Chicago Bears 2024 NFL offseason primer: It's all about Justin Fields vs. upside of No. 1 overall pick

Chicago Bears' 2023 season: 7-10, missed playoffs

Overview: The Bears hoped to make a leap into playoff contention while solidifying Justin Fields as their franchise quarterback. Neither happened. A 2-7 start tanked any plans of ascending to the postseason as the rival Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers made the biggest strides in the division.

But faith was not lost in Fields. A 5-3 finish, including a Week 13 win over the division champion Lions, renewed belief that Fields can be the long-coveted impact quarterback in Chicago. Meanwhile, the draft pick the Bears acquired from the Carolina Panthers turned out to be first overall in one of the most anticipated quarterback drafts in recent memory. What are the Bears to do?

Key free agents

DT Justin JonesWR Darnell MooneyRB D'Onta ForemanDE Yannick NgakoueC Lucas Patrick

Who's in/out? Cornerback Jaylon Johnson was the priority here, which is why he's reportedly reached a four-year, $76 million deal with the team just days after receiving the franchise tag. The fourth-year cornerback emerged as one of the best in the NFL last season, making his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro team just in time for his second contract. The prioritization of Johnson means that all other free agents are expendable.

Key free-agent needs

Wide receiverEdgeCenterDefensive tackle

Why the holes? The Bears bolstered their secondary by re-signing Jaylon Johnson and adding Kevin Byard in free agency, so the focus turns elsewhere. Center Lucas Patrick struggled in his two seasons in Chicago, and the Bears traded a fifth-round pick for Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Ryan Bates on March 4. He traditionally plays guard but has played snaps at center and could fill the need if Chicago doesn't further address it in free agency.

Whether Darnell Mooney stays or goes, Chicago needs to upgrade its wide receiver room around No. 1 option DJ Moore. On defense, Montez Sweat was a revelation after arriving via midseason trade from Washington. Another pass-rushing threat could elevate Chicago's pass defense to a formidable unit.

Do they have the money? They do. In addition to having two top-10 picks in the draft, the Bears have $69.9 million in salary cap space, which is among the most in the NFL, per Spotrac. That's after placing the franchise tag on Johnson, which counts for $19.8 million against the cap. They've already cleared out space with the painful but cap-savvy decisions to release franchise stalwarts Eddie Jackson and Cody Whitehair. That means a lot of options to build around their young quarterback, whether it's Fields, Caleb Williams or Drake Maye. There's tremendous opportunity here for the Bears and general manager Ryan Poles.

Potential notable cuts

RB Travis HomerWR Velus Jones Jr.

Why they might be gone: Homer carried the ball a grand total of zero times in 2023 and has a $2.1 million cap hit next season. Jones tallied 71 yards from scrimmage in his second NFL season after being selected in the third round of the 2022 draft. He carries a $1.5 million cap hit in 2024 and a $1.7 million hit the following season.

2023 NFLPA report card

Draft picks

1st round: No. 1 (from Panthers)1st round: No. 93rd round: No. 754th round: No. 1094th round: No. 121 (from Eagles)

Good draft fit

North Carolina QB Drake Maye

Why him? Maye's the complete package, possessing an ideal combination of size, athleticism, arm talent, intelligence, leadership and aggression. He presents a compelling case for the Bears to move on from Fields if that ultimately ends up being the decision. If there's a tie-breaker between Maye and the 6-1 Caleb Williams, Maye's 6-4, 229-pound frame could end up being it.

What can move the fantasy football needle this offseason?

Over the past three seasons, the Bears offense has averaged just 167.1 passing yards per game, a scandalously low number. This is a team with many clear needs. DJ Moore and Cole Kmet are true foundational pieces, but every other skill spot requires an upgrade. Chicago's receiving room is full of bad ideas. For fantasy purposes, the dream scenario for the draft would look something like this Nate Tice mock, with the Bears resetting at quarterback, then selecting an explosive receiving talent with the ninth overall pick. — Andy Behrens