Monday is the first day teams can begin talking to agents of players set for the free agent market which means the new league year is almost here. There will be some action going on and Wednesday will mark the official start of free agency.
We already know the Chicago Bears will be active in free agency on both sides of the ball. But one area they need help in is on the defensive line. Can the Bears add to a line that already features both Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks?
Here are some prime candidates set to hit the open market.
When it was announced that the New York Jets were moving on from Muhammad Wilkerson, he instantly became a top target. Wilkerson would fit well with the Bears, providing some extra depth along with Akiem Hicks.
The 2015 Pro Bowler could be a big boost for a Bears defense that was top 10 last season in the NFL.
Wilkerson had a monster year in 2015, recording 12 sacks but had just 4.5 in 2016 and 3.5 in 2017. He’s gaining significant interest from a lot of teams including the Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders.
The 29-year-old should be a big target for Ryan Pace.
Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn is another player who has had a solid young career. Over seven seasons, he has recorded 30 sacks with being injured for the majority of two seasons. This previous season, Clayborn posted a career-high in sacks with nine-and-a-half, but six of those sacks came in just one game against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboy’s game shows just how dominated Clayborn can be at the line of scrimmage and how he can take over games.
One impressive feat by general manager Ryan Pace and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is that they have been able to get the most out of their defensive ends the last few years. In 2015, Jarvis Jenkins recorded a career-high four sacks with three coming in two games against playoff-bound teams. Furthermore, Mitch Unrein and Bruce Gaston are examples of lesser know players found by the Bears who did produce when on the field.
Ealy spent the 2017 season with the New York Jets and only registered just one sack which was his career low. Before New York, Ealy had been with the Carolina Panthers for three seasons where he averaged four-and-a-half sacks over that span. What makes him valuable as a player is that he is a perfect fit in a three four defensive scheme as he can line up as both a defensive end or an outside linebacker.
The Bears may show interest in Ealy more from a depth standpoint rather than a talent standpoint due to his versatility. In the past three seasons, the Bears defensive relied on both Lamarr Houston and Willie Young as players that were able to line up at either the defensive end or linebacker spot. With uncertainly of either player coming back, Ealy could be an idea sign to help replace or provide depth if one is injured.
Murphy is the one player on the list who did not play in 2017 as he missed the entire season due to a torn ACL. In 2016, he had a career-high in nine sacks and has averaged five over the three seasons before 2016.
Along with the knee in 2017, Murphy was suspended in a April of 2017 failing a league drug test and was set to be suspended for four games.
If signed and healthy, Murphy will miss the first four games of the 2018 season for which every team he plays for.
The Bears may be wary of signing Murphy due to their recent history with players failing drug tests. In 2016, both wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and linebacker Jerrell Freeman failed drug tests back to back weeks.
This past season, Freeman failed another drug test leading to an eight-game suspension, but was unable to serve it due to a torn pectoral muscle that forced him on injured reserve just after one game. Murphy is a high risk high reward for the Bears as he would be a quality player to line up along with Hicks, if he is healthy and can stay clean.