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Chicago Bears true or false: Ryan Poles should go after wide receivers in free agency. What about a running back?

The NFL’s new league year arrives this week with the official opening of free agency scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday. But the negotiating period for teams to initiate contract talks with potential unrestricted free agents begins at 11 a.m. Monday.

This is an important stage for the Chicago Bears as they continue their push to build a championship-contending roster. And as heavily focused as general manager Ryan Poles has been on his quarterback situation and deciding what to do with the No. 1 pick in next month’s draft, the Bears also understand the opportunity in front of them to strengthen their team during the offseason cycle.

To set the stage for all that is ahead over the next two weeks, Tribune reporters Dan Wiederer and Colleen Kane offer a Bears free-agency primer in true-or-false format.

True or false: As free agency opens, the Bears are pretty well set on defense and can devote most of their attention elsewhere.

Wiederer: False. While it’s true Matt Eberflus should feel confident about his current depth chart on defense and the direction that unit was headed down the stretch of last season, there’s always a chance to get better and raise the bar.

NFL teams never can have too much oomph in their pass rush. Thus identifying opportunities to upgrade the defensive front off the edge should be near the top of the Bears’ free-agency to-do list. Finding a defensive end to complement Montez Sweat would be nice.

And it’s at least worth exploring whether a dangerous top-shelf defensive tackle is available — Christian Wilkins or Leonard Williams, anyone? — to drop into the three-technique role in the middle of the line.

The Bears are on the right track defensively and finished last season with the league’s top run defense while also ranking fifth in takeaways. But there’s always a chance to kick things up a notch. And Poles will have that opportunity, whether it be in the first wave of free agency this week or with a handful of bargain and depth signings down the line.

Colleen Kane: Exactly. The Bears have good depth at two defensive positions — cornerback and linebacker. Poles signed Pro Bowl cornerback Jaylon Johnson to a four-year, $76 million contract extension, and the Bears have Kyler Gordon, Tyrique Stevenson and Terell Smith as potential starters too. At linebacker, the Bears have difference-making starters in Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards plus Jack Sanborn and Noah Sewell to fill in when needed.

Beyond that, they have several holes to fill. When Poles acquired Sweat midseason and then signed him to a four-year, $98 million contract extension, it took away some of the pressure to find a premier edge rusher this offseason. But the Bears still need a good player opposite Sweat, and it will be interesting to see if they go after it in free agency or the draft.

Three-technique defensive tackle Justin Jones played 739 snaps for the Bears and is set to be a free agent. So while the Bears have young defensive tackles Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens, they could either bring back Jones or sign another veteran for the interior.

Poles already replaced safety Eddie Jackson with veteran Kevin Byard on a two-year deal reportedly worth $15 million, picking him from a surprisingly long list of good free-agent safeties. With that hole filled, Poles has a little more work to do on the defense.

True or false: No matter who is playing quarterback in 2024, the Bears should be aiming to provide much more help at wide receiver and should use free agency to do so.

Kane: True. They should use free agency and the draft to provide help for their next quarterback at wide receiver. That’s how thin the Bears are at the position.

Yes, they return DJ Moore, who had 96 catches for 1,364 yards and eight touchdowns in his first season with the team in 2023. But who’s left beyond that?

Darnell Mooney is set to be a free agent. Tyler Scott, who had 17 catches, could improve but wasn’t a reliable option in his rookie season. Velus Jones Jr., whom the Bears drafted with a third-round pick in 2022, has kick-return value but only 11 catches in two seasons. And Equanimeous St. Brown, known for his blocking, is set to be a free agent.

You want to set up your 2024 quarterback for success? You get him more than one intriguing new option at wide receiver.

I have waffled about whether the Bears should use the No. 9 pick on a wide receiver or edge rusher. But if they somehow got one of the top wide receivers in the draft — such as Malik Nabers or Rome Odunze — to pair with Moore and added veteran depth in free agency, too, I would feel better about the receiving corps than I have in a while.

Wiederer: If Odunze is there at No. 9, I’m running to turn in the card — and it’s not just because I enjoyed his podium presence at the combine. The kid is a playmaker, plain and simple. He has size and strength, is really productive on contested catches and has the kind of internal drive that should make him an immediate HITS principle standout for Eberflus.

