It’s not that the attention paid to the Bears’ offense this offseason isn’t justified — 28 teams averaged more points per game than Matt Nagy’s crew in 2019, after all. But defense will still be a priority for Ryan Pace in free agency next week, with a few significant holes to fill for a group that’s still good but maybe not great.
A look at five players the Bears should target on the "other" side of the ball:
1. Linebacker Danny Trevathan
Bring him back! Yes, he’s been injury-prone (he missed 17 games due to injury over four years with the Bears) and turns 30 later this month. But he’s still fast and physical, and can do cool stuff like this:
If Nick Kwiatkoski is going to command $7-8 million per year on the free agent market, the Bears should happily let him walk to a contract he’s earned — just like they did with Adrian Amos a year ago (maybe he'll even follow Amos to Green Bay. If he does: Good for him!). The Bears wound up getting a fourth-round comp pick in this year’s draft for, effectively, not re-signing Amos.
Trevathan’s leadership is a major plus in the locker room, too. Re-sign him to, maybe, what amounts to a year-to-year contract while also taking another spin at drafting someone to be his long-term replacement.
2. Safety Vonn Bell
Bell’s market value is estimated at three years and $13.7 million, via Spotrac, which would still fit with Eddie Jackson’s contract extension (more on that later). Bell is one of the league’s better in-the-box safeties against the run, and signing him would theoretically free up Jackson to be more of the ballhawking pick machine (and, ahem, All-Pro) he was in 2018.
Bell would be an interesting piece for Chuck Pagano to use as a blitzer, too — only nine safeties generated more pressures than Bell’s 10 in 2019. The Bears should be wary of spending too much money on a safety to play next to Jackson, so if Bell’s market is stronger than Spotrac’s estimate, Pace should turn to another option, like…
3. Safety Tony Jefferson
The Bears, realistically, need to draft a safety to be a long-term solution next to Jackson. Paying top dollar, or even medium dollar, for a safety when Jackson's four-year, $58 million extension kicks in doesn't make much sense. Again, if Bell’s price gets too high, the Bears should bow out and look at different options.
So enter Jefferson, a 28-year-old veteran who was released by the Ravens after the 2019 season. He’s coming off a season-ending knee injury that limited him to five games last year and may have to take a one-year, prove-it contract after some productive seasons with the Cardinals and Ravens.
Jefferson’s style is more geared toward playing in the box, too. Signing him to a low-risk deal would allow the Bears to try to find a safety in the draft without the pressure of having to play that guy right away, presuming Jefferson's medicals check out.
4. Cornerback Jalen Mills
The thought here is the Bears will shop in the discount section of the cornerback market, seeing as they cut Prince Amukamara to save $9 million in cap space last month. It’s unlikely the Bears will be willing to use all of those savings on a replacement cornerback, and Josh Norman’s $8 million, one-year deal doesn’t bode well for the prove-it deal market at this position of need.
Mills has had injury issues the last two years, missing a total of 17 games, but he turns 26 in April and could be worth a flier if paired with a draft pick. The Bears seem to like Kevin Toliver II and are interested in what Tre Roberson has to offer, but adding someone to that room who’s played well before (as Mills did in 2017) would be beneficial here.
5. Edge rusher Kamalei Correa
The Bears need to target another edge rusher regardless of Leonard Floyd’s status (cutting him would save $13.222 million against 2020’s cap). Correa turns 26 in April and had five sacks in 2019, all of which came in the second half of the season.
The 6-foot-3, 241-pound Correa would at least be a depth upgrade over impending free agent Aaron Lynch, and at best could have the upside to be better than Floyd.
The Bears keep saying they value Floyd’s versatility, but is it worth a little over $13 million for minimal sack production? We’ll find out the answer next week.