With the first wave of free agency in the books, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles still has some work to do to continue building his roster. But he made some moves on defense, including the additions of linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, as well as defensive linemen DeMarcus Walker and Andrew Billings.
When looking at these projections on defense, it’s clear that Poles still has some moves to make to improve this defense. You could argue there are five starting jobs that need to be filled, including possibly all four spots on the defensive line and a need at cornerback.
Following the first wave of free agency, we’re predicting what the current Bears starting defense would look like (with current players on the roster and others who could be added in the NFL draft).
DT Andrew Billings/Rookie
The Bears could certainly fill this role with an incoming rookie, but free-agent addition Andrew Billings is a nice stopgap at the 1-technique position. He’s a dominant run stuffer who should immediately upgrade what was one of the NFL’s worst run defenses last season.
DT Justin Jones/Rookie
Justin Jones was the only defensive lineman worth bringing back on the league’s worst defensive line last season. The Bears will likely draft a 3-technique with one of their top draft picks to serve as starter, which means we’ll see a rotation between a rookie and Jones at the 3-tech position.
DE DeMarcus Walker/Rookie
DeMarcus Walker has been the lone edge rusher addition this offseason, and he’s coming off a career year where he had more combined sacks (7.0) than Justin Jones, Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson combined. And while he’s a favorite to get a starting opportunity, it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see a rookie fill this role.
DE Trevis Gipson/Rookie
This spot is likely to be filled by an incoming rookie or another veteran addition in free agency. But for now, Trevis Gipson gets to serve as the placeholder. While Gipson showed promise in 2021 — with a career-high 7 sacks — he struggled without a dominant edge rusher opposite him.
WLB T.J. Edwards
T.J. Edwards was the bargain of free agency for the Bears, and he’s someone who serves as an immediate upgrade. While we don’t know whether Edwards will line up at WILL or MIKE — although WILL seems most likely — he’ll be an impact player regardless.
MLB Tremaine Edmunds
Tremaine Edmunds inked the most lucrative deal by a Bears player in free agency, and he’s the exact kind of player Matt Eberflus is looking for. Even after already playing five seasons, Edmunds is only 24. We don’t know whether Edmunds will fill the MIKE or WILL spot, but he’ll most likely by the MIKE.
SLB Jack Sanborn
Jack Sanborn showed enough in his rookie season to warrant a look as a starter. And following the additions of Edwards and Edmunds, Sanborn will fill the starting SAM linebacker role. Sanborn had impressive instincts and was a solid tackler in limited action.
CB Jaylon Johnson
Jaylon Johnson in entering the final year of his rookie deal, where he’s in line for an extension. Johnson has been the Bears’ CB1 for the last couple of seasons, where he’s been able to hang with some of the NFL’s best receivers. Johnson will be looking to prove himself in a contract year.
CB Kyler Gordon
Kyler Gordon played both outside and in the slot last year, which is difficult for anyone yet alone a rookie. Chicago needs to find a position for Gordon and have him stick there. Depending on how the draft shakes out, that could very well be at nickel cornerback, which is one of the most important positions in this defense.
CB Kindle Vildor/Rookie
The Bears need a solid third cornerback to add to the group. Right now, Kindle Vildor is penciled into this spot, but that’s likely to change. Chicago will look to draft a young cornerback who could be plugged into this spot. With questions along the defensive line and offensive line, the only question is where will the Bears target a cornerback?
FS Eddie Jackson
Eddie Jackson is coming off a bounce back year in 2022, where he notched a team-high four interceptions before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Jackson, who carries a $17.09 million cap hit, will be back at free safety, where he’ll be looking to be the ballhawk he was last year.
SS Jaquan Brisker
Jaquan Brisker was Poles’ best draft pick last season, and his pairing with Jackson was a dream for the Bears. Brisker is the physical, hard-hitting box safety that complements Jackson. Now, the two will be back manning the strongest position group so far this offseason.