Ryan Poles must complete this task for the Chicago Bears before the 2024 NFL Draft

Ryan Poles will need to be prepared to spend in NFL free agency.

Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

To say this off-season has been frustrating for many Chicago Bears fans is a massive understatement. Having to watch Pat Mahomes win his third Super Bowl title in the last five years with the Kansas City Chiefs while former Bears' quarterback Mitch Trubisky was officially released from the Pittsburgh Steelers two days after the Super Bowl. The career trajectory of two quarterbacks from the much-hyped 2017 NFL Draft class has never been more starker, and it is fitting that the Bears pulled the short end of the stick.

And now, the Bears find themselves in another quarterback dilemma again this off-season. The fans have been embroiled in a bitter fight between those who want to see Justin Fields stay and build more talent around him and those who want to see Caleb Williams drafted by the Bears. It has gotten more uglier this off-season with many media members, both locally and nationally throwing their names into the discord, riling up the fanbase with their hot takes for clicks and likes.

While the fans will likely continue their feud, Ryan Poles must now focus on the upcoming free agency as the NFL new year begins on March 13. Teams, however, can start negotiating with free agents beginning on March 11 at noon EST. The Bears fans no doubt welcome the change of subject.

With free agency about to start, all eyes will be on general manager Ryan Poles and how agressive he will be.

The NFL recently announced that the salary cap has been raised to $255 million ahead of free agency. The Bears now have almost $80 million of cap space available, which includes the recent release of veterans Cody Whitehair and Eddie Jackson.

While the Bears' fans continue to rage over Fields vs. Williams, they all can agree in unity that the center, wide receiver, edge rusher, and safety are top needs for the Bears. The Bears still have holes in their roster that they must fill. How he spends and on which players will have big implications for the Bears' off-season.

The Bears must fix the center position and there are plenty of veterans available in free agency. Conner Williams, Andre James, Lloyd Cushenberry, Aaron Brewer, Tyler Biadasz, and Evan Brown are some of the names Bears fans might be familiar with by now. Some are good at run blocking but struggle with pass protection and vice versa.

Do they sign Brown because he played for new Bears OC Shane Waldron last year in Seattle and is familar with his scheme or do they sign someone, who is a better pass protector regardless of who is the quarterback in 2024? Or were they impressed with Oregon center Jackson Powers Johnson in the recent Senior Bowl that they will wait until the draft and take him at 9th pick or later to solidify the position for the next 8-10 years?

For available edge rusher, Vikings' Danielle Hunter's name has been heavily linked to the Bears. Everyone knows Hunter playing against the Vikings twice a year. He is coming off 16.5 sacks in 2023 and signing him to pair with Montez Sweat would create a monster defense. But he will be 30 in October and has had some injuries in the past.

Will the Bears break the bank on Hunter or will they go for younger options like Bryce Huff, Jonathan Greenard, or A.J. Epenesa, who played at Iowa and was coached by new Bears defensive coordinator Eric Washington? With Brian Burns and Josh Allen will likely get a franchise tag, pass rushers will go off the market quickly.

With Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman likely getting a franchise tag, the wide receivers' market will be pretty bare. Tampa Bay's Mike Evans could hit the market if they use the franchise tag on safety Antonie WInfield Jr. But he's 30 already and does Poles want to break the bank on an aging player like Evans? Or will they settle for someone like Curtis Samuel or Tyler Boyd, and hope that the Bears can still land either LSU's Malik Nabers or Washington's Rome Odunze at the 9th pick?

As for free safety to replace Eddie Jackson, two intriguing names will hit the market: Baltimore's Geno Stone and Indianapolis' Julian Blackmon. Blackmon played for Matt Eberflus when Eberflus was a Colts defensive coordinator from 2020-21, so scheme familiarity could make him an easy signing over Stone. But Stone is a young ascending player, who is still only 24 right now and held on his own in a talented Baltimore defense.

We could instead see Poles draft Kamrin Kitchens, Tyler Nubin, or Calen Bullocks since he has drafted Jacquan Brisker, Kyler Gordon, and Tyrique Stevenson in the last two drafts and has gotten strong productions out of them.

While Poles was able to sign Nate Davis, Tremaine Edmunds, and TJ Edwards last year, Poles has shown last year that he's not going to budge during free agency and will not get into a bidding war with other teams over players like Mike McGlinchey.

The Bears also have to deal with their own free agents, particularly cornerback Jaylon Johnson. The increase in salary definitely helps the Bears, but it helps 31 other teams as well. And that means they will likely face stiff competition for the service of other free agents, which will drive up their asking prices.

Poles will likely have to step out of their comfort zone and spend a little more or be creative if they want to fill as many holes as possible before the NFL Draft in April if the Bears intend to keep their 1st overall pick and draft Caleb Williams rather than trading down.

Fans should pay close attention to Poles during free agency, and we might learn his true intentions in the upcoming draft too.

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