The Chicago Bears are still at the point at which they can add a player to almost any position and, at the very least, get the depth needed for an off-season roster.
General Manager Ryan Poles still needs to add frontline players to a handful of positions and has the opportunity to get immediate assists with two second-round picks and a third-rounder on Day 2 of the draft in week three.
Joining the mix Friday after the first week of the voluntary off-season program are cornerback Tavon Young and tight end Ryan Griffin, a pair of veterans in positions of need. Young projects as Nickel Cornerback, who emerged as one of the more pressing needs on the roster. Griffin enters the mix with Cole Kemet and Jesper Horsted. Both got a one year contract.
Young and Griffin bring the roster to 59 players, the lowest number in the league, according to spottrack.com, This leaves the poles with 31 places to fill. The Bears remain active in the secondary free-agent market, hosting veteran linebacker Anthony Hitchens on a visit to Halas Hall on Thursday, according to a league source.
To complete the roster, the Poles have six draft picks and will then add a combination of experienced free agents and undraft rookies to reach the 90-man limit by early May. Even if the Bears added 15 un-drafted rookies, that would be a high number, leaving them with around nine spots for the Giants and Street Free Agents, most of which are at or close to the minimum. Will sign deals of the year.
Young, 28, is an interesting signing for $1.365 million a year. The question for the accompanying is health. He appeared in all 17 games last season for the Baltimore Ravens, but missed 15 games in 2020 with a torn ACL in his left knee after missing the entire 2019 season with a neck injury. Young also missed the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
He was a clever slot cornerback in his prime for the Ravens and was credited with one interception, 35 tackles, two sacks and four tackles for a loss last season. Young took part in 51% of snaps in 2021, but there were five games in which he was on the field for less than 40% of plays.
The Ravens released Young on March 9 in a cost- and cap-saving move. They expressed interest in getting him back on a deal closer to the minimum. Ravens GM Eric DeCosta said earlier this week that he is “definitely concerned” with his team’s depth in the secondary. The Poles probably feel the same way as the Bears don’t have clear starter opposite cornerback Jaylon Johnson, need to compete on strong safety and if they’re interested in upgrading over Duke Shelley, they’ll need to add the option to Nickel, who averages was below. Last season’s role.
Young Nickel could be part of the solution at the cornerback, but the beer would need more depth and competition as it would be risky to rely on it to remain available weekly.
Griffin was released after the New York Jets signed CJ Uzoma and Tyler Conklin to free agency. Griffin, 32, who is receiving a one-year, $2.25 million contract, played in 14 games last season, catching 27 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns. He ended the season on injured reserve with a knee injury. He was a core special team player for the Jets.
The Bears’ interest in Hitchens is natural as he played for coach Matt Eberfalss with the Dallas Cowboys and was with the former team of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Poles. The Bears signed Nicolas Morrow to start with Rokan Smith, and Hitchens would be a seasoned prospect for a spot on the stronger side with the ability to back up in other positions.
Poles still have to address the secondary, offensive line and wide receiver, but he is working through it as the market has settled. What the Bears can offer players who are not getting the money they expected on the open market is a chance to compete for playing time, especially in slim positions.