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CHICAGO — NFL free agency is off and running, and we’re keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2023 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began on March 15 at 4 p.m. ET, which means free agent signings can now be made official. The first round of the 2023 NFL draft begins April 27 on ESPN.
The Bears shook up the 2023 draft order days before the start of free agency when they sent the No. 1 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for No. 9, No. 61, a 2024 first-round pick and a second-round selection in 2025. The Bears also acquired wide receiver D.J. Moore in the trade, a move that instantly upgrades the receiving corps around quarterback Justin Fields.
Here’s a breakdown of every 2023 NFL free agent signing by the Chicago Bears, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
Peterman returns on a one-year deal.
What it means: The Bears kept three quarterbacks on the 90-man roster last season and are doing the same by re-signing Peterman to a one-year deal. Chicago liked what it saw from Peterman during three appearances (one start) in 2022 and opted to bring him back over fellow backup Tim Boyle. If Peterman sticks around through training camp, the Bears can make him their practice squad quarterback since PJ Walker is firmly situated as Justin Fields’ backup.
What’s the risk: Nothing. The Bears already upgraded their backup QB position with Walker, and it never hurts for Chicago to consider adding a quarterback on Day 3 of the draft.
Cole signed a one-year deal.
What it means: Cole was a core special teams player with Tennessee, where he spent the last two seasons and recorded eight of his nine career starts on defense in 61 games. The linebacker recorded a career-best 10 special teams tackles and a forced fumble in 2021, a role he’ll likely assume in Chicago with backup linebacker and special teams ace Matt Adams having signed with Cleveland during free agency.
What’s the risk: Nothing. The Bears are prioritizing depth in the second wave of free agency. Cole provides that with six years of NFL experience.
Foreman signed a one-year deal.
What it means: This is how the Bears begin to replace the production they lost with David Montgomery leaving in free agency. Everything finally came together for Foreman in his fifth NFL season, both in terms of health and production. The running back played all 17 games for Carolina -– the first time in his career he stayed healthy for an entire season -– and posted a career-high 914 rushing yards and five touchdowns. With Travis Homer, a more natural pass-catching and pass-blocking back, in the fold, and Foreman’s ability to gain yards through contact, the Bears running back room is coming together well.
What’s the risk: Foreman is another low-cost signing (1 year, $3 million, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter). The Bears can still look to Day 3 of the draft to add another running back to the mix to further fill out their backfield.
The former Green Bay Packers tight end signed a one-year deal.
What it means: This makes a ton of sense given Tonyan’s connection to Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, who was Green Bay’s passing game coordinator in 2020 during the tight end’s career-best season (52 catches, 586 yards, 11 TDs). Tonyan led tight end production in Green Bay last season and brings a 77.8% catch rate and a 10.5-yards-per-catch average to Chicago. The Bears needed another tight end to pair with Cole Kmet, and Tonyan is the second-best pass-catcher Chicago has brought in this week in addition to DJ Moore.
What’s the risk: Tonyan tore an ACL in 2021, but he came back and played all 17 games in 2022 and caught a career-high 67 passes during his final season in Green Bay. This offense requires two tight ends to function, and getting one of the better free agents available during the second wave of free agency was a financially prudent move for the Bears’ front office.
Billings signed a one-year deal.
What it means: GM Ryan Poles was honest about the holes that remain on the defensive line after the first wave of free agency. The optimism he expressed in being able to find value signings over the next few weeks led Chicago to Billings, an experienced defensive tackle who had 14 starts for the Raiders in 2022 and has started 51 of 67 games over five seasons. He was a force against the run as a rotational piece in Las Vegas with 22 stops and 29 solo tackles last season, which will be a welcomed presence for the Bears’ 31st ranked run defense (157.3 yards allowed per game). His 4.5 career sacks don’t solve Chicago’s pass rush issues, but his role in this defense will likely be defined by how he can help keep opposing running backs from reaching the second level.
