Chicago Bears have to sort through rusher options as GM Ryan Poles looks to strengthen defense

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Not only did Jaquan Brisker have the unusual distinction of leading the Chicago Bears in sacks last season as a defensive back, he was the first homer in that category since the middle of the Lovie Smith era.

Brisker's four sacks paced the league's last-ranked pass rush in 2022, when the rookie safety became the first player groomed and developed by the Bears to lead him in sacks since Alex Brown had six in 2008. .

During that 13-year span, Adewale Ogunleye, Israel Idonije, Julius Peppers, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston, Akeem Hicks, Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn took turns leading the pass rush, proof that the Bears How many have depended on free agency and the trade market at a marquee position.

Now general manager Ryan Poles must sift through the possible options to crowd the pass like a shopper walking into a mall in search of the perfect gift the after Christmas. The Bears have essentially admitted that they need help on the defensive end. The good news is that there are plenty of options (and prices) to evaluate in the coming weeks.

“We are aware of our strengths and weaknesses,” Poles said on draft weekend. “We're going to be opportunistic. We still have the flexibility to do what we need to do to improve.”

Bears did not select defensive end their 10-man draft class, He took three defensive tackles – Gervon Dexter (Round 2), Zack Pickens (Round 3) and Travis Bell (Round 7) – and polls indicated how the draft fell rather than the omission of a known priority.

There were reports that the bears made calls near the end of the first round, estimating the price they would have to pay to go up. If this is true, it is possible that the Poles had their eyes on a small group of defensive ends.

The Bears eventually settled on No. 53, where they selected Dexter. A run on edge rushers began at the end of the first round when the selected Myles Murphy at No. 28, and it ended well before the Bears selected in the middle of round 2.

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Murphy was the first of six edge rushers selected in a span of 14 picks. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Nolan Smith at No. 30, and the Kansas City Chiefs closed out Round 1 with Felix Anudike-Uzomah. The Seattle Seahawks drafted Derrick Hall at No. 37, the Orleans Saints got Isaiah Foskey at No. 40, and the Arizona Cardinals got BJ Ozulari at No. 41.

If the Bears had kept their original second round pick (No. 32), which they sent to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Chase Claypool trade, they would have been in prime position for pass rushers to join the rush. Claypool is expected to be a big part of quarterback Justin Fields' success this season, and in the big picture is more important to the trajectory of the franchise than a rookie pass rusher. At No. 32, the Bears could draft the seventh edge rusher in the class.

They currently have six defensive ends: DeMarcus Walker, signed to a three-year, $21 million contract in free agency; pre-draft picks Dominique Robinson and Travis Gipson; free-agent signing Rasheem Green; and undrafted rookies Jalen Harris and D'Anthony Jones.

Walker projects as the starting left end in base defense, and the opposite starter figures to be Robinson or Gipson for a while. The Bears could either add a starter here in the near future or go with a designated pass rusher (DPR), they will likely be on the edge on run downs.

Most of the options available – more than 10 experienced edge defenders – are on the wrong side of 30. There's probably no “splash” player to add, and the Poles likely don't want to make the kind of move that would reduce his salary-cap flexibility.

free agents

  • frank clark, 30 (1 week of age). A cap casualty for the Chiefs, Clark had 9½ sacks over the past two seasons. The three-time Bowl selection has reached 10 sacks in a season twice in his career. He made $12.3 million last year and probably wants a bigger payday. Clark has been arrested twice on gun charges.

  • jaden clany, 30. The No. 1 pick in 2014, Clowney has been with four teams over the past five seasons. He never reached his draft potential with more than six sacks only three times in nine seasons.

  • carlos dunlap34. The 14-year veteran has 100 career sacks after notching four in 17 games for the Chiefs last year.

  • Leonard Floyd, 30. The Bears' first-round pick in 2016, Floyd's pass rush kicked into a new gear when he got to the Los Angeles Rams in 2020. He had 29 sacks over the past three seasons after totaling 18½ in four years with the Bears. Floyd earned $16.5 million last season and is available because no team has met his asking price.

  • Justin Houston34. The 13-year veteran had 9½ sacks last year for the Baltimore Ravens and is another player Poles knows well since Houston spent the first eight years of his career with the Chiefs.

  • melvin ingram34. After a steady decline, Ingram had six sacks last year for the Miami Dolphins.

  • yanik nagakoue, 28. Ngakoue has at least eight sacks every season, including 9½ last year with the Indianapolis Colts. He has been on five teams since 2019, bouncing around as he is a liability against the run. Ngakoue profiles as a DPR and is likely looking for a considerable payday after completing a two-year, $26 million contract in 2022.

  • robert quinn, 33. A team that believes in putting together big seasons in odd-numbered years may be willing to take a shot at Quinn, whom the Bears traded last year to the Eagles at midseason. Quinn had 18½ sacks in 2021, 11½ in 2019 and 8½ in 2017. The problem is, he had one sack last season, two in 2020 and 6½ in 2018.

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Business / options

  • Carl Lawson, 28. He is entering the final year of a contract that will pay him $15 million this season. The New York Jets have a host of edge rushers and Lawson is rumored to be available in a trade. Considering the contract, a late-round pick could do that. Lawson had seven sacks last season to go with 24 QB hits. He made 27 total sacks over five seasons.

  • Zadarius Smith, 31. Smith is rumored to be seeking a new contract — or minimum guaranteed money — one year after signing a three-year, $42 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings. The market for Smith was depressed last offseason as he battled a back that wiped out nearly all of his 2021 season in Green Bay. He had 10 sacks last season for the Vikings, but 8½ came in the first seven games. Smith is an intriguing option, but trading him and adjusting his contract could be too much.

The timeline for adding a defensive end is not pressing. In an ideal world, the Bears would introduce a new player into their plan during the offseason so that he would be up to speed when training camp began.

This is probably not the time of year or time to rebuild for a big swing of the polls. With two first-round picks in 2024, the Bears could prioritize a pass rush in the next draft, but they need help now.

It will be interesting to see what the bears do as prices move lower. The best-case scenario would be that young tackles emerge while Robinson continues to enjoy a breakout season. Ultimately, the Bears need to break out of the cycle of shopping for a pass rusher — and they certainly don't want a defensive back leading them to sacks again.

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