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Gabriel: Assessing Bears' Needs After Free Agency, Ahead Of NFL Draft

Adding an offensive lineman, receiver and defensive back is top of mind.

Greg Gabriel
April 16, 2018 - 3:12 pm
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By Greg Gabriel--

(670 The Score) In the aftermath of free agency, the Bears still have several needs going into the NFL Draft, which starts April 26.

As of now, the Bears hold seven selections in the the draft: at No. 8 overall in the first round, one in the second round, two in the fourth round and then one apiece in each of the last three rounds. Chicago doesn't hold a third-round pick.

On offense, the Bears need at least one offensive lineman and a receiver. On defense, they could use an outside linebacker/edge pass rusher, an inside linebacker, a defensive lineman and at least one defensive back. That’s six needs, but we all know that after the fourth round, you can’t count on draftees contributing as rookies outside of perhaps on special teams. That means the Bears need to acquire a few more draft picks or hit on players in the veteran free-agent market.

With the Bears having a new coaching staff, they're allowed to hold an extra minicamp, which starts Tuesday. So it wouldn't be a surprise for them to sign a few more veteran free agents.

The Bears already made one late free-agent addition official Monday morning. They signed receiver Bennie Fowler to a one-year deal after choosing last week not to match the two-year offer sheet that receiver Cameron Meredith received from the Saints. Fowler caught 29 passes for the Broncos last season and has been a productive special teams player. He won't be counted on to be a top-three receiver for the Bears.

A veteran receiver still available in free agency whom the Bears could look at is Jeremy Maclin, as he played under new Chicago coach Matt Nagy in Philadelphia and Kansas City. The concern is that Maclin, who turns 30 in May, is past his prime and may not have much left in the tank. He had 40 catches for 11.0 yards per reception last season. The other veteran receiver who might be interesting is Dontrelle Inman, who finished last season in Chicago after the Bears acquired him from the Chargers in a trade deadline deal. 

When assessing all that, it appears the draft is the better place to address the need for a receiver.

On the offensive line, the Bears could take a look at 26-year-old Luke Joeckel, who was a first-round pick of the Jaguars in 2013 and played for the Seahawks last season. Joeckel has experience at both guard and tackle, so his versatility is a plus. Austin Howard, a tackle who played for the Ravens last year, is another name to watch. He has started at least 10 games each of the past six seasons, usually producing solid results.

On the defensive line, the Bears need another end or 5-technique. Cedric Thornton knows Nagy from their shares days in Philadelphia. He has experience in a 3-4 scheme but is a better fit as a defensive tackle in a 4-3, so that must be taken into account. He had two sacks for Buffalo last season. 

Again, the best hope for defensive line depth comes in the draft.

On the edge, the Bears could bring back Lamar Houston, who's still on the market. Another player to take note of is restricted free agent Chris McCain, who recently had his qualifying offer rescinded by the Chargers, for whom he had five sacks in 2017. However, my feeling is the Bears will try to fill this need in the early rounds of the draft.

At inside linebacker, the only player the Bears may have interest in is Navorro Bowman, but he has significant durability concerns. Under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in San Francisco from 2011 to 2013, Bowman was one of the better inside linebackers in the NFL. Injuries have since taken their toll.

At cornerback, there's only one worthwhile veteran player still available: Bashaud Breeland, who played his first four seasons for the Redskins. The 26-year-old Breeland signed a three-yea,r $24-million deal with the Panthers early in free agency but had it nullified because he failed his physical because of a cut on his foot that was expected to require a skin graft. Until he's healthy, he'd be a risky signing for the Bears, making the draft the more likely route to address that need as well.

The free-agent market remains loaded with safeties. That's in large part because teams are putting a heavier emphasis on safeties who have cornerback-type skills and the versatility to play in many schemes, and the veterans available don't fit that mold quite as well. Chances are none of them will signed until after the ddraft, which features a strong safety class.

For the Bears to acquire more draft choices, they would need to trade down. The Bears' No. 8 overall pick could be desirable for a quarterback-needy team behind them. The Dolphins (No. 11) and the Bills (No. 12) need quarterbacks and would need to give up a third-round pick to move up to the Bears' slot, per the draft pick trade value chart. The Cardinals (No. 15) would likely need to give up a second-round pick to get up to No. 8.

There are likely a few players the Bears would want to stay at No. 8 to draft. One of them is Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, and I believe another could be Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

After that, I would think the Bears would be open to trading down. Of course, we'll have to wait until April 26 to find out the answer to that question.

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

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