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Chicago Bears free-agency news: OL Matt Pryor, QB Brett Rypien, LB Amen Ogbongbemiga agree to 1-year deals

The NFL’s new league year began at 3 p.m. Wednesday. But the free-agency frenzy got underway at 11 a.m. Monday with teams able to negotiate contracts with players set to hit the open market.

The Chicago Bears, with general manager Ryan Poles at the controls, entered free agency with plenty of room under the NFL’s inflated $255.4 million salary cap for 2024. That opened the door for Poles to be aggressive on the open market. But the third-year GM also has taken a practical and disciplined approach to free agency during his first two offseasons and might again pick his spots, choosing how to invest most wisely.

As the action heats up, the Tribune is tracking all of the Bears-related news around the league. Sign up for our sports newsletter so you don’t miss a thing.

March 13

Veteran offensive lineman Matt Pryor is joining the Bears on a one-year deal.

What it means: Pryor, 29, is entering his sixth NFL season and figures to compete for a backup role. He has positional versatility at tackle and guard and has made 24 career starts, 10 of those coming in 2020 with the Philadelphia Eagles. Pryor spent his first two seasons with the Eagles, the next two with the Indianapolis Colts and last season with the San Francisco 49ers.

Bears assistant GM Ian Cunningham was in the Eagles front office in 2019 when Pryor entered the league as a sixth-round pick out of TCU, so there’s familiarity the Bears can draw on. Coach Matt Eberflus also knows Pryor from their time together in 2021 in Indianapolis.

The Bears are looking to upgrade and add quality depth to their offensive line. They traded a fifth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills earlier this month for veteran interior lineman Ryan Bates. They also have four returning starters in tackles Darnell Wright and Braxton Jones and guards Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis.

The Bears are signing quarterback Brett Rypien to a one-year deal.

What it means: Rypien, 27, gives the Bears a veteran backup in a quarterback room that currently contains Justin Fields and Tyson Bagent.

He has been in the league since 2019 and has played in 10 games with four starts. The former undrafted free agent out of Boise State made three starts with the Denver Broncos from 2020-22 and one with the Los Angeles Rams last year. He spent time with the Seattle Seahawks and new Bears offensive coordinator Shane Waldron in November 2023, though he didn’t see any playing time. He finished the year with the New York Jets.

Rypien completed 58.3% of his passes for 950 yards with four touchdowns and nine interceptions in his 10 career appearances.

The Bears are signing linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga, NFL Network reported.

What it means: Ogbongbemiga reportedly will join the Bears on a one-year, $2.1 million deal ($1.1 million guaranteed) to fortify the special teams units. He played in 47 games over the last three seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, making two starts.

While he played only five defensive snaps in 2023, he played a prominent role on Chargers special teams, playing 80% of the snaps in 15 games, according to Pro Football Reference. He had two fumble recoveries last season.

March 12

Veteran safety Jonathan Owens has agreed to a two-year deal with the Bears, a league source confirmed.

What it means: Owens, 28, will fortify the depth on the back end of the defense, joining a safeties room that also includes Jaquan Brisker, Kevin Byard and Elijah Hicks. Married to gymnast Simone Biles, Owens has played six seasons in the NFL, entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri Western in 2018.

He spent last season with the Green Bay Packers after a previous stop with the Houston Texans (2019-22). He spent his rookie season on injured reserve with the Arizona Cardinals.

Owens has a reputation as a reliable tackler and assignment-sound player who should fit into the culture Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus continue to build at Halas Hall. He likely will slot in as the third safety behind Brisker and Byard but has starting experience and can contribute on special teams.

The Packers initially had interest in re-signing Owens but chose to make a bigger splash by adding free agent Xavier McKinney as a likely starter. A league source said Owens’ new deal with the Bears is worth $4.5 million.

The Bears are signing tight end Gerald Everett to a two-year, $12 million deal, ESPN reported.

What it means: Everett, a seven-year NFL veteran, joins the Bears on a deal that reportedly has a $14 million maximum value and includes $6.1 million fully guaranteed.

Everett was a second-round pick (No. 44) by the Los Angeles Rams in 2017, taken one spot ahead of former Bears tight end Adam Shaheen. He spent the last two years with the Los Angeles Chargers and before that played under new Bears offensive coordinator Shane Waldron for the Rams and Seattle Seahawks.

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Everett had a career high of 58 catches for 555 yards and four touchdowns in 2022. Over the last five years, he has averaged 47 catches and 454 yards per season.

He joins Cole Kmet in the tight ends room, which needed depth with Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan set to be free agents. Kmet is under contract through 2027 after signing a $50 million extension in 2023.

Former Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney is signing with the Atlanta Falcons, NFL Network reported.

What it means: After four seasons with the Bears, Mooney found a new home with the Falcons and new quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Bears’ 2020 fifth-round pick reportedly agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with $26 million guaranteed.

It seemed likely after the season that the Bears and Mooney, their No. 2 receiver in 2023, would part. He had a career-high 81 catches for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns in his second season with the Bears in 2021, playing with quarterback Justin Fields under coach Matt Nagy. But his production fell off steeply the last two years.

An ankle injury cut short Mooney’s 2022 season. In 2023, playing behind top receiver DJ Moore, Mooney had just 31 catches for 414 yards and a touchdown.

