Bears general manager Ryan Pace

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Gabriel: Assessing Bears' Needs After Free Agency

Chicago needs to find a running back and add an outside linebacker.

Greg Gabriel
March 19, 2019 - 2:33 pm

(670 The Score) With the first wave of free agency completed, NFL teams have filled many positional needs while also understanding what must be addressed as the draft approaches.

In the Bears' case, their losses of note in free agency were safety Adrian Amos, nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan, receiver Josh Bellamy, guard Eric Kush and tight end Daniel Brown. Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch could exit as well, as he's continuing to make visits in looking for a new contract. He could also end up back in Chicago.

The Bears' additions to date are running back Mike Davis, nickel cornerback Buster Skrine, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, receiver Marvin Hall and guard Ted Larson. The Bears have mostly signed players who will replace those who left. In most instances, the new players are slight upgrades.

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Front offices will now turn their attention to the draft. The Bears' biggest need is finding a go-to running back. Jordan Howard is on the trade market after a disappointing 2018 season, one that showcased how he isn't the desired fit in the Bears' offense. The team wants a quicker, more explosive feature back who also has good pass receiving skills. 

Teams can bring up to 30 prospects in for visits prior to the draft. Most of those visits take place in late March and early April. The Bears have already used at least three of those 30 visits on running backs by welcoming Penn State’s Miles Sanders, Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams and Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary to Halas Hall.

All three are the type of backs the Bears want to utilize offensively. If the Bears have a strong interest in Sanders, they would need need to trade up. Many feel he's one of the two best running backs in this draft, and Chicago doesn't own a pick until the third round at No. 87 overall. Other running backs whom the Bears may be interested in include Iowa State’s David Montgomery, Nebraska’s Devine Ozigbo and Memphis’ Darrell Henderson.

If they lose Lynch in free agency, outside linebacker is arguably the Bears' biggest need after running back. The Bears' starting tandem -- Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd -- is as good as any in the NFL, but Chicago needs to have quality depth there. Isaiah Irving and second-year pro Kyle Fitts are slated to be the backups if Lynch leaves, and the Bears want more competition at the position. Chicago did sign James Vaughters to a reserve/futures contract after he excelled in the CFL, but the jump to the NFL is a big one. There's no assurance that Vaughters is an answer in the Bears' quest for depth.

That could be addressed in the middle rounds of the draft, where the Bears could be looking at players such as USC’s Porter Gustin, Michigan’s Chase Winovich and TCU’s Ben Banogu. Gustin is an interesting prospect in that early in his college career, there was some thought that he could be a premium round draft choice before injuries derailed him. He could be a mid-round steal if he stays healthy.

The last important need for the Bears that I see is tight end. The Bears released Dion Sims, who was their blocking tight end. In line to fill that role currently is Adam Shaheen, a second-round pick in 2017 who has been injury-prone. So the Bears may want to find some competition for the Y position.

With so many college programs operating in spread formations, it can be difficult to find a competent blocker. In the draft, the best is Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson, but he will be a first-round selection. In the third through fifth rounds, the Bears could be hard-pressed to find the kind of blocker they want. Prospects who fit the bill are Michigan’s Zach Gentry, Utah State’s Dax Raymond and Notre Dame’s Alize Mack. Gentry is a willing blocker but needs to get much stronger to hold up at the NFL level.

Another position to keep an eye on in the late rounds is kicker. The Bears are in search of an answer there after cutting the much-maligned Cody Parkey. Chicago has signed two kickers off the street after holding tryouts, but the organization may look to address the position in the draft as well. The two kickers who have draftable grades are LSU's Cole Tracy and Oklahoma's Austin Seibert.

Because the Bears don't own a sixth-round pick, the earliest they would select Tracy or Seibert is with one of their seventh-round picks. Of course, there's no guarantee either player will be available that late in the draft.

Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who's an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.