American Football

2024 Bears mock offseason: Two-for-one draft special

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Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

WCG’s lead draft analyst runs a mock offseason with two drafts: one with Justin Fields, and one without.

You know the drill. This is going to be a doozy, so I’ll spare you the long-winded introduction.

The Chicago Bears have a lot of resources at their disposal this coming offseason through the 2024 NFL Draft and their cap space in free agency. They also face major decisions like the status of head coach Matt Eberflus, quarterback Justin Fields and even general manager Ryan Poles.

To run a fun simulation of what an offseason could look like, I’ve made a mock offseason for the Bears with new coaching hires, roster cuts, extensions, free agency signings, and draft selections. I personally don’t feel comfortable decidedly claiming Fields as the quarterback of the future right now, but there are still enough games in the season where he could do so if he plays well.

Because of this, I’m running two mock drafts in this extravaganza: one with Justin Fields sticking around as Chicago’s quarterback, and one having traded him away. Let’s roll.

Coaching hires

HC: Current Lions OC Ben Johnson

OC: Current Lions passing game coordinator Tanner Engstrand

DC: Current Panthers DL coach Todd Wash

This hire is easier said than done, seeing as though Johnson will likely be high in demand in the head coaching carousel around the NFL. The presence of current Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh looms large for a potential Chicago opening, too (for what it’s worth, I’m operating under the assumption he stays at Michigan until proven otherwise, but that’s just me).

However, the chance to work with the No. 1 pick and a bounty of resources entices Johnson to come to the Bears in this dream scenario. He brings Engstrand with him over from Detroit, who gets promoted from the Lions’ passing game coordinator to Chicago’s offensive coordinator. At 41, Engstrand is a fast-rising coach whose work since coming to Detroit in 2020 has been strong.

The drawback with Johnson is an admittedly weak defensive coach pipeline, even with his stints in both Detroit and Miami. There’s a shot you could lure away a stud candidate like Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero or even try to hire current Jets head coach Robert Saleh should he be fired.

However, Wash is a realistic target with ties to Johnson from their overlapping time in Detroit. He’s a 4-3 base coach who would allow the defensive system to remain somewhat in tact, though tweaked somewhat. Wash was highly praised during his time as Detroit’s defensive line coach, getting high production out of players like Charles Harris and James Houston who have since seen their value fall a bit without him on staff. Plus, he’s an experienced defensive coordinator, having coordinated Jacksonville’s defense from 2016 to 2020. He led the charge on that elite Jaguars defense in 2017 that carried them to the AFC Championship, and while his units struggled the more the front office dealt stars like Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, he’s an experienced and bright defensive mind who would give a rookie head coach like Johnson a veteran to lean on defensively.

Cuts

FS Eddie Jackson: $12.56 million saved, $5.58 million dead cap in 2024

C Cody Whitehair: $9.15 million saved, $4.1 million dead cap in 2024

Freeing up over a combined $21 million makes sense for two expensive veterans who have seen their play drop off in recent years. It’s bittersweet to let them go after all they’ve done in Chicago, but the time is right to move on and look towards the future.

Cap space left: $104.14 million

Extensions

CB Jaylon Johnson: Five years, $95 million ($19 million AAV)

K Cairo Santos: Two years, $9 million ($4.5 million AAV)

RB D’Onta Foreman: One year, $3 million

LS Patrick Scales: One year, $1.65 million

WR Equanimeous St. Brown: One year, $1.65 million

CB Josh Blackwell (ERFA tender): One year, $915,000

With how good he’s been this year, you pay Johnson what he’s worth and make him your CB1 of the future. He’s not looking to reset the market, but this pays him handsomely and makes him the 7th-highest paid cornerback in the league. The other re-signings are standard procedure: Santos is a very good kicker, Foreman was very good when other backs went down with injury, and nobody will complain about re-signing Scales, St. Brown or Blackwell at these prices.

Cap space left: $73.43 million

Free agency signings

C Connor Williams: Five years, $67.67 million ($13.5 million AAV)

DE Chase Young: Three years, $41.04 million ($13.6 million AAV)

S Geno Stone: Three years, $25 million ($8.3 million AAV)

WR Noah Brown: Two years, $11.4 million ($5.7 million AAV)

OG/OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai: One year, $2.8 million

DE Charles Harris: One year, $2.5 million

LB Shaq Quarterman: One year, $1.5 million

TE Marcedes Lewis: One year, $1.5 million

If I’m the Bears, center and edge rusher are my top priorities in 2024 free agency. Williams is playing incredible football for the Dolphins right now, who are strapped for cash and also have star defensive tackle Christian Wilkins to pay. You invest further in the trenches with Young, a young and productive edge defender with elite physical tools who’s been tremendous when healthy and already has experience playing alongside Montez Sweat from their time in Washington. Spotrac recommends a two-year deal, but a three-year deal with a reasonable out before Year 3 in case injuries strike seems like a good idea to sweeten the pot.

