Chicago Bears – 2016 Potential Free Agent Targets (Defense)

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /
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Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /

DE Malik Jackson, Broncos – 2015 was his first full season as a starter and the former 2012 5th round excelled. It took Jackson a few years to build the strength necessary to hold up against the run, but he was stout last season with 46 tackles (8 for loss) as a 3-4 DE in the Broncos scheme.

Jackson has also shown the ability to rush the passer since his six sacks as a rookie. He had 5.5 last year including a game clincher against the Chiefs and one for a safety. At only 25 years old with a year as a successful starter in the #1 defense in the league, not many free agents have the potential Jackson does.

I’m sure the Broncos will try to keep Jackson if they can, but they have quite a few high profile free agents and not a lot of cap room. A slight overpay by the Bears may secure Jackson’s services. With the Bears needing upgrades at both DE positions, Jackson could be a priority target.

DE Derek Wolfe, Broncos – Was drafted in the same year as Jackson, but three rounds earlier. Wolfe was the opposite type of DE prospect from Jackson in that he was solid against the run coming out of college but had limited pass rush skills. It didn’t take long for Wolfe become a well-rounded 3-4 DE, as he had 6 sacks as a rookie and has been productive ever since with 17 career sacks.

There is almost no chance the Broncos let both of their starting DEs leave in free agency, but I would be surprised if they can afford to bring them both back. That would leave one of them available for the Bears to go after.

HC John Fox is familiar with both players and knows what they can bring to the table. Both players also have the versatility to play inside or out which should make them ideal fits in Fangio’s hybrid scheme.

OLB Bruce Irvin, Seahawks – Might of been playing out of position with the Seahawks as a strong-side OLB, where he spent most third downs in coverage instead of rushing the passer. Coming out of college, Irvin had the natural burst and athleticism to potentially be a pass-rushing force.

Irvin could be the explosive pass-rusher off the edge that the Bears lack right now. They are set with power guys like McPhee, Houston, and Willie Young, but look for them to add at least one speed rusher if not two between free agency and the draft.

DE Cedric Thornton, Eagles – After averaging close to 60 tackles per year in 2012 & 13, Thornton was much less effective last year due to both hand and ankle injuries that limited his playing time and production. The two seasons before that Thornton started every game and was one of the best run stuffing DEs in the league.

At only 27 years old, Thornton should have a few years of good football left and could provide a run-stopping anchor on the Bears d-line and free up the OLB on his side to make more plays. Thornton won’t be cheap, but a sub-par 2015 season could lower the price a little and the Bears really need some legitimate NFL talent on the d-line.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

NT Damon Harrison, Jets – Powerful run-stuffing nose tackle who is unlikely to hit the free agent market. Nose tackle is not the Bears most glaring need either with Eddie Goldman showing real potential as a rookie. The Bears have a lot of more pressing needs, but a player as good as Harrison deserves at least a phone call.

The 27-year-old NT has started 48 straight games for the Jets and last season had the best overall run stopping grade from Pro Football Focus. Like I said, the Bears are probably better off spending their money on positions of greater need, but a Harrison / Goldman combo could be special.

ILB Vincent Rey, Bengals – Has 316 tackles over the last two seasons in just 21 starts. The former undrafted free agent from Duke is too short and a step slow, but all he does is produce when given a chance. Rey’s unusually long arms make up for a lack of height and his football instincts allow him to play faster than his timed speed (4.70). The Bears have a clear need at ILB and if they can’t afford Trevathan then Rey is a solid alternative.