The Bears have limited resources to improve their team this offseason, and a lot of attention is going to be focused on using those resources to fix the offense. On the surface, this makes quite a bit of sense; as you can see in the table below, which looks at a variety of all-encompassing stats for each side of the ball, the Bears had an average to below-average defense and one of the worst offenses in the NFL.
However, the Bears would be wise not to ignore the defense, either. For starters, that unit has several key contributors from 2021 who are scheduled to be free agents, including five players who spent the bulk of the season as starters (Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, Alec Ogletree, Artie Burns, Tashaun Gipson). Those players will need to be re-signed or replaced, and none of them have obvious in-house replacements already on the roster.
But Chicago has to be careful not to overspend on defense, because the offense definitely needs investment as well. The table below shows the veteran players currently under contract for 2022 on both offense and defense with a cap hit of at least $3 million. The offense is shown on the left in blue, and the defense on the right in orange. As you can see, it’s quite lopsided (data from Over the Cap).
Overall, Chicago currently has $109M in 2022 cap space allocated to their defense compared to only $55M allocated to their offense. According to Spotrac, the NFL averages are $94M for offense and $84M for defense, and the Bears rank 4th in defensive spending compared to 31st on the offense. Therefore, it makes good sense for Chicago to focus their offseason spending on the offense.
But like I noted above, the Bears can’t afford to ignore the defense. This is especially true in the draft, where Chicago has hardly invested in the defense at all in recent years. The table below shows all notable players on each side of the ball who are still on their rookie contracts and are expected to contribute on offense or defense in 2022.
Depending on how the new GM and coach view Larry Borom, the Bears have 5 or 6 offensive starters locked up on rookie deals. On the defensive side of the ball, Jaylon Johnson is the only player on a rookie contract who is a likely starter. This makes sense considering the Bears have invested four day 1-2 picks in offense compared to only one on defense over the last three drafts.
Since 2018, Chicago has focused their free dollars on defense and their draft picks on offense. This has left an offense heavy with capable young players but light on veteran experience, and an aging, expensive defense that does not have enough youthful talent. With that in mind, their approach to the 2022 offseason seems quite simple: spend on offense in free agency and focus your draft efforts on defense. Looking at who is currently under contract for 2022, I see the following starters that need to be added:
- Offense: 2 wide receivers, center, right guard (could be re-signing James Daniels)
- Defense: 2 cornerbacks, safety, inside linebacker, defensive line (could be re-signing Bilal Nichols)
Chicago could reasonably land one surefire starter at each of WR, C, and RG in free agency, focusing the bulk of their spending power at these spots, and also land a second, cheaper WR to potentially start, leaving them with only WR as a possible immediate need on offense going into the draft.
Meanwhile, the defense could focus on cheaper free agent options to compete with possible draft picks for starting roles, including bringing back inexpensive in-house options like Artie Burns at CB and Deon Bush and/or DeAndre Houston-Carson at S. This sort of approach would give needed experience to the offense, needed youth to the defense, and balance out the roster spending, making it a smart move for the Bears all around.