What’s the risk: Like other free agent signings the Bears will make over the next few weeks, Billings is a low-risk move. Chicago will likely dole out short-term deals to plug holes on the roster in order to stick to its plan to build methodically. The risk in not addressing the defensive line as aggressively as they did in signing two top-end free agent linebackers could come back to haunt the Bears if they don’t fix the issues with their pass rush. In any event, the Bears have taken an honest approach about not trying to fix all of their shortcomings in one offseason. “There are going to be some weak spots on our roster that we can’t fix everything, but we are going to stay flexible to do the best we can to get better,” Poles said. “You go from a short-term thinking of we have to do everything right now, you extend that out and do this thing the right way, over time we’ll be able to heal up the rest of those positions.”
The Bears signed the former Carolina QB to a two-year deal.
What it means: The Bears agreed to terms with Walker hours after his former team, Carolina, opted not to tender the 28-year-old quarterback. Walker heads to Chicago with the likelihood of becoming Fields’ backup, even with veteran Trevor Siemian still under contract. From a stint in the XFL to spending the last three seasons with the Panthers, Walker has become a sought-after No. 2 QB and put together his best season in 2022 with 731 passing yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in six games. His familiarity with new Bears receiver D.J. Moore, who was traded from Carolina in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick, can’t hurt, either.
What’s the risk: There is no risk in having a viable backup quarterback. Fields has missed time with injury the past two seasons and the drop-off in quarterback play during a blowout loss to the Jets in Week 12 when Fields was sidelined emphasized the need for Chicago to prioritize a quality backup for its franchise signal caller.
The Bears and Homer agreed to a two-year deal worth up to $4.5 million, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
What it means: The Bears agreed to terms with Homer moments after former Chicago running back David Montgomery did the same with NFC North rival Detroit. Homer in no way replaces the production the Bears got over four seasons from Montgomery (3,609 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns along with 1,240 receiving yards and four TD receptions), but is a depth addition in a backfield that could see Khalil Herbert elevated to three-down status. Homer was a backup in Seattle and made his biggest contributions catching passes out of the backfield (52 receptions, 464 yards, 2 TDs) and rushed for 453 yards and one touchdown in four years. According to Schefter, Montgomery earned a three-year contract worth $18 million with $11 million guaranteed. Those aren’t bank-breaking numbers, so it’s possible we’re learning general manager Ryan Poles’ stance on the value of paying running backs in real time should Chicago opt not to spend on any other free agent running backs, like Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders or the Chargers’ Austin Ekeler, who reportedly asked for a trade. If the Bears stand pat in free agency, Day 3 of the draft is the perfect time to add more depth to their running back room.
What’s the risk: Nothing. This was an inexpensive move to add depth. Homer appeared in 49 games in Seattle with two starts in four years. He’s inexperienced carrying a heavier load, but that shouldn’t be too big of a deal considering he’ll be competing for a backup role. Homer also has experience on kickoff return and could be an asset for Chicago on special teams.
DeMarcus Walker, defensive end
Walker agreed to a three-year deal worth $21 million with $16 fully guaranteed, per a source.
What it means: Jaquan Brisker, the Bears rookie safety, led the team in sacks with four. Not a single Chicago defensive lineman had more than three sacks in 2022, which foreshadowed major changes in personnel among all four spots on the D-line. “We know that if can get some guys up front in free agency and the draft, that’ll make that job a little bit easier in the back end for sure,” coach Matt Eberflus said at the combine. Walker, a six-year vet who began his career as a second-round pick with Denver, flourished as a rotational rusher during his one-year stint with Tennessee and put together a career year in 2022 with seven sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 32 tackles (10 TFL) and 21 run stops in 17 games. His ability to play multiple positions along the defensive line is intriguing for a unit in the process of an overhaul and begins to address a major need — Chicago’s inability to rush the passer.