Bears GM Ryan Poles said after the season he believed Mooney would bounce back. The Tribune’s Brad Biggs reported that before the 2023 season began, Mooney turned down the Bears’ offer of a three-year extension worth more than $10 million annually. Now, despite his down season, Mooney gets a shot with a new team and quarterback.

The Bears, meanwhile, have a long way to go to fill out their wide receiver depth behind Moore.

March 11

Former Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones is signing with the Arizona Cardinals, NFL Network reported.

What it means: Jones, who started 34 games over the last two seasons for the Bears, reportedly received a three-year, $30.1 million deal with $19.75 million guaranteed from the Cardinals.

The Bears should be in the market for another three-technique tackle. They drafted defensive tackles Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens last year, but even if they plan to bump up Dexter’s playing time in 2024 to replace Jones, they need depth.

In two seasons with the Bears, Jones had 101 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, 7 1/2 sacks, 24 quarterback hits, eight passes defended and a fumble recovery. He was the Bears nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2023.

Running back D’Andre Swift has agreed to a three-year deal with the Bears, per multiple reports.

What it means: The Bears wasted little time when the negotiating window opened Monday to add pop to their offense, offering Swift a three-year, $24.5 million deal that reportedly includes more than $15 million guaranteed. NFL Network first reported the deal.

Swift is coming off a career season in Philadelphia in which he rushed for 1,049 yards and five touchdowns while adding 39 catches for 214 yards and another TD. Swift, 25, spent his first three NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions and will look to become the lead back in a new offensive system in Chicago overseen by coordinator Shane Waldron. Swift’s speed and versatility were no doubt attractive to the Bears.

He will join a running backs room at Halas Hall that also includes second-year pro Roschon Johnson and Khalil Herbert.

March 10

The Bears agreed to a two-year contract with safety Kevin Byard.

What it means: The Bears are banking on Byard, a two-time All-Pro, having more high-level play remaining than their former decorated free safety, Eddie Jackson.

The deal with Byard fills a significant roster need in advance of the negotiating window that opens at 11 a.m. Monday and leads into the start of free agency Wednesday.

The Bears released Jackson on Feb. 15 as they weren’t going to pay him $14 million for 2024, and that left them in search of a veteran presence for what remains a young secondary. Enter Byard, 30, who visited Halas Hall on Friday and got a deal done before the end of the weekend.

Byard was selected as an All-Pro in 2017 and 2021 with the Tennessee Titans and is also a two-time Pro Bowl selection. A third-round pick out of Middle Tennessee State in 2016, Byard was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in October for defensive back Terrell Edmunds and fifth- and sixth-round draft picks.

In Philadelphia, Byard had 75 tackles and one interception in 10 games for a team that faded down the stretch. Byard, who turns 31 in August, has not missed a game in his eight-year career, so there’s no question his durability appealed to the Bears.

March 8

The Bears are re-signing long snapper Patrick Scales to a one-year contract, his agent tweeted.

What it means: Scales, the longest-tenured Bears player, returns on a deal with more than $1 million in guarantees, NFL Network reported. Scales, 36, has played in 120 games since joining the Bears in 2015. He is a part of the unit that has helped kicker Cairo Santos make more than 91% of his field goals in three of his last four seasons. Santos signed a four-year, $16 million extension in December.

The Bears announced two other moves Friday. They renegotiated and extended wide receiver Collin Johnson, who played in three games and had one catch last season. And they signed safety Tarvarius Moore, who last played for the San Francisco 49ers in 2022. Moore was with the Green Bay Packers in 2023 training camp but suffered a knee injury, and they released him with a settlement. He has started 13 NFL games since 2018.

March 7

The Bears signed cornerback Jaylon Johnson to a four-year, $76 million contract.

What it means: Two days after the Bears applied the franchise tag to Johnson, the two parties reached a deal that reportedly includes $54 million in guarantees and could keep the team’s top cornerback in Chicago through 2027. Drafted at No. 50 in 2020, Johnson was selected to the Pro Bowl last season and honored as a second-team All-Pro, punctuating a breakout year in which he had four interceptions and established himself as one of the league’s best cover cornerbacks.

Johnson wasn’t shy in expressing his desires to cash in with his second contract, aiming to be rewarded as one of the top defenders in the league. At the NFL scouting combine, Poles emphasized he had extended an offer to Johnson that the Bears believed was fair in terms of cash value, guaranteed money and term length. A little more than a week later, they settled on the deal.

Feb. 15

The Bears released safety Eddie Jackson and offensive lineman Cody Whitehair.

What it means: Jackson and Whitehair played their entire careers with the Bears, served as team captains at different points and were entering the final year of their contracts.

Whitehair, a second-round draft pick in 2016, started 118 games at center and guard in eight seasons, including 11 games in 2023. Jackson, a fourth-round pick in 2017, started 100 games in seven seasons, including 12 last season. Jackson, an All-Pro in 2018, leaves the Bears with 15 career interceptions, 44 passes defended, 10 forced fumbles, six return touchdowns and 459 tackles.

Cutting Whitehair will clear $9.15 million in salary-cap space, according to overthecap.com, while cutting Jackson will clear $12.56 million.