NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2022 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The first round of the 2022 NFL draft begins April 28 on ESPN.
The rebuild is underway in Chicago after new general manager Ryan Poles parted ways with former staples Khalil Mack, Eddie Goldman and Tarik Cohen before the start of the new league year. Building around second-year quarterback Justin Fields is the priority this offseason to put Chicago in position to eventually contend in the NFC.
Here's a breakdown of every 2022 NFL free-agent signing by the Bears and how each will impact the upcoming season:
Dane Cruikshank, S
Cruikshank's signing was announced by his agent David Canter. The safety is signing a one-year deal with over $1 million fully guaranteed, per source.
What it means: Cruikshank was a dependable special teams player for the Tennessee Titans who carved out a role for himself on defense in 2021. At the NFL owners meetings, head coach Matt Eberflus said he wants some interchangeability with his linebackers, considering how often defenses are in their nickel package, and that the same philosophy applies to cornerback and safety. Cruikshank was used as a dime linebacker with the Titans on occasion and excelled in a role that required him to cover tight ends while in man coverage. That could be what the Bears envision for the former fifth-round pick by having him play a number of different spots on the back end of the defense.
What's the risk: Not much. Eberflus said that fellow safety Eddie Jackson is getting a “fresh slate” in this defense, and the Bears still need another safety after they re-signed DeAndre Houston-Carson last week.
Justin Jones, DT
Jones signed a two-year, $12 million contract with Chicago, a source confirmed to ESPN.
What it means: Not long after the Bears announced that Larry Ogunjobi, who agreed to terms of a three-year contract worth $40.5 with $26.35 million guaranteed, failed a physical and would not be coming to Chicago, the team found their replacement at three-technique in Justin Jones. A three-year starter with the Los Angeles Chargers, Jones had 3.0 sacks and 19 tackles in 11 games last season. When healthy, Ogunjobi would be the preferred player to bolster Chicago’s interior pass rush, but Jones is not a bad, inexpensive alternative. While Ogunjobi’s deal falling through is certainly a blow for the Bears and GM Ryan Poles, things might work out better this way from a financial perspective. Several front office sources told ESPN that Ogunjobi’s market value was estimated closer to the $5-8 million range – in large part due to the foot injury he sustained in January that required surgery, which may have been the catalyst for his failed physical. That is a steep drop from the $13.3 million the Bengals defensive tackle was set to make in Chicago. Ogunjobi heads back to the free agent pool and the Bears can continue building their defensive line and the rest of the roster with north of $30 million in cap space.
What's the risk: The Bears get younger at the position (he’ll be 26 years old this season) and don’t have to overpay. Jones is a middle-of-the-pack run defender and not as effective as Ogunjobi was rushing the passer last season (depending on how much stock you put on sacks and pressures), but at least the Bears have more options than Angelo Blackson and Mario Edwards Jr. at the position.
Trevor Siemian, QB
The Bears gave Siemian a two-year contract, per his agent Mike McCartney
What it means: Surrounding Justin Fields with what he needs to succeed includes supporting him in the quarterback room. Trevor Siemian is an established veteran quarterback who has playing experience (29 starts in 33 games) to go along with seven years of built-up knowledge as an NFL QB. He’ll be a solid resource for Fields as the young quarterback continues to grow in his second season, and a viable No. 2 should he ever have to see the field. Signing Siemian, who spent the past two seasons in New Orleans, probably means the Bears will soon try to trade Nick Foles, who just earned a $4 million roster bonus and has an additional $4 million base salary guaranteed for 2022.
What's the risk: Nothing. Siemian is a solid addition to the QB room.
Byron Pringle, WR
Pringle is signing a one-year contract worth $6 million with $4 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
What it means: Ryan Poles saw Byron Pringle rise from an undrafted free agent who sat out his entire rookie season in 2018 because of injury to a role player in Kansas City’s offense last season. Pringle totaled 42 receptions for 568 yards (13.5 yards per catch) and five touchdowns – all career highs – in 2021 and was most productive when lined up in the slot (61% of his snaps). He’s the second receiver Chicago has added in free agency, and the team still has work to do at the position. Finding an ‘X’ receiver should now be the priority considering Pringle and Darnell Mooney are best used inside.
What's the risk: Regression? The Bears will soon discover whether Pringle’s production was reflective of playing in an offense with Patrick Mahomes or whether the receiver is capable of improving on what he did in Kansas City in 2022 and becoming a viable target for Justin Fields.
Equanimeous St. Brown, WR
St. Brown is signing a one-year deal with the Bears, a source told ESPN. The Athletic was first to report a deal was imminent.
What it means: It means the Bears made their first move at wide receiver by signing the former Packer, who reunites with OC Luke Getsy after two seasons together in Green Bay. Giving Justin Fields plenty of weapons is a priority, and while St. Brown isn’t a high-end free agent, he has three years of NFL experience and provides depth. In three seasons with Green Bay (he missed all of 2019 after going on IR with a high ankle sprain), St. Brown was targeted 66 times and caught 37 passes for 543 yards and one touchdown. Chicago has a long way to go at receiver and plenty of bigger names available in free agency who can make an immediate impact.
