Chicago Bears 2024 NFL offseason primer: After trading away Justin Fields, it's all about the No. 1 pick

Chicago Bears' 2023 season: 7-10, missed playoffs

Overview: The Bears hoped to make a leap into playoff contention while solidifying Justin Fields as their franchise quarterback. Neither happened. A 2-7 start tanked any plans of ascending to the postseason as the rival Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers made the biggest strides in the division.

And despite a 5-3 finish and some renewed belief in Fields, the Bears traded him away to the Steelers for a conditional 2025 sixth-round pick. Meanwhile, the draft pick the Bears acquired from the Carolina Panthers turned out to be first overall in one of the most anticipated quarterback drafts in recent memory. It's clear at this point Chicago intends to draft a QB with that top pick. But which one will it be?

(Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)
(Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)

Key free agents

DT Justin Jones
WR Darnell Mooney
RB D'Onta Foreman
DE Yannick Ngakoue
C Lucas Patrick

Who's in/out? Cornerback Jaylon Johnson was the priority here, which is why he's reached a four-year, $76 million deal with the team just days after receiving the franchise tag. The fourth-year cornerback emerged as one of the best in the NFL last season, making his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro team just in time for his second contract. The prioritization of Johnson means that many of the free agents were expendable. Getting deals elsewhere were: Jones with the Arizona Cardinals (three years, $30.1 million) and Mooney with the Atlanta Falcons (three years, $39 million), per NFL Network reports.

With Justin Fields shipped off to the Steelers, what will the Bears do next at quarterback? (John Fisher/Getty Images)
With Justin Fields shipped off to the Steelers, what will the Bears do next at quarterback? (John Fisher/Getty Images) (John Fisher via Getty Images)

Key free-agent needs

Wide receiver
Defensive tackle

Why the holes? The Bears bolstered their secondary by re-signing Jaylon Johnson and adding Kevin Byard in free agency, so the focus turns elsewhere. Center Lucas Patrick struggled in his two seasons in Chicago, and the Bears traded a fifth-round draft pick for Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Ryan Bates on March 4. He traditionally plays guard but has played snaps at center and could fill the need if Chicago doesn't further address it in free agency.

The Bears addressed their backfield in free agency in signing RB D'Andre Swift to a three-year, $24 million deal, per media reports. They also traded for Los Angeles Chargers wideout Keenan Allen in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick.

Chicago needs to upgrade its wide receivers room around No. 1 option DJ Moore. On defense, Montez Sweat was a revelation after arriving via midseason trade from Washington. Another pass-rushing threat could elevate Chicago's pass defense to a formidable unit.

Do they have the money? They do. In addition to having two top-10 picks in the draft, the Bears have $35 million in salary cap space, per Spotrac. That's after signing Johnson and clearing out space with the painful but cap-savvy decisions to release franchise stalwarts Eddie Jackson and Cody Whitehair. That means a lot of options to build around their incoming rookie quarterback, whether that's Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or someone else. There's tremendous opportunity here for the Bears and general manager Ryan Poles.

Potential notable cuts

RB Travis Homer
WR Velus Jones Jr.

Why they might be gone: Homer carried the ball a grand total of zero times in 2023 and has a $2.1 million cap hit next season. Jones tallied 71 yards from scrimmage in his second NFL season after being selected in the third round of the 2022 draft. He carries a $1.5 million cap hit in 2024 and a $1.7 million hit the following season.

2023 NFLPA report card

(Yahoo Sports)
(Yahoo Sports)

Draft picks

1st round: No. 1 (from Panthers)
1st round: No. 9
3rd round: No. 75
4th round: No. 121 (from Eagles)

Good draft fit

North Carolina QB Drake Maye

Is Drake Maye the future in Chicago? (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Is Drake Maye the future in Chicago? (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Why him? Maye's the complete package, possessing an ideal combination of size, athleticism, arm talent, intelligence, leadership and aggression. He presents a compelling case for the Bears after they've moved on from Fields. If there's a tie-breaker between Maye and the 6-1 Caleb Williams, Maye's 6-4, 229-pound frame could end up being it.

What can move the fantasy football needle this offseason?

Over the past three seasons, the Bears offense has averaged just 167.1 passing yards per game, a scandalously low number. This is a team with many clear needs. DJ Moore and Cole Kmet are true foundational pieces, but every other skill spot requires an upgrade. Chicago’s receiving room is full of bad ideas. For fantasy purposes, this Nate Tice mock looks like the dream scenario after the Bears have decided to reset at quarterback, then selecting an explosive receiving talent with the ninth overall pick. — Andy Behrens