From there, I look to sign a safety in what should be a strong free agent class at the position. Stone has had an under-the-radar tremendous season in Baltimore, as he has 6 interceptions and 8 pass deflections. The Ravens already have Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams at safety, and they have stud defensive tackle Justin Madubuike to pay, so Stone might be able to get a better deal elsewhere. Brown has topped 150 receiving yards in each of his last two games for the Texans as of this writing, and while he’s dealt with injuries much of his career, the flashes have been insanely bright for him.

I also add some players on both sides of the ball with experience working with Ben Johnson and Todd Wash in Vaitai, Harris and Quarterman. Lewis is there because he’s still a blocking monster at tight end and will play football until he’s 80 years old.

Cap space left: $25.03 million

Mock draft 1.0: Build around Fields

Patriots receive: 2024 first-round pick (No. 1), 2024 fifth-round pick (No. 141)

Bears receive: 2024 first-round pick (No. 3), 2024 third-round pick (No. 67), 2025 first-round pick

There’s a risk to be played with where the Patriots are currently at in the draft order.

At pick No. 3, there’s a chance they can stay put and still land one of the two top quarterbacks in the draft. Maybe the Bears take Marvin Harrison Jr., the Cardinals draft someone else, and they get their QB1 no matter what! More realistically, though, there will be an aggressive bidding war for the top two picks in the 2024 draft. If the Bears make it known they’re sticking with Justin Fields like they do in this scenario, the price to trade up to No. 1 will be massive.

Both teams play it safe here: the Bears stay within the top-3 and add another 2025 first-round pick, and the Patriots make 100% sure the top quarterback on their board will be theirs. It’s a steep price to pay to move up two spots, but with New England’s issues at quarterback and the market surrounding Drake Maye and Caleb Williams, it’s worth it.

Jets receive: 2024 first-round pick (No. 4)

Bears receive: 2024 first-round pick (No. 8), 2024 third-round pick (No. 74), 2025 second-round pick

The Jets probably weren’t expecting to have their own first-round pick — the protection on the pick kicked in due to Aaron Rodgers’ injury, so the pick dealt to the Packers got demoted to a second-round pick — so they better make it count.

Noticing tackle-needy teams like the Commanders and Giants ahead of them in the pecking order, the Jets move up to address one of the few weaknesses on their roster (aside from backup quarterback). In this case, they move up with the Bears to select Penn State offensive tackle Olu Fashanu, doubling down on their commitment to their title window with Rodgers at the helm.

Round 1 (via Patriots, projected trade): Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State

I’ll keep the descriptions brief with these picks. Harrison is an all-around star with All-Pro potential very quickly once he enters the NFL — an easy pick at No. 3 if he’s on the board.

Round 1 (via Jets, projected trade): Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia

The Bears have a good tight end in Cole Kmet, but Bowers has serious shades of George Kittle in his game and could be elite at a position that has few in that category. The 12 personnel they could run with Bowers’ flexibility in the slot or out wide would be insane.

Round 3 (via Patriots, projected trade): Tyler Davis, DT, Clemson

Davis is a powerful run-stuffing defensive tackle with much better athletic traits than a lot of people give him credit for. He could spell Andrew Billings and keep him fresh in certain packages.

Round 3: Donovan Jackson, OG, Ohio State

In case the Bears cut Nate Davis or don’t extend Teven Jenkins in the 2025 offseason, it’s good to have insurance. Jackson is an athletic guard with very good play strength and serious starting upside.

Round 3 (via Jets, projected trade): Rod Moore, S, Michigan

Moore is a rangy ball-hawk at safety with great instincts in coverage and fluid hips. He could contribute right away in Chicago out of the slot or in two-high shells, giving their secondary boatloads of flexibility and talent.

Round 4: Jonah Elliss, DE, Utah

An explosive edge rusher with quick hand and tremendous bend, Elliss is an ideal rotational pass-rusher with the potential to grow into something more later on in his rookie contract.

Round 4 (via Eagles): Trevin Wallace, LB, Kentucky

Call it lazy because they’re both linebackers from Kentucky, but I get Jamin Davis vibes from Wallace: raw, but very good size and length with impressive athleticism.

53-man mock roster with Fields

QB: Justin Fields, Tyson Bagent

RB: Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, Roschon Johnson, Travis Homer

FB: Khari Blasingame

WR: DJ Moore, Marvin Harrison Jr., Noah Brown, Tyler Scott, Equanimeous St. Brown, Velus Jones Jr.