Nabers, meanwhile, is considered by some as maybe the most electric receiver in the draft class — even ahead of Marvin Harrison Jr. talent-wise on some draft boards. So assuming the background research checks out, he also would be an intriguing option if available at No. 9.

But what about free agency first? Well, that market is already changing with Mike Evans landing a new deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week and Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman getting franchise tagged. The Bears could try to make a big splash with, say, Calvin Ridley, Hollywood Brown or Gabe Davis in the earliest stages of free agency.

More likely they’ll be working into the second and third waves to fortify their receiver depth chart. Keep an eye on how the market shapes up for players such as Jauan Jennings, Josh Reynolds, K.J. Osborn and Quez Watkins.

True or false: Given their projected salary-cap space, Poles must be ultra-aggressive as he enters the free-agent market.

Wiederer: False. Let’s replace the phrase “ultra-aggressive” with “calculated” and now we’re onto something.

If we learned anything about Poles in his first two seasons as Bears GM, it’s that he prides himself on his discipline during free agency and is devoted to the team’s value board in a way that protects him from spending recklessly just because he can.

While it’s true the salary cap has shot past $255 million for this year and the Bears will walk into the free-agency flea market this week with an abundance of cap space, that shouldn’t affect Poles’ player evaluations in a way that overly inflates what they will be willing to pay.

Free agency is still very much a crapshoot — a minefield in the description of former GM Ryan Pace. Therefore, caution always remains a must. As the market opens, Spotrac.com estimates the Bears will have the fifth-most cap space to work with behind only the Washington Commanders, Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots and Houston Texans. That should allow Poles and Co. to be competitive in negotiations. But it should not give them the urge to spend lavishly just to say that they did.

This is still all about building a team that can sustain meaningful success over a long period of time. And at present, no one outside of Chicago believes the Bears are entering a “must win now” season in 2024.

Kane: Right. So much of the talk with Poles at the NFL combine last month was about the team’s quarterback situation — and not a lot about his plans for free agency. But Poles’ buzzword last year ahead of the negotiating window was “disciplined,” and that approach should come into play again, though the Bears are in a different position than they were in 2023.

They have far fewer holes to fill, a credit to the work Poles has done over the last two years to rebuild the roster at key positions. With the salary cap in such a good spot, I do feel the Bears can take that calculated approach to, as you said, be competitive in securing the veteran players who interest them. That included getting a deal done with Johnson.

And while this might not be a “must-win season” for the Bears, making sound decisions in the week ahead should help them get much closer to being a contending team.

True or false: The Bears should go after a running back in free agency.

Kane: True. It’s not a top priority — as mentioned, that goes to finding more wide receivers and defensive linemen after bringing in a new starting safety with the Byard signing — and I don’t know if the Bears will add a marquee free-agent running back. But I like the idea of bringing in another playmaker to the group that includes Khalil Herbert and Roschon Johnson.

D’Onta Foreman, who filled in well while Herbert was injured in 2023, will be a free agent. And Herbert, who rushed for 611 yards in 12 games, is heading into the final year of his rookie deal.

There are some big names set to hit the free-agent marketJosh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry and Tony Pollard — and it’s hard not to be intrigued.

Maybe the Bears want to spend such money elsewhere. There’s still a question of whether more offensive line upgrades are coming through free agency or the draft, either at left tackle or another interior lineman behind former Buffalo Bills guard/center Ryan Bates, for whom the Bears just traded a fifth-round pick.

But this group of running backs certainly merits consideration.

Wiederer: Free agency is always such a tempting market to go wild in. But the truth is, two of the Bears’ biggest 2024 free-agency investments came with players who were already on the team in 2023. That includes the $98 million extension Poles gave to Sweat in November and the $76 million Jaylon Johnson extension.

That’s why running back is low on my priority list, particularly when it comes to a top-shelf player such as Barkley. I don’t think the Bears have yet reached “splurge and surge” mode where they can afford an aggressive luxury signing at top dollar. I also know how everyone at Halas Hall seems to feel about Roschon Johnson, who may get his opportunity to take on a leading role in 2024.

Yes, the depth of that room needs fortifying. But Poles and the Bears are likely to remain practical with the way they browse the running back aisle of the free-agent market.