Friday, April 19, 2024

Bears Need To Make Brian Burns A Top Priority In Free Agency If He Reaches It

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The NFL offseason is two weeks away from beginning as the Chicago Bears continue to put their plans together on what their actions will be in the 2024 NFL Draft and free agency. With all eyes on them regarding whether or not they will take a quarterback with the first overall selection or trade the pick once again, their actions in free agency matter also. One of the potential names to keep an eye on if his team declines to utilize the franchise tag on him is defensive end Brian Burns, who could have a massive influence on Chicago’s defense in 2024 if they can sign him in free agency.

Burns Is Exactly What The Bears’ Cover-2 Defense Needs

Burns has been with the Carolina Panthers since entering the league in 2019 when the team drafted him 16th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Since then, he has averaged over nine sacks a season during his five-year career and has been named to the Pro Bowl twice. Over the past two seasons, Burns has been highly sought after by other NFL teams via trades, but the Panthers have refused offers, even ones involving first-round picks.

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This past year, the Panthers were the worst team in the NFL, only winning two games while firing their head coach and general manager. Although Burns is to become a free agent this offseason, many believe that the Panthers will utilize the franchise tag on their best defensive player to keep him for another season in hopes of trading him at the 2024 NFL trade deadline in return for a slew of future draft selections. However, due to the dysfunction with the Panthers organization and the lengthy rebuild they will be in for the next several years, there could be a chance in which they choose not to use their franchise tag.

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If Burns reaches free agency, the Bears must make him their main focus when free agency begins due to where their defense currently stands. Chicago’s defense led the league in interceptions in 2023, as Matt Eberflus’ unit intercepted 22 passes. This past season, 14 of the team’s 22 interceptions came after acquiring Pro Bowl defensive end Montez Sweat at the trade deadline, whose presence reinvigorated a dormant pass rush by the defensive line, which is vital to the success of the Cover-2 defensive scheme.

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The pressure created by the defensive line is needed for the Cover-2 as it enables the linebackers to drop back into pass coverage to defend against running backs and tight ends. Pass-rush was a concern for Chicago heading into the 2023 season as general manager Ryan Poles signed former Pro Bowl defensive end Yannick Ngakoue during training camp. Ngakoue failed to produce consistently as opposing offenses made it a priority to block him and force other Bears defensive linemen to create pressure, which didn’t happen. The former Pro Bowl defensive end didn’t become a constant threat until Chicago acquired Sweat.

With it highly unlikely that the Bears bring Ngakoue back, who is a free agent, the team needs to add another prominent defensive line pass-rusher to avoid history repeating itself with Sweat being neutralized by opposing blocking schemes. If Chicago can pair Burns with their current Pro Bowl defensive end, it would give them arguably the best pass-rush tandem in the NFL. Having a ferocious pass rush from the defensive line would provide an already solid Bears’ pass defense with even more opportunities at interceptions, as opposing quarterbacks would have to hurry their throws with the constant threat of being sacked.

Chicago Is In a Prime Spot To Add Burns

If the Panthers chose to allow Burns to reach free agency, the Bears are in the perfect spot to bring an elite pass-rusher aboard during free agency. Poles, over the past two years, has rebuilt Chicago’s roster while also giving the franchise massive salary cap space to spend on free agents this season. The Bears are in the top ten of NFL teams with the most salary cap space heading into this offseason, but the team can have the second-most if they cut veteran safety Eddie Jackson and offensive lineman Cody Whitehair, which is a strong possibility. Although cutting Jackson would result in needing a starting-caliber safety, Poles would only need to add three starters on defense this offseason.

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The potential to draft a quarterback in the first round also enables Chicago to have the financial flexibility to go after Burns, as they will have their quarterback prospect on an affordable rookie contract. Not having to pay a potential signal-caller an expensive contract for another four to five years would allow the Bears to have several of their top defensive stars to costly agreements while still having the flexibility to improve the roster for a championship window. A signing of Burns, paired with the re-signing of Pro Bowl cornerback Jaylon Johnson, would resolve any significant contract negotiations on the defensive side of the ball for the Bears for several years.

Having more resources in free agency isn’t the only thing that appears to be in Chicago’s favor if they choose to pursue Burns, as free agency depth at the defensive end position will aid them also. There will be other proven pass-rushers available as free agents in March, including Chase Young, Leonard Williams, Leonard Floyd, and Marcus Davenport. The significant depth could limit the amount of NFL teams that may want to get into a bidding war with Chicago for Burns’ services, as they could select to pursue a more affordable option to address the position.

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Again, the ability to sign Burns hinges on if the Panthers decide to place the franchise tag on him, but if they don’t, then Poles and the Bears need to be all in on the free agent. What transpired with Ngakoue’s struggles due to a lack of surrounding support needs to be accounted for with Sweat heading into the 2024 season. If Chicago can sign Burns, they will put their defense in a position to be the best defensive unit in the NFL next year.

14 COMMENTS

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Wes P
Wes P
Jan 30, 2024 10:03 am

I would expect Carolina will put the franchise tag on Burns or want a huge payback if he’s traded. However, the draft has some very qualified pass rushers who will be available. The one I like the best is Laiatu Latu who is probably the best one in the upcoming draft.

BearDownTX
Jan 30, 2024 9:16 am

Seeing Poles’ history in FA leads me to believe we will sign a mid level DE later in the cycle. Leonard Floyd type, but I don’t think you can get him for cheap anymore. I think 3T is where Poles takes his biggest swing, like LB last year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the Madibuke sweepstakes, that is unless the Ravens Tag him. If you have a legitimate stud at 3T you can get by with one serviceable DE and Sweat. Dexter may turn into that guy, but I don’t think you can rely on that, so… Read more »

BearFanInCO
BearFanInCO
Jan 30, 2024 8:45 am

Come on man!! “IF his team decides to use the Franchise Tag on him”? If he was on the Bears, would you let him walk away in FA? I think they are going to tag him.

Tred
Tred
Jan 30, 2024 4:44 am

Look, I love Burns as a player. But, in order to give Eberflus the pieces to run his defense we already paid mucho dinero to Sweat and Edmunds. We also signed Edwards as a FA, but he was a very reasonable deal. I think we need to see Eberflus and his staff develop and make more use of not only draft picks, but UDFA talent like Sanborn, and not just try to fill every hole on defense with an expensive free agent. That is what Ryan Pace tried to do, and it took us right into the basement. It isn’t… Read more »

V5THNOV
Jan 30, 2024 12:06 am

And I think some will be hung up on paying a combined $50 million to the DE position. But when their contracts are up where will that money go? To Caleb Williams annual salary as we draft their replacements.

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