The Chicago Bears are showing interest in another free agent linebacker after already signing T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds for the 2023 season.
According to the NFL’s official transaction wire for March 22, the Bears hosted former Tennessee Titans linebacker Dylan Cole for a free agent visit on Wednesday, suggesting the team is still looking to invest further in its linebacker room for next season.
Cole, 28, is coming off the best season of his six-year NFL career after hitting career-highs in total tackles (64), solo tackles (42), tackles for loss (four) and starts (eight) for the Titans defense in 2022. He has also been one of Tennessee’s top special teams guys over the past two seasons, logging 11 third-phase tackles — tied for 10th-most in the league — over his 294 special teams snaps last season.
The Bears have made great strides in rounding out their linebacker room for 2023 after handing out a pair of big-money contracts to Edmunds — a two-time Pro Bowler — and Edwards in the first week of free agency. They also have rookie standout Jack Sanborn, who Pro Football Focus named to their All-Rookie team for 2022, set to return to give them a solid group of three starters, but more depth is necessary since both Nicholas Morrow and Matthew Adams have signed elsewhere in free agency. As a core special teamer, Cole could be an ideal fit for that type of role with the Bears next season.
More Improvements Needed for Bears’ OL & DL Units
The Bears are wise to continue looking for value at the linebacker position given how much they need more depth, but signing Cole — if they do — won’t move the needle in terms of solving their biggest roster deficiencies: their offensive and defensive lines.
In fairness, the Bears have made some moves at both positions. They signed former Titans guard Nate Davis to (presumably) become their new starting left guard. They also signed defensive end DeMarcus Walker and defensive tackle Andrew Billings, giving them a pair of sturdy veterans to raise the overall skill floor of the unit. But while all three signings are great starts, the Bears could still stand to add another starting offensive tackle and a true 3-tech defensive tackle as the centerpiece of their defense.
The Bears could ultimately decide to fill their right tackle vacancy with a first-round rookie selection, but even then it would be beneficial for them to have another veteran in the room after losing Riley Reiff in free agency. Isaiah Wynn is probably the best remaining option on the market for the right side specifically — despite coming off a career-worst season in 2022 — but Donovan Smith, George Fant and Taylor Lewan could each also provide a solution that wouldn’t break the bank.
Things are little trickier with defensive tackles. A’Shawn Robinson has experience playing in the 3-tech role and is a competent run defender, but the 28-year-old has missed at least three games in four of his last five seasons, including in 2022 when he spent the final seven games of the Seattle Seahawks’ regular season on injured reserve. There are also more affordable options such as Poona Ford and Matt Ioannidis.
Chicago Could Add More LB Depth in 2023 NFL Draft
In all likelihood, the Bears will be prioritizing additions to their offensive and defensive lines with their 10 overall selections in the 2023 NFL draft next month, but don’t be surprised if they sink one of those picks into another linebacker who can help further fortify the position behind their new veteran starters.
One of the most intriguing potential fits for the Bears is Tulane’s Dorian Williams. The 6-foot-1, 228-pound linebacker is fifth-ranked linebacker on Pro Football Focus’ 2023 draft prospect big board, but Williams’ speed (4.49-second 40) and athleticism give him the positional versatility to play other roles, such as the nickel, when called upon. He would also be an impact weapon on special teams with less mileage than Cole.
The Bears could also take a slightly bigger swing and target someone like Oregon’s Noah Sewell or Auburn’s Owen Pappoe to compete with Sanborn for a starting job. Pappoe is the more appealing of the two with several seasons of starting experience and more than 2,000 collegiate snaps played at linebacker, but either one could lay a nice foundation in the event that Edwards, Edmunds or Sanborn takes a step back in 2023.