What’s the risk: The Bears know they can’t stop after agreeing to terms with Walker. The defensive line still needs to be Chicago’s next priority in free agency after a crop of talented pass rushers, including Javon Hargrave, Dre’Mont Jones and Zach Allen, all flew off the board when the negotiating window opened on Monday. Walker’s deal doesn’t break the bank. The Bears should look to land another pass-rusher before the new league year starts on Wednesday and look to double up on that position in the draft.
The Bears are giving Edmunds a four-year, $72 million deal that includes $50 million guaranteed, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. It is the largest four-year contract for an inside linebacker in the NFL.
What it means: The Bears revamped their linebacking corps in a big way at the start of free agency. Edmunds was one of the hottest defensive players available and upgrades the weakside linebacker position. He’s just 24, yet has five years of NFL experience, having started the moment Buffalo drafted him with the 16th overall pick in 2018 (74 regular-season games, all eight postseason games). Edmunds improved in coverage in 2022 and tacked on 102 tackles, his fifth straight season reaching at least 100. His versatility led to five career interceptions, 35 passes defended, two forced fumbles and 6.5 sacks, and helped him morph into one of the best off-ball linebackers in the NFL.
What’s the risk: Edmunds was limited to 13 games in 2022 due to injuries but still put together “his best year,” according to Buffalo coach Sean McDermott. The Bears made a big financial commitment to Edmunds, whose $50 million in guaranteed money trails only linebackers Roquan Smith, Shaquille Leonard and C.J. Mosley. Ultimately the Bears felt Edmunds is a better fit in Matt Eberflus’ scheme, which is why they chose to trade away Smith last November and target one of the most sought after free agents this cycle.
The Bears signed Davis to a three-year deal, according to a source.
What it means: Shoring up the interior pass protection is another way the Bears can reaffirm their commitment to Fields. Davis made considerable strides in that area during the final year of his rookie deal, and he has been a solid run-blocker throughout his career.
Davis could pay big dividends for the Bears’ league-best (177.3 yards per game) rushing attack. During Davis’ second season with the Titans in 2020, running back Derrick Henry rushed for 2,027 yards — Davis started all 16 games at right guard that season.
Where Davis plays in Chicago becomes a storyline during offseason workouts. The Bears were happy with Teven Jenkins’ transition from tackle to right guard last season. If they want to keep Jenkins there, Davis could bump over to a left guard spot currently occupied by Cody Whitehair, who has two years remaining on his contract with a $14.1 million cap hit. If the Bears don’t want to spend to keep competition around, Davis could be taking Whitehair’s spot at left guard.
What’s the risk: An ankle injury sent Davis to injured reserve last December and limited him to 12 games, but Chicago must feel that injury won’t hamper Davis after giving him a three-year contract. Fields took a league-high 55 sacks in 2022. Upgrading the play up front and bringing stability to the offensive line is a priority for the Bears. Davis checks that box with 54 starts at right guard for Tennessee over the last four seasons.
The Bears sign Edwards to a three-year deal worth a total of $19.5 million, including $12 million guaranteed.
What it means: The Bears needed to upgrade their linebacker corps after trading Roquan Smith midseason in 2022. Edwards, who has worn the green dot — which means he was relaying the plays — in Philadelphia since 2021, started 47 of 61 games for the Eagles since he went undrafted in 2019. He put together a career year in 2022 with 159 tackles (10 TFL), seven passes defended, five quarterback hits and two sacks and racked up six tackles and a pass defended in the Super Bowl. He fits best at middle linebacker, so it’s possible the Bears move Jack Sanborn, who is also a Chicagoland native and Wisconsin grad like Edwards, to strongside linebacker and look to add a weakside linebacker in free agency.
What’s the risk: Not much. Edwards, 26, will have the chance to become a building block on a young defense. The Bears are paying him $19.5 million over three years with $12 million guaranteed, according to a source. That’s far less than the $100 million Smith ended up getting from Baltimore — money the Bears did not want to pay during negotiations last year that ultimately led to him being traded. Not overspending on an off-ball linebacker will allow the Bears to attack the position again in free agency if they choose.