The first wave of NFL free agency moves quickly, and most of the big deals are done during the bargaining period, leading to about two weeks of bargain shopping before teams reevaluate and focus on the draft.
The Chicago Bears didn’t skip a beat going from bigger acquisitions like linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and TJ Edwards and guard Nate Davis to more modest additions like right end Robert Tonyan, tackle Andrew Billings and back D’Onta Foreman, all of whom signed contracts on Friday.
All figure to be able to play significant roles. Tonyan offers much more as a receiver than he did last year, the No. 1 tight end. 2 Ryan Griffin. Tonyan has the added benefit of knowing the offense as well as any outsider based on his time in Green Bay with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.
Billings, who will make $3.5 million on a one-year deal, projects as a starter in the base defense, a capable linebacker that was needed if the Bears hoped Edmunds and Edwards would get a chance to shine.
Foreman is coming off a career-best season with the Carolina Panthers and enters a cap room that must replace David Mongtomery’s 201 carries in 2022.
General manager Ryan Poles spent most of his time in free agency last year at the thrift store, and what turned into a 3-14 team got pretty much what he paid for. Fullback Khari Blasingame and wide receiver Equanimeous St. The Browns were re-signed after playing on one-year contracts. They made modest contributions. None of the Bears’ free agents were home runs, and wide receiver Byron Pringle and defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad flopped.
The Bears should get a lot more from the newcomers this year. Edmunds and Edwards hope to lead a turnaround on defense. Davis is a solid addition to the interior of the line. Their upcoming additions — Tonyan, Billings and Foreman — need to be more effective for the team to fill key roles with more than replacement-level players.
Looks like Getsy did a good job selling Tonyan on how he could fit into what they’re doing.
“This offense runs through the tight ends, whether it’s blocking, passing, whatever,” Tonyan said Friday. “Cole is a great tight end. He’s big, strong, and I think if he adds that, that can complement me and him. I’m super pumped. I haven’t talked in a lot of detail because it’s early, but I’m just excited to get into this building and get things going and be part of a team that’s going up in the right direction.”
Billings, who started 14 games for the Las Vegas Raiders last season, is comfortable knowing he’ll only be asked to have one technique.
“That’s how I got introduced to the NFL when I played four years with the Bengals,” he said. “So it’s something I know I can do and I see myself fitting in pretty well.”
Billings has a compact and powerful frame at 6-foot-1, 311 pounds, and while he won’t help a pass rush that still needs a complete overhaul, he can push the pocket. One scout said he played with good foot speed and lateral movement last season. He and DeMarcus Walker figure to be just the beginning of the transformation on the line that could take another offseason to complete.
For a running back who entered the league in 2017, Foreman has low mileage. He had a career-high 203 carries for 914 yards and five touchdowns, becoming Carolina’s leading rusher after Christian McCaffrey was traded. He’s a physical running back at 6-1, 236, and the Bears could have a productive tandem with Khalil Herbert, especially given the small investment — Foreman is on a one-year, $3 million deal.
Foreman hasn’t had a ton of work due to a bad injury. Suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon as a rookie with the Houston Texans in 2017. Suffered a torn biceps in Indianapolis in 2019. But he got 133 carries in Tennessee in 2021 and has done even better with more opportunities for the Panthers.
“I can’t really speak for the coaches and the plan they have,” Foreman said Friday. “I came here to try to be the guy. If I didn’t come here with that mindset, I’d be doing myself a disservice. I think I would be doing the team a disservice. All due respect, humble confidence, without trying to appear anything other than exactly what it is. I just have confidence in myself and I feel like I can come in and be the guy that people rely on and help us win.
“I didn’t come here to sit in the back seat to anyone. I’m a team guy. I want to do whatever I can to help in whatever role they put me in, but coming in here with the mindset of wanting to be the guy, be the guy that can help this team and make a lot of plays for it . team. I know that’s my mindset and I plan on doing it.”
If Foreman and a few other smaller signings the Poles are making in free agency can “be the guy,” it will add to a player-laden free agent class expect to be the type.