Bears general manager Ryan Poles faces a monumental task this offseason. After a 3-14 teardown season, Poles' rebuilding job begins in earnest as he looks to construct a winning roster around 24-year-old quarterback Justin Fields.
The Bears have massive holes at every premium position. They have to address the offensive and defensive lines and add one or two playmakers to help Fields grow as a passer. The around $100 million in salary cap will help Poles add talent, and he might be able to dip into a well he's familiar with to jumpstart the rebuild.
Poles's NFL career started in Kansas City, where he worked his way up from scouting assistant to executive director of player personnel. On Monday, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported that the Chiefs would not place the franchise tag on star left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
ESPN's Adam Schefter later reported the Chiefs would also be releasing defensive end Frank Clark in a cost-cutting maneuver.
The Chiefs decided not to tag Brown in the hopes of getting a long-term deal done with the 27-year-old tackle. Kansas City tagged Brown last offseason and would have owed him over $20 million for 2023 had they tagged him again. The Chiefs reportedly will look to get a long-term deal done with Brown before the legal negotiating window opens next week. If they don't, Brown will hit the open market, where he will likely be one of the most sought-after free agents in a less-than-spectacular free-agent class.
Poles and Bears director of player personnel Trey Koziol know Brown well from their time in Kansas City. They were part of the front office that traded a first-round pick to the Ravens to acquire Brown, who was unhappy being a right tackle in Baltimore.
League opinions vary on Brown's pecking order in the tackle landscape. Some evaluators believe he's better suited to be a right tackle, but Brown is intent on being a left tackle which comes with a bigger payday.
Last season, Brown allowed 47 total pressures, seven hits, and four sacks while protecting Patrick Mahomes' blindside, per Pro Football Focus. During the Chiefs' run to the Super Bowl, Brown allowed just 11 pressures in three games and did not give up a sack.
The Bears were pleased with the development of rookie left tackle Braxton Jones Jr. After a rocky start to the season, the fifth-round pick showed marked improvement and finished the year, giving up only eight pressures and two sacks in his final five games.
Despite Jones' growth, he might be better served on the right side of the line. Signing Brown would allow the Bears to slide him over and cement their bookends for the foreseeable future.
Brown is projected to have a market value of $22 million per season, per Spotrac. With around $100 million in salary cap space, that's a number the Bears can afford and can even go over if Poles believes Brown is a top-tier left tackle.
If the Bears either lose a bidding war for Brown or deem him not worth the tag, Chicago should look to a right tackle market that includes Mike McGlinchey, Jawaan Taylor, and Kaleb McGary.
Clark is another player Clark and Koziol know well from their days in Kansas City.
The soon-to-be 30-year-old edge rusher blossomed with the Chiefs after coming over in a trade from the Seattle Seahawks. Clark made the Pro Bowl each season from 2019-2021 and has notched 23.5 sacks in his four seasons in Kansas City.
Clark was due $21 million in 2023 and had a cap hit of $28.7 million. In cutting him, the Chiefs save $21 million and incur a dead-cap hit of $7.7 million.
Clark had a solid 2022 campaign, totaling five sacks and 45 pressures. The veteran edge rusher has shined in the postseason. He notched 2.5 sacks in three games during Kansas City's run to the Super Bowl and ranked third on the all-time postseason sacks list with 13.5.
The Bears' inability to get to the quarterback was well-documented in 2022.
Chicago ranked dead last in pressures with 162 on the season. Trevis Gipson led the team with 30 pressures, while safety Jaquan Brisker was the high man in sacks with four. After trading Robert Quinn before Week 8, the Bears' defensive line registered just three total sacks, with two coming in Week 17 against the Detroit Lions.
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At minimum, the Bears need to add two edge rushers and two defensive tackles via free agency and the draft. Poles is expected to prioritize the defensive line in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, with Alabama's Will Anderson looking to be the type of culture-changing player the Bears' defense desperately needs.
Depending on Clark's price tag, he could be a good addition to a Bears team that lacks experience and veteran presence in the locker room.
Poles and Koziol should have a good beat on what Brown and Clark can do on the field and how they are in the locker room.
Two premium players from the defending Super Bowl champions are set to hit the open market. The Chiefs' loss could be the Bears' gain as Poles' rebuilding job enters a critical phase.