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Chicago Bears Free Agency Day One Recap: Two former Eagles fly to the Windy City

After locking up All-Pro corner Jaylon Johnson before the new league year officially began, the Chicago Bears went to work on day one of the legal tampering period of NFL Free Agency. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, general manager Ryan Poles made the first move of the day by signing former Philadelphia Eagles running back D'Andre Swift to a three-year $24 million deal with $15.3 million fully guaranteed.

Swift is coming off his best season as a pro, running over 1,000 yards for the first time in his four-year career (1,064), with five touchdowns on the ground while providing another 214 yards receiving and a single touchdown. Those numbers got him selected to his first Pro Bowl with the Eagles after spending his first three seasons with the Detroit Lions. Swift brings an explosive element to the Chicago offense that is sorely needed from the Bears running backs. While the Bears were still a great running team with Justin Fields leading the way, the Bears running backs ranked 22nd in the league in first downs by backs. Swift ranked 18th in the league with 50 first downs, while the closest Bear was Justin Fields at 24 (43) and the closest tailback was Khalil Herbert at 50 (25). The former Georgia Bulldog also had 23 runs over 10 yards and forced 45 missed tackles.

The idea of paying a running back in 2024 this much is a little iffy, but I think this was an underrated need for the Bears. I like Herbert and Roschon Johnson but as complementary backs to a No. 1 back, which Chicago is hoping Swift will be. Whether he can have the same production with a worse offensive line than the one he's leaving behind in Philly will be the biggest question for Swift in Chicago. Yet, if he can show off some of these moves from his 2023 season in 2024, the Bears running back room has a chance to be one of the most dynamic in the league.

Kevin Byard

Poles also had the first signing before the legal tampering period opened on Monday, by signing former Titans and Eagles safety Kevin Byard to a two-year $15 million deal. The Bears decided to cut former All-Pro safety Eddie Jackson, who was due $18 million for 2024 alone and had taken a few steps back since his incredible 2018 season. The safety market is absolutely flush with talent, with the likes of Justin Simmons, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, and Quandre Diggs still yet to be signed. What stands out for Byard compared to Jackson is three main things: availability, coverage, and tackling.

Courtesy of Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times on Twitter/X, he posted the PFF grades between Jackson and Byard. Before even getting into the scores, the first thing that stands out is that Byard has been very healthy in his eight-year NFL career, playing over 1,000 snaps in seven straight seasons, while Jackson has only done that three times during his seven years (last time was in 2020). A consistent veteran presence next to third-year safety Jaquan Brisker will make an already talented Chicago secondary even more dangerous.

Then when you take a look at his coverage and tackling numbers, you see why Poles jumped on Philadelphia native. Byard has never had a season below a 60 coverage grade and at least one interception every year except his rookie season. It was a major drop for Byard in 2023 compared to his 2021 All-Pro season and even his 2022 campaign. Between Tennessee and Philly, "The Mayor of Murfreesboro," had just one interception and three passes defended in 16 games. All of that came in the 10 games he played with the Eagles. In terms of his tackling, Byard has been one of the best DBs in the league at not missing tackles, one of Jackson's biggest weaknesses. In 2023, Byard had a missed tackle rate of 6.8%, while Jackson missed tackles at a rate of 14.3%. I'm willing to chalk up some of his counting stats falling off due to being in a rebuilding year with the Titans and being traded mid-season to a Matt Praticia lead defense. Say what you want about Matt Eberflus, (trust me I have) but he knows how to build and coach a defense, so I expect a bounce-back season from Byard.

While it wasn't the massive spending spree or getting the marquee guys like Saquon Barkley or Christian Wilkins, this was a solid first couple of days of free agency for Chicago. They made two moves to improve two positions of need at a relatively good price for each deal.

I'll keep you updated on all the Bears free agency moves on Twitter/X (@JGrossBucks) as we head into day two of NFL Free Agency.


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