TE: Brock Bowers, Cole Kmet, Marcedes Lewis

OL: Braxton Jones, Teven Jenkins, Connor Williams, Nate Davis, Darnell Wright, Donovan Jackson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Ja’Tyre Carter, Larry Borom

DE: Montez Sweat, Chase Young, DeMarcus Walker, Charles Harris, Jonah Elliss

DT: Gervon Dexter, Andrew Billings, Tyler Davis, Zacch Pickens

LB: T.J. Edwards, Tremaine Edmunds, Jack Sanborn, Noah Sewell, Trevin Wallace, Shaq Quarterman

CB: Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon, Tyrique Stevenson, Terell Smith, Jaylon Jones, Josh Blackwell

S: Jaquan Brisker, Geno Stone, Rod Moore, Elijah Hicks

ST: Cairo Santos, Trenton Gill, Patrick Scales

Mock draft 2.0: Reset the QB clock

Falcons receive: QB Justin Fields

Bears receive: 2024 second-round pick (No. 51), 2024 seventh-round pick (No. 200), 2025 conditional third-round pick

This is the same trade proposal I used in my last mock draft, which I obtained through an article on The Athletic by Jeff Howe. Instead of including Taylor Heinicke, though, I included a seventh-round pick since the Bears currently don’t have any selections in Rounds 6 or 7 in the 2024 draft.

Jets receive: 2024 first-round pick (No. 4)

Bears receive: 2024 first-round pick (No. 8), 2024 third-round pick (No. 74), 2025 second-round pick

It’s the same trade as before for the same reason.

Round 1 (via Panthers): Caleb Williams, QB, USC

I struggled going between Williams or Maye — even having watched many games of each quarterback, I’m not sure who my QB1 is right now. Both have strong arguments, but for this one, I took Williams, who offers close to the same big-play creativity Fields does but with a better arm, better pre-snap instincts and (perhaps most importantly) three more years on a rookie QB contract.

Round 1 (via Jets, projected trade): Malik Nabers, WR, LSU

I was torn between Nabers and Florida State’s Keon Coleman, but I ultimately gave the edge to the former. He’s an elite athlete at wide receiver with big-play ability written all over him, his hands are reliable, his route-running technique has improved quite a bit over the years, and he has the resume at a high level collegiately to warrant a top-10 selection.

Round 2 (via Falcons, projected trade): Michael Hall Jr., DT, Ohio State

There’s no such things as too much defensive line talent. Hall is one of the best interior pass-rushers in the nation, with his quickness off the line of scrimmage and raw power at the point of attack helping him excel in the trench-heavy Big Ten. Good luck stopping him and Gervon Dexter on passing downs.

Round 3: Malachi Corley, WR, Western Kentucky

Load up on weapons! Corley is one of the best YAC receivers in college football right now. He’s a sure-handed pass-catcher with a sturdy 210-pound frame at 5-foot-11, and his agility, contact balance and creativity in space are magical.

Round 3 (via Jets, projected trade): Christian Haynes, OG, UConn

Haynes is an All-American guard with center versatility and an above-average combination of agility, strength and hand placement. At the very least, he’s a super valuable swing backup in Year 1 with starting upside beyond that.

Round 4: Mike Sainristil, CB, Michigan

A converted wide receiver, Sainristil’s explosiveness out of his breaks and ball skills match his offensive background. For someone who’s newer to the position full-time, his processing skills out of the slot are quite good, too.

Round 4 (via Eagles): Luke Lachey, TE, Iowa

I get Luke Musgrave vibes from Lachey: both are big, athletic tight ends who can stretch the field absurdly well for their position, neither are elite run-blockers, and both had season-ending injuries. Lachey isn’t getting as much hype as my tentative comparison for him did coming out, but he’s a better route runner (plus, it helps he’s an Iowa tight end! Those guys typically do pretty well).

Round 5: Cody Schrader, RB, Missouri

Schrader is a productive, tough and instinctive runner of the football who isn’t being talked about nearly as much as he should in online draft circles.

Round 7 (via Falcons, projected trade): Josiah Ezirim, OT, Eastern Kentucky

Might as well shoot high with a late-round pick. Ezirim is a raw small-school lineman, but he’s 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, and he moves as well as a tight end. Sit him on the practice squad if you have to, but he’s a sleeper worth developing.

53-man mock roster without Fields

QB: Caleb Williams, Tyson Bagent

RB: Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, Roschon Johnson, Cody Schrader

FB: Khari Blasingame

WR: DJ Moore, Malik Nabers, Noah Brown, Malachi Corley, Tyler Scott, Equanimeous St. Brown

TE: Cole Kmet, Luke Lachey, Marcedes Lewis

OL: Braxton Jones, Teven Jenkins, Connor Williams, Nate Davis, Darnell Wright, Christian Haynes, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Ja’Tyre Carter, Larry Borom, Josiah Ezirim

DE: Montez Sweat, Chase Young, DeMarcus Walker, Charles Harris, Dominique Robinson

DT: Gervon Dexter, Michael Hall Jr., Andrew Billings, Zacch Pickens

LB: T.J. Edwards, Tremaine Edmunds, Jack Sanborn, Noah Sewell, Shaq Quarterman

CB: Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon, Tyrique Stevenson, Terell Smith, Mike Sainristil, Jaylon Jones

S: Jaquan Brisker, Geno Stone, Elijah Hicks, Quindell Johnson

ST: Cairo Santos, Trenton Gill, Patrick Scales

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