Bears must work on gaining an offseason edge through free agency

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • NFC linebacker Shaquil Barrett, of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, (58) hands sun glasses back to running back Alvin Kamara, of the New Orleans Saints, (41) during a practice for the NFL Pro Bowl football game Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla.

    NFC linebacker Shaquil Barrett, of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, (58) hands sun glasses back to running back Alvin Kamara, of the New Orleans Saints, (41) during a practice for the NFL Pro Bowl football game Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla. Associated Press

 
By Arthur Arkush
aarkush@profootballweekly.com
Updated 2/17/2020 9:19 PM

The Bears, like most teams, are searching this offseason for the next Shaq Barrett, who slipped through the cracks in 2019 free agency to Tampa Bay on a one-year, $4 million contract, only to lead the NFL with 19½ sacks.

With 14 combined sacks his first five seasons, Barrett became the first defender in 23 years to pace the NFL in that department after switching teams the previous offseason. Although he snapped a five-year drought of non first-rounders earning the sack title, Barrett did so as the first former undrafted player in 22 years, following Hall of Famer John Randle.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Could the Bears procure Barrett's services? The impending free agent, 27, is projected to command an annual salary around $15 million -- more than the Bears' current total cap allowance.

However rare Barrett's ascension, what clues were there for all to see but only the Bucs to seize that can be gleaned by the Bears as they look to bolster the pass rush opposite Pro Bowler Khalil Mack and a unit that sunk from No. 9 in the NFL in sack percentage to 27th?

Barrett became an afterthought following the selection of Bradley Chubb under a lame-duck staff in his final season in Denver despite solid production the year prior. Each of his three productive seasons in the NFL came in new defensive schemes. And his tape has always been better than his testing numbers.

Before trying to unearth impending free agents who may be flying below the radar, a reminder we highlighted the big-ticket alternatives -- including Barrett -- before the weekend, when we declared the Bears' top offseason priority on defense is addressing their pass rush.

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We mentioned the need for Ryan Pace to strike the proper balance between aggressiveness and creativity in his efforts to supplement if not supplant Leonard Floyd as the team's strongside rusher and 1C pressure provider after Mack and Akiem Hicks.

Would one of these players fill the bill:

Emmanuel Ogbah, Chiefs

Ogbah played slightly more than 37% of the snaps for the Super Bowl champs, clearly behind prize trade acquisition Frank Clark and fellow former second-rounder Tanoh Kpassagnon. He matched a career high with 5½ sacks, compared to Floyd's career-low 3 in more than twice the snaps. Ogbah matches Pace's edge profile as a vine-armed rusher with athleticism, though he wins more with power, while Floyd relies on bend and burst.

Jeremiah Attaochu, Broncos

Is Attaochu poised to be the next former Bronco who puts his best foot forward upon leaving Denver? He was decent, posting 3 sacks as the injury fill-in for Chubb, in his first season with the Broncos, where he worked under defensive mastermind Vic Fangio and alongside stud Von Miller. He's 27 and has always been impressive off the hoof with intriguing pass-rush tools. Pace has twice opted in free agency to bypass Attaochu and instead insure his EDGE stable with Aaron Lynch, though we don't expect Lynch back for a third season with the Bears.

Vic Beasley, Falcons

The Clemson Combine destroyer selected one spot after Kevin White -- Pace's first-ever draft pick -- is the most well-known name on the list. He led the NFL with 15½ sacks in his second season and posted 8 on the fifth-year team option last season but has only 14 combined in his other three years, which is more enigmatic than Floyd. What Beasley has never had is a beast like Mack across from him, but we suspect the uber athlete may have a fan in Pace.

Jabaal Sheard, Colts

Approaching his age 31 campaign and a decade in the league, Sheard is the most established player on our list and hardly a spring chicken or unknown quantity. Yet he's always been an underrated player in our estimation -- with ties to Chuck Pagano and Ted Monachino (Colts) and Chris Tabor (Browns). Sheard is a professional pass rusher and solid two-way defender likely to be had on a more reasonable short-term deal than Floyd's, and his production continues to compare favorably to that of the Bears' incumbent "Sam" backer.

Vince Biegel, Dolphins

This potential acquisition would require Pace to be quite creative. Biegel is restricted in Miami, where Dolphins GM Chris Grier has no financial restrictions and no additional legitimate pass-rushing prospects. Biegel came out of nowhere as a former Packers third-rounder to establish himself with a team-high 9 QB knockdowns and 18 pressures. His best football appears to be in front of him, and Biegel, like Floyd, has a fairly rounded skillset.

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