Chicago Bears Free Agency Wish List: Defensive Line

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /
3 of 5
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Solid Starter

DT Ian Williams, 49ers – The Niners have the fewest unrestricted free agents in the league and are among the league leaders in cap space, so it’s very possible that they lock up Williams before the Bears even get a chance to make an offer. The Bears have a few things in their favor though in that the Niners are going through yet another coaching change and Williams had a strong relationship with Bears DC Vic Fangio before he left last season. Fangio worked closely with all of the Niners d-linemen and supposedly had a good relationship with Williams.

So with the ability to offer about equal money, the Bears chances of signing Williams will come down to whether he is willing to play for the controvesial Chip Kelly or if he wants to be re-united with Vic Fangio, his coach for the first four seasons of his career. Williams struggled with injuries the first few years of his career, but the undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame was one of Fangio’s personal projects and reportedly they still have a strong bond.

After missing parts of 2013 and 2014 with injuries, Williams has become a Pro Bowl caliber nose tackle. The Bears do have promising rookie Eddie Goldman at nose tackle, but he can’t play every down and both Williams and Goldman have the versatility to move along the line if needed. In his last year under Fangio Williams was one of the best run stopping DTs in football. Then he got even better in 2015 ranking 12th overall among DTs against the run (PFF) and improved as the season went on, ranking in the top three overall the last quarter of the season, with only Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins ahead of Williams the last few weeks of the season. For the year Williams finished in the top 15 in overall run stops and at only 26 years old, his best football is ahead of him and should be a player the Bears are targeting. The combination of Goldman and Williams will allow them both to stay fresh at nose tackle and they are both versatile enough to play at the same time on run downs.

Williams played the best football of his career the last few weeks of 2015 even earning a +5.0 grade from Pro Football Focus in week 16 vs the Lions. PFF called Williams one of the best NTs in the league that no one is talking about, but his former coach Vic Fangio is surely familiar with him.

Williams (6’1, 305) is considerably smaller than Goldman (6’4, 330) and has shown the ability to get penetration in the backfield from both DT and DE to disrupt the run. Pairing Williams with Goldman and moving either one outside on early downs could give the Bears two run stopping cogs and then allow the Bears to move the surprisingly effective pass-rusher Goldman to DE in sub-packages. Whether they played together or rotated, the addition of the 26-year-old Williams would give the Bears excellent depth at the nose tackle position and with another potential addition from a very strong d-line draft class could turn the Bears d-line from a glaring weakness to a strength in just one off-season.

Projected contract: 4-years, $26M

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