Not much was expected from Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles’ first class of free-agent signings. The Bears viewed 2022 as the beginning of a major rebuilding effort, and the free agents added by Poles were nothing more than stopgap options capable of keeping Chicago competitive, even in a losing effort.
One of those bigger free-agent additions who had a chance to earn a long-term role on the Bears’ defense was edge defender Al-Quadin Muhammad. He was signed because of his time in Indianapolis with coach Matt Eberflus and his familiarity with the defense, but he failed to make any impact whatsoever. He appeared in 16 games and totaled just one sack.
Muhammad signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Bears. His release frees up nearly $4 million in cap space, giving Chicago even more money to spend on this year’s class of free agents. Chicago already had the most money to spend in free agency before giving Muhammad his walking papers.
Muhammad wasn’t the only 2022 free-agent addition who disappointed in Chicago. Wide receiver Byron Pringle signed a one-year, $4 million contract and was supposed to be a legitimate playmaker opposite Darnell Mooney in the Bears’ passing game. He finished 2022 with 10 catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
Equanimeous St. Brown was another wideout added in free agency last year. While his production won’t be appealing for fantasy football managers in 2023, he did enough as an all-around player — run blocking and culture guy — to be re-signed to a one-year deal for 2023. Still, 21 catches for 323 yards and two scores isn’t enough from a wide receiver hand-picked off the free-agent market.
Linebacker Nicholas Morrow signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Bears in 2022’s free-agent cycle. While he didn’t play up to his athletic traits, he did log the most snaps of any Bears defender (1,086) and was, if nothing else, a reliable weekly presence on defense. But much like the other guys on this list, he didn’t do enough to prove he has a long-term role in the Chicago Bears’ rebuilding efforts.
Poles signed a trio of veteran offensive linemen with varying degrees of expectations. Center Lucas Patrick was supposed to be a plug-and-play starter in 2022. Instead, he logged only 10 snaps at center (in Week 7) and was used as a rotational guard for the season’s first six weeks. To be fair, his time as the Bears’ starting center was derailed because of a broken thumb suffered in training camp. There’s a chance he could re-emerge as a first-teamer this summer. He signed a two-year deal last March, and there’s no reason for Chicago to cut a valuable interior lineman.
Tackle Riley Reiff and guard Michael Schofield were signed by Poles late in the process, and while both players contributed as starters at different points during the year, neither is viewed as a likely starter in 2023. Poles singled out Reiff as a player he’d like to bring back in 2023, but it remains to be seen whether Reiff is willing to serve as a veteran leader and backup next year.
2023 free agency will have a very different narrative for the Chicago Bears. It’s no longer about tearing down a roster built by a previous regime. Now, it’s about adding pieces to a foundation centered around QB Justin Fields. Poles had a free pass from fans last offseason. That won’t be the case this year.