The first wave of NFL free agency is moving fast, and the majority of big deals are done in the negotiation period, leading to about two weeks of bargains before teams reassess and focus on the draft.
The Chicago Bears haven’t skipped a beat, going from bigger acquisitions like linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and TJ Edwards and guard Nate Davis to smaller additions like tight end Robert Tonyan, nose tackle Andrew Billings and running back D’Onta Foreman, all of whom signed contracts on Friday.
All must be able to play meaningful roles. Tonyan offers a lot more as a receiver than last year’s No. 2 tight end, 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 earn $3.5 million on a one-year contract, projects himself as a starter on base defense, a capable running thumper who was needed if the Bears hope Edmunds and Edwards have a chance at shine.
Foreman is coming off his career-best season with the Carolina Panthers and is entering a position room set to replace the 201 runs David Mongtomery had 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 pretty much got what it paid for . Fullback Khari Blasingame and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown were re-signed after playing on one-year contracts. They made modest contributions. None of the Bears’ free agents were homers, and wide receiver Byron Pringle and defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad failed.
The Bears should get a lot more from newcomers this year. Edmunds and Edwards are hoping to lead a turnaround on defense. Davis is a solid addition for inside the line. The base additions that follow – Tonyan, Billings and Foreman – need to be more effective for the team to fill key roles with more than just backup-level players.
Looks like Getsy did a good job selling Tonyan on how he would fit into what they do.
“This offense goes through the tight ends, whether it’s blocking, passing, whatever,” Tonyan said on Friday. “Cole is a great tight end. He’s big, strong and I think adding that can complement him and me. I’m super pumped. We haven’t really talked in detail because it’s early days, but I’m just excited to walk into this building and get things done and be part of a team that’s moving in the right direction.
Billings, who started 14 games with the Las Vegas Raiders last season, is comfortable knowing he’s going to be asked to be a unique technique.
“That’s how I was 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 can see myself adapting well.”
Billings has a compact and powerful frame at 6-foot-1 and 311 pounds, and while he’s not going to help a pass that still needs a total overhaul, he can push the pocket. A scout said he played with good foot quickness and lateral movement last season. He and DeMarcus Walker believe this is just the start of the makeover on the line that could take another offseason to complete.
For a running back who entered the league in 2017, Foreman is low mileage. He had a career-high 203 carries for 914 yards and five touchdowns, becoming Carolina’s leading running back after Christian McCaffrey was traded. He’s a physical downhill runner 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 contract.
Foreman didn’t get a ton of work due to bad luck. He suffered a torn Achilles tendon as a rookie with the Houston Texans in 2017. At Indianapolis in 2019, he suffered a torn bicep. But he got 133 runs at Tennessee in 2021 and did 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 mentality, I would be doing myself a disservice. I think I would be doing the team a disservice. With all due respect, humble trust, not trying to pretend it’s anything other than exactly what it is. It’s just that I have confidence in myself and feel like I could come in and be the guy and be a guy that people rely on and I can help us win.
“I did not come here to give way to anyone. I am a team guy. I want to do whatever I can to help in whatever role they put me in, but to come here with the mindset of wanting to be the guy, wanting to be someone who can help this team and do a lot of games for that team. I know that’s my mentality and I plan to do it.
If Foreman and a few other smaller signings the Poles are doing in free agency can ‘be the guy’ it will add to a free agent class with players expected be the guy.