagles defense in 2022, but Hargrave was an absolute force up front, and he seems to be getting 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 will push the pocket no matter where he lines up. He turned 30 this month.
DRE’MONT JONES - BRONCOS
Hargrave seems like the clear cut top DL choice with Payne off the market, but Jones is another intriguing option if Poles can’t bring Hargrave to Chicago. He emerged as a regular starter for the Broncos this season and tied a career high with 6.5 sacks. Jones has been a consistent pass rusher too, with 6.5 sacks in 2020, 5.5 in 2021 and 6.5 again last year. He appears to be an ascending player and is the youngest player on our list, since he just turned 26 in January.
SHELDON RANKINS - JETS
Rankins is more of a traditional three-tech than Hargrave, but maybe not as disruptive in the pass rush. Rankins would still add value to the Bears defense as a capable run stuffer. According to PFF, Rankins had an 8.4% stop rate (percentage of team’s run defense snaps where he was responsible for the stop), which tied Payne. Armon Watts led that category for the Bears in 2022 at 6.9%. Rankins can chip in on the pass rush too, with 23.5 career sacks in seven seasons. He will turn 29 in April.
DAVID ONYEMATA - SAINTS
Onyemata provides a bit more pass rush than Rankins, but he’s not as solid in run defense. Even though his sack numbers look similar to Rankins’ (seven over past two seasons vs. six over past two seasons), his overall pressure numbers are stronger (67 over past two seasons vs. 49 over past two seasons). Onyemata will turn 31 in November.