LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) — There's budding optimism inside of Halas Hall that the Bears are an improved football team on the cusp of contention with a roster that has been overhauled by general manager Ryan Poles in the past 17 months.
But for all Poles has done to rebuild the roster that he inherited in January 2022, there remains a great void for the pass rush. The Bears signed veteran defensive end DeMarcus Walker to a three-year deal in free agency in March, but that has been the lone edge rush addition for a defense that had an NFL-worst 20 sacks in 2022. Safety Jaquan Brisker led Chicago with four sacks.
Recently, Bears head coach Matt Eberflus reiterated what Poles had said previously – the team is still exploring options to improve its pass rush.
“We’re interested in a lot of free agents,” Eberflus said last Wednesday. “We’re interested in a lot of guys at all positions right now. We’re just excited about being able to look at those guys and potentially add as we go through camp and getting closer to the season.”
The Bears are also interested in potential trade options for a pass rusher, Poles told the Mully & Haugh Show in early May. That avenue could lead to Chase Young, whose fifth-year option was declined by the Commanders this offseason. The No. 2 overall pick in 2020, Young is slated to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2023 campaign, but Washington could perhaps seek to trade the 24-year-old Young this offseason.
On Monday morning, the Bills landed pass rusher Leonard Floyd – arguably the top available player still left at his position – on a one-year deal. The No. 9 overall pick of the Bears in 2016, Floyd had 29 sacks over the last three seasons with the Rams. He posted just 18.5 sacks over four seasons with the Bears before the team released him in March 2020.
Now, the best available pass rusher on the open market is Yannick Ngakoue, who had 9.5 sacks with the Colts in 2022. The 28-year-old Ngakoue has at least eight sacks in each of his seven NFL seasons.
Ngakoue is seeking a multi-year deal and the opportunity to play for a championship contender, he told SiriusXM Radio on Friday. Ngakoue is believed to be interested in the Bears.
"At this stage in my career, being in my later 20s, I definitely want to play for a contender, play for a team and organization that wants to win a Super Bowl," Ngakoue said. "That's one of the things on my agenda is to be able to help and contribute to that. Hopefully, I can gain some great interest from a contender."
Veteran pass rusher Justin Houston also remains an unrestricted free agent. Now 34 years old, Houston had 9.5 sacks for the Ravens last season. He spent the first eight years of his career with the Chiefs, who at the time had Poles in the front office as part of their scouting department.
If they don't acquire another edge rusher, the Bears will be counting heavily on the veteran newcomer Walker and fourth-year pass rusher Trevis Gipson, whom Chicago took in the fifth round in 2020.
Gipson had seven sacks in 2021 but just three sacks last season. He's set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. Dominique Robinson, a fifth-round pick in 2022, had 1.5 sacks in his NFL debut but none in the 16 games that followed.
The Bears made key additions to their front seven by signing linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards in free agency and drafting a pair of defensive linemen in Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens in the second and third round, respectively. But this defense still seems incomplete without an addition to sharpen the edge rush.
Eberflus knows well that a Bears team hoping for a breakthrough can't have a safety leading them in sacks again this season.
“You’d like to generate it from the front four,” Eberflus said. “That way you can have all seven in coverage and you can do more variation with your coverage that way and not opening holes for the offense. Certainly, you’ve got to pick your poison and pick your time when you want to do that.”
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.