Bears Insider

How Commanders tagging Payne will impact Bears' offseason plan

Bears Insider
Daron Payne, Jalen Carter

It looks like the Bears can remove a likely top target from their free agency board.

In an expected move, the Washington Commanders plan to franchise tag defensive tackle Daron Payne, The Athletic's Ben Standig reported Tuesday night.

Payne was slated to be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market and almost certainly would have gotten interest from the Bears as they search for a stud three-technique to be "the engine" of head coach Matt Eberflus' defense.

The Bears could still make a run at Payne, but they would now have to give the Commanders two first-round picks if Payne agreed to a contract with the Bears and Washington elected not to match. That's not something the Bears are likely to be interested in doing.

With Payne removed from the board, Philadelphia Eagles star Javon Hargrave is now head and shoulders above the rest of the free-agent interior defensive line class.

Hargrave is a little older than Payne, but he's got a longer track record of success as a dominant pass rusher. Per ProFootballFocus, Hargrave's 92.2 pass-rush grade since 2020 trails only Aaron Donald and Chris Jones. Likewise, his 18.8 percent pass-rush win rate also ranks third in that time.

Hargrave was already expected to be a potential free-agent target for the Bears, and Payne's absence from the market should only increase Chicago's interest in the veteran defensive tackle.

Denver Broncos pending free agent Dre'Mont Jones is another name the Bears could chase in free agency. The 26-year-old has 138 quarterback pressures since 2019, per PFF. He also has a pass-rush win rate of 14.5 percent, which ranks 11th over that span.


Jones is a little younger but has the versatility to play the three-technique in the Bears' defense and can also kick outside in nickel packages if needed.

Hargrave and Jones each are good candidates to get multi-year offers from a Bears team with nearly $100 million in salary-cap space and a need for multiple disruptors on the defensive line.

RELATED: How franchise tag window could impact Bears' offseason plan

But while the tagging of Payne will affect the Bears' free-agency plans, it could have an even bigger effect on their desired outcome in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Georgia's Jalen Carter was already expected to be atop the Bears' draft board along with Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson. The Bears' need for a three-technique is well-documented, so many expect Carter to be the pick either at No. 1 or whenever the Bears go on the clock should he still be available.

Many scouts view Anderson as a generational edge rusher who could be Von Miller 2.0. The Alabama star would have been the No. 1 pick in 2022 had he been eligible.

The Bears need both an interior defensive lineman and an elite edge rusher. With a very thin free-agent edge class, the best way for the Bears to check both boxes seemed to be signing Payne, Hargrave, or Jones, freeing them up to draft Anderson. That could still be the play, but there's a bigger chance now that the Bears will fill their three-technique hole with Carter and not a top-level free agent.

That could still be in the cards, but the Commanders' plan to tag Payne possibly pushes the Bears further toward Carter and could make them more likely to make a full-court push for Hargrave or Jones.

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