What's the risk: St. Brown caught 59% of his targets in three seasons with the Packers. That’s not great, nor was his production in 2021 (9 catches, 98 yards), but it’s a low-risk move for Chicago to add a receiver to a very thin group. If St. Brown can’t carve out a role for himself on offense, he might stick as a gunner on punt coverage.
Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE
Muhammad is singing a two-year, $10 million contract, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
What it means: A predictable move given Muhammad played in Matt Eberflus' defense in Indianapolis from 2018-21 and knows the 4-3 scheme that's being installed in Chicago. On the day the Bears lost Larry Ogunjobi to a failed physical, the team added two defensive linemen, including a defensive end coming off the best season of his young career. Muhammad was an asset for the Colts and started all 17 games last season while totaling 6.0 sacks, 48 tackles (7 TFL), 37 total pressures, 13 QB hits and a forced fumble. His growth over the better part of four seasons was impressive, and he's shown an ability to handle a starters load or be part of a rotation. He now joins single-season franchise sack leader (18.5) Robert Quinn and Trevis Gipson, who had 7.0 sacks last season to solidify the Bears pass rush.
What's the risk: This is a considerable loss for the Colts, so there's more for Chicago to gain than risk in acquiring Muhammad. General manager Ryan Poles shipped off Khalil Mack to kick start a rebuild in Chicago and now brings in a young (26 years old), under-the-radar player who is just entering his prime.
Patrick Scales, LS
Scales agreed to a 1-year deal worth a total of $1,272,500, which includes a $1.12 million base salary ($895,000 guaranteed) and a $152,500 signing bonus, a source tells ESPN.
What it means: Stability for a special teams unit that was used a lot last year on field goals and to flip field position after the offense stalled. Scales has been with the Bears since 2015 and is a dependable long-snapper. The Bears decided to keep Scales in the fold with kicker Cairo Santos even after signing long-snapper Beau Brinkley earlier this offseason. The team ended up cutting Brinkley on March 17, so any hopes from Bears fans to see a long-snapper competition in training camp are a long shot.
What's the risk: Nothing. Chicago has its special teams battery set for now with Santos, Scales and punter Ryan Winslow, who replaced Pat O'Donnell.
Nicholas Morrow, LB
Morrow signed a 1-year contract with the Bears worth up to $5 million, a source tells ESPN.
What it means: Chicago has needs across the board on defense and is bringing in Morrow to help fill out their linebacker depth chart. From Division III prospect to an undrafted free agent who signed with the Raiders in 2017, Morrow developed into a bright spot on a Raiders defense that struggled in 2020 and earned a one-year contract with $4.5 million fully guaranteed last offseason. He’s appeared in 62 games over five seasons with 29 starts and has experience playing several different linebacker spots along with experience on special teams.
What's the risk: Morrow missed the entire 2021 season after injuring his ankle in training camp. He’s 26 years old, so he’s still young with a lot of potential after he reached career highs in tackles (78), passes defended (9), TFLs (8), QB hits (6) and sacks (3) in 14 games during the 2020 season.
Lucas Patrick, C
Patrick is signing a two-year, $8 million contract with $4 million guaranteed in year one, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
What it means: Not long after four-year starter James Daniels signed with Pittsburgh, Chicago landed a solid replacement on the interior of the offensive line in Patrick, who started 28 games over the last two seasons in Green Bay. He’s a tough, physical lineman who ranked third among centers in pass-block win rate (72%) last season according to ESPN Stats and Information. The Bears now need to decide where he fits best – at center or at guard. He has experience at both (allowed 21 pressures as a guard in 2020, 21 pressures at center in 2021) and has only committed eight penalties in 73 career games and 2,492 snaps.
What's the risk: Nothing. Patrick can play multiple positions along the interior and allows the Bears to begin figuring out how they’re going to better protect Justin Fields in 2022.
Dakota Dozier, G
Dozier is signing a one-year contract with the Bears, the team announced.
What it means: With Lucas Patrick expecting to play center, the Bears are trying to figure out their best combination on the interior at guard. Dozier spent most of the 2021 season on the Vikings’ practice squad but started 16 games at left guard in Minnesota in 2020. He struggled in pass protection with 46 pressures allowed and six sacks and had the lowest pass-blocking grade among all starting guards, according to Pro Football Focus, that season. Dozier is probably best suited for a backup role depending on how Cody Whitehair and Sam Mustipher fair in the competition at guard, but it never hurts to have another lineman in the mix, especially one who has played in an outside zone blocking scheme before.
What's the risk: Chicago has more work to do along the offensive line if it wants to go into the season confident in its ability to protect Justin Fields. The risk in signing Dozier is relatively low, but the Bears will want to bring more linemen in across the board to find their best five.
Khari Blasingame, FB
Blasingame signed a one-year contract with the Bears, the team announced.
What it means: The fullback is back in Chicago! OC Luke Getsy comes from a Green Bay offense that used tight end Josiah Deguara in the backfield and as an in-line blocker. So, having Blasingame, a true fullback in the mix, will help with blocking assignments and in short-yardage situations. That was primarily his role in Tennessee the past three seasons and one he’ll fulfill in situations as a lead blocker for running back David Montgomery.
What's the risk: Nothing, unless Blasingame doesn’t rock a neck roll like an old-school fullback.