Chicago Bears Free Agency Wish List: Defensive Line

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /
2 of 5
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Impact Players:

DE Jaye Howard, Chiefs – The former 4th round pick of the Seahawks in 2012 has developed into a versatile enough player that he was on the field for just under 70% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2015. Under normal circumstances the Chiefs wouldn’t consider letting a player with Howard’s skill, versatility, and age (he just turned 27) go, but they are tight against the cap and over half of their starting D are free agents. The Chiefs have been trying to negotiate a long-term deal with Howard all off-season, but they will must likely not have the money to bring him back without losing a key secondary player like S Eric Berry, CB Sean Smith or even NT Dontaire Poe next off-season. The Chiefs are in a serious cap-bind and will probably have to choose between keeping Howard or losing Poe next season. My guess is that Howard will be available.

So Howard may be available and if he is the Bears should be on his door-step the first day of free agency. The 6’3, 301-pound d-linemen has the versatility to play the 5-tech DE position in the Bears base defensive scheme, but can also play the DT position in a 4-man front which Fangio likes to deploy occasionally. The Bears ended the 2015 season starting three d-linemen who were signed off the street during the season and have little talent at the position behind Eddie Goldman and perhaps 2014 2nd-round pick Ego Ferguson.

Bears fans got a close look at Howard when they played the Chiefs this season and Howard destroyed center Hroniss Grasu, sacking Jay Cutler in the end zone and forcing a fumble that was recovered for a Chiefs touchdown. On the season Haward had 5.5 sacks, 57 tackles, and 31 QB hits in just 13 starts which dwarfs the production of any of the Bears DEs last season. Howard is one of the rare 3-4 d-linemen who is strong against both the run and pass and would be a massive upgrade to the Bears D-line even if Howard costs more than the Bears would like.

It is a very strong draft for d-linemen, so the Bears could look to address their weak d-line through the draft, but adding a difference-maker like Howard in free agency would give the Bears more flexibility in the draft and put the in position to need just 1-2 DLs insread of 3-4. If the Bears were to sign Howard and then draft a stud in the first round like Buckner, Robinson, or Rankins, then all of a sudden one of the Bears biggest weaknesses could be a strength with Goldman in the middle, Howard to his right, and a high-upside rookie or another free-agent on the other side. That is certainly more promising than the Mitch Unrein, Bruce Gaston, and Greg Scruggs d-line group that the Bears started in the last game of the 2015 season.

Projected contract: 5 years, $40M

Next: Solid Starters