Free Agents Bears Should Pursue After 2021 NFL Draft
Only a couple of months after parting with former first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky, the Chicago Bears found their quarterback of the future by trading up for Ohio State product Justin Fields. While Fields will likely spend some time behind journeyman Andy Dalton, he is the new face of the franchise.
Chicago also addressed its offensive line early in the draft, taking tackle Teven Jenkins in the second round and interior lineman Larry Borom in the third. With improved line play and a better quarterback situation than they had in 2020, the Bears have a good chance to get back to the postseason in 2021.
While Chicago will have an opportunity to continue building the roster in post-draft free agency, it isn't exactly loaded with cap space. According to Spotrac, the Bears are over the cap with only the top 51 player contracts considered.
Chicago will need to clear some room and/or focus on budget options moving forward. With that in mind, here are three free agents for the team to target before training camp.
WR Josh Doctson
The Bears could use some receiver depth behind No. 1 target Allen Robinson II and budding second-year man Darnell Mooney. Yet they didn't add to the position in the draft until taking North Carolina receiver Dazz Newsome in the sixth round.
One player Chicago should consider is Josh Doctson, who was recently released by the New York Jets. Doctson has never quite lived up to his status as a 2016 first-round draft pick, but he had back-to-back 500-yard seasons in 2017 and 2018.
Doctson spent the 2019 season on injured reserve and opted out of the 2020 campaign, so it's been a couple of years since he's been on a playing field. But he is still only 28 and is worth a flier for a receiver-needy team like Chicago.
While Doctson wouldn't slot in as a potential replacement for Robinson—who is only under contract for this season—he could be an affordable depth player with upside.
WR/RS De'Anthony Thomas
De'Anthony Thomas is another budget receiver the Bears can and should consider. Like Doctson, he is only 28. And also like Doctson, he opted out of the 2020 season.
While Thomas has never had more than 200 receiving yards in a season, he has provided value as a return specialist. This could benefit the Bears, who parted with Pro Bowl returner Cordarrelle Patterson this offseason.
Thomas should also have some familiarity with head coach Matt Nagy, as the two spent four years together with the Kansas City Chiefs. Thomas returned both punts and kickoffs with Kansas City.
This would be a back-end-of-the-roster move when it comes to the wideout position, but it would be a budget-friendly decision that could help ease the loss of Patterson.
CB Gareon Conley
The Bears lost a high-end starter at cornerback when they parted with Kyle Fuller, and they didn't address the position in the draft until taking Thomas Graham Jr. in Round 6. It never hurts to have depth in the secondary, and it wouldn't hurt to take a flier on another former first-round pick.
The Las Vegas Raiders took former Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley with the 24th pick in the 2017 draft. Conley has not lived up to that draft status, was traded to the Houston Texans in 2019 and spent the 2020 season on injured reserve.
However, he has shown flashes of potential. For example, in his eight games with the Texans, he allowed an opposing quarterback rating of just 87.1. He also logged three interceptions as a rookie with the Raiders.
Again, this would be a low-risk, high-reward move for Chicago. Given the team's cap situation, that's the best sort of move the team can make at this point in the offseason.
Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.