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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Alyssa Barbieri

Bears free agency: Experts hand out grades for Chicago

The Chicago Bears were quite active through the first week — and even the Friday before — free agency, where they added some impact starters to help better this roster.

That started with trading the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for two first-round selections, two second-round picks and wide receiver DJ Moore.

Then, the Bears went out and upgrade their linebacker group with Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, running back room with D’Onta Foreman and Travis Homer, as well as solid additions in guard Nate Davis, defensive linemen Andrew Billings and DeMarcus Walker and tight end Robert Tonyan.

While there’s still the second and third waves of free agency on the way, experts agree that Chicago has won this first part of free agency.

Here’s a collection of all of the grades for the Bears’ signings through the first wave of free agency:

Sporting News: A+

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer gave the Bears an impressive A+ and named them the best NFL team in free agency. The worst? The Packers with a D.

GM Ryan Poles was ready to do business. He would have hit “A” status just by the blockbuster deal in trading down from No. 1 that got Moore for Justin Fields and key draft picks in return. But then he made smart upgrades to the defensive front seven as well, while finding a few more valuable pieces for Fields and the running game. Moving on from Montgomery was wise, especially with Foreman and Homer coming in to help Khalil Herbert.

Pro Football Focus: B-

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Pro Football Focus loves the addition of wide receiver DJ Moore through trade of the No. 1 pick, which gives quarterback Justin Fields a true WR1.

We know Justin Fields can connect on the deep bombs, and we know he can take off with his legs when his pocket breaks down. But to take his game to the next level, he has to become a consistent intermediate passer. Enter D.J. Moore.

Among 32 quarterbacks with at least 50 intermediate pass attempts (passes thrown 10-19 yards downfield) in 2022, Fields led the way with a 66.7% completion rate and ranked 13th in accuracy percentage per PFF charting. However, he didn’t attack there often enough, partly due to his pass-catchers.

From 2019 to 2022, D.J. Moore saw 172 intermediate targets, the second-most in the NFL. And while Fields still has room to grow as a passer, it’s not like Moore was working with much at quarterback over that span. The timing is also perfect, as Moore is just 25 years old and signed a new contract last offseason, with Chicago inheriting a three-year, $52.265 million deal.

CBS Sports: B+

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

CBS Sports’ Garrett Podell applauded the Bears for adding some pieces around quarterback Justin Fields, which included trading for wide receiver DJ Moore and signing free-agent guard Nate Davis.

The signings of two inside linebackers Tremaine Edmunds (4 years, $72 million) and  T.J. Edwards (three years, $19.5M) will yield a positive impact for the Bears’ defense. However, they could’ve simply extended 2022 First-Team All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith for a smaller cap hit than those two combined deals and retained one of the best linebackers in football. Instead, they traded him to the Baltimore Ravens.

The big reasons for the B+ grade is because of how they’ve already helped young quarterback Justin Fields significantly, and the draft hasn’t even started. Signing guard Nate Davis (3 years, $30M) and bringing in underrated, 25-year-old wide receiver D.J. Moore through the unloading of the 2023 NFL Draft’s first pick is a great start to the offseason. The only way to find out if your quarterback is good is to surround him with a real supporting cast, and the Bears are on their way to doing so.

Pro Football Network: A

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Pro Football Network’s Arif Hasan believes the Bears had a good free agency and pre-free agency, which included the trade of the No. 1 pick that resulted in the acquisition of wide receiver DJ Moore.

If we include the pre-free agency move the Bears made to trade the No. 1 overall pick for a heap of draft selections and WR DJ Moore, it’s fair to say that Chicago had one of the more impactful offseasons in the NFL — not just for themselves but for the entire league.

Adding Moore, as well as a variety of starting-level players in free agency, bolstered the defense in a big way and set up the whole team for success. The Bears have a lot of cap space and haven’t been afraid to use it.

Sometimes that turns out poorly, and teams overspend on mediocre free agents, but the Bears have been mostly judicious about their shots and have improved the team.

ESPN: Most Improved

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Two of ESPN’s writers dubbed the Bears that most improved team following the first wave of free agency, which includes Jason Reid.

General manager Ryan Poles entered the offseason with a whole lot of cap space, the No. 1 overall pick in next month’s NFL draft and a plan to upgrade a roster with canyon-sized holes. Poles made many cost-efficient moves to sign veterans who should provide the Bears with a significant boost next season. And in their trade with the Panthers, the Bears acquired productive wide receiver DJ Moore (and a haul of picks). He is exactly the type of wideout that young quarterback Justin Fields needs to take the next step in his development.

Fields Yates also named Chicago the most-improved team.

They entered the free agency period with more resources to use than any other team but still managed to thread an important needle: They added a ton of talent without spending above market value on said players. And when you factor in the trade down from pick No. 1, the Bears also added a top-20 wide receiver to their roster in Moore.

Sports Illustrated: Winner

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Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr named Bears quarterback Justin Fields one of the biggest winners of free agency.

You can read more about my optimism about Chicago’s offseason here. But Fields has a new No. 1 wide receiver in DJ Moore and some ancillary pieces that could turn this offense into a Lamar Jackson–like battering ram with Robert Tonyan, Travis Homer and D’Onta Foreman, who costs next to nothing and will help reduce the wear on Fields’s body.

Yahoo! Sports: Winner, kind of

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Yahoo! Sports’ Frank Schwab believes the Bears are winners…kind of. He loved the addition of DJ Moore, but he wondered why Chicago didn’t make a move at offensive tackle.

The Bears made a great move before the draft, trading down from the first pick and grabbing many valuable picks in return and also a No. 1 receiver in DJ Moore. That was huge in a receiver-thin market.

The rest of free agency was odd. The Bears had more cap space than any other team by a mile. They added good players, but double-dipping on Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards when off-the-ball linebackers are being devalued (and undrafted Jack Sanborn finished last season on a promising note) was questionable. Guard Nate Davis helps, but the Bears could have easily outbid anyone on a top tackle like Orlando Brown Jr. or Jawaan Taylor and didn’t.

There are still a lot of needs, especially on both lines, and not much left in free agency. The Bears are being fairly patient, and maybe that will be the right method, but now seemed to be the time to get aggressive with their needs.

Sports Naut: A

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Sports Naut’s Vincent Frank believes the Bears’ best move came before the start of free agency with the acquisition of wide receiver DJ Moore.

Acquiring Pro Bowl wide receiver D.J. Moore in the blockbuster trade with the Carolina Panthers was a home run for general manager Ryan Poles. Just 25 years old, Moore is averaging 1,040 yards throughout his five-year career. Young quarterback Justin Fields needs more weapons at wide receiver. He now has a true No. 1 to call his own.

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