Free agency likely won’t be a spending spree for the Chicago Bears this year. They already secured one key player to a huge contract in Montez Sweat. There is a strong possibility they aim to do the same with Jaylon Johnson. That makes their ability to come out firing next month a little more limited. On top of that, GM Ryan Poles has always said his goal is to build through the draft. That means they will likely be second or third-tier options if they do go after some free agents.
Not that this is a bad thing. T.J. Edwards was a second-tier option. He was an outstanding addition. There is no reason to think the Bears can’t find more underrated gems for their roster among the large veteran class set to become available. Here is a look at five names nobody is talking about who fits what this regime tends to prefer.
Several overlooked names feel like Chicago Bears guys.
Tyler Boyd (WR)
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Projected contract: 2 years — $17.5 million
The Bears won’t be hunting for star power at the receiver position in free agency. They will be looking for complimentary pieces—someone who can take advantage of the star’s presence. Boyd has done that most of his career, first with A.J. Green and then Ja’Marr Chase in Cincinnati. The guy is a model of consistency, topping at least 600 yards in seven of his eight seasons. He’s most dangerous in the slot, utilizing his size, crisp route-running, and strong hands to move the chains. Boyd is also a respected blocker in the run game. All of those attributes fall in line with what the Bears covet.
Andre James (C)
Projected contract: 3 years – $27 million
Center has been a constant sore spot for the Chicago Bears offensive line for years. Cody Whitehair had bright moments, but those are long gone. Lucas Patrick isn’t the answer. It’s time they found somebody reliable. If the draft isn’t possible, then free agency must be. James quietly developed into a quality player for the Raiders over the past three seasons. He is a smart, athletic run blocker and only allowed 19 pressures in pass protection despite zero stability at quarterback. Maybe not a star, but much more consistent.
Mike Gesicki (TE)
Projected contract: 1 year — $4 million
It is hard to pinpoint what happened with Gesicki. He was a viable weapon in the passing game for Miami from 2019 through 2021. Then, the arrival of Tyreek Hill relegated him to the backburner. He went to New England, where the offense was a dumpster fire. People have forgotten how effective he was. If Robert Tonyan isn’t coming back for another year, Gesick would make for a solid backup for Cole Kmet. He’s still only 28 years old, is 6’6, has good speed, and can be a legitimate threat in the passing game.
A.J. Epenesa (EDGE)
Projected contract: 3 years – $20.25 million
Matt Eberflus seems to be very specific about the types of players he wants on his defensive line. He prefers big, long athletes with power. That means they not only can rush the passer but are also effective at stopping the run. That is why they traded for Montez Sweat and drafted Gervon Dexter. A.J. Epenesa is built in that same prototype. He’s 6’6, 260 lbs, is a strong presence against the run, and has developed into a consistent pass rusher with 13 sacks over the past two seasons. It is a bonus that he is directly connected to new defensive coordinator Eric Washington from their time in Buffalo.
Julian Blackmon (S)
Projected contract: 2 years – $11.5 million
Speaking of connections. It is becoming apparent the Bears are likely going to move on from safety Eddie Jackson this off-season. He’s in his 30s and appeared to lose a step last season. He is struggling to stay healthy and his contract is expensive. Blackmon is a few years younger. He had four interceptions last season. Eberflus knows him well. The two were together in 2020 and 2021 when Blackmon played free safety in this defense. Reuniting with his old coach on another ascending defense would likely appeal to him. Not to mention the projected cost is far more appetizing.