The Bears, like most teams in football, are searching this offseason for the next Shaq Barrett, who slipped through the cracks in 2019 free agency to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a one-year, $4-million contract, only to lead the NFL with 19 ½ sacks.
With only 14 combined sacks in 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 only 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.
Frankly, then, the Bears might have better luck attempting to procure Barrett’s services. After all, he’s an impending free agent only approaching his age-27 campaign. Of course, after all those sacks, he’s projected to command an annual salary around $15 million — more than the Bears’ current total cap allowance.
Back to the drawing board it is.
However rare Barrett’s ascension, what clues were there for all to see but only the Bucs to seize that possibly can be gleaned by the Bears as they look to bolster the pass rushing output opposite Pro Bowler Khalil Mack and a unit that sunk from No. 9 in the NFL 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 season 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 we attempt to unearth a few impending free agents who may match this criterion or are otherwise seemingly flying below the radar, a reminder that we highlighted the big-ticket alternatives — including Barrett — before the weekend, when we declared that the Bears’ top offseason priority on ‘D’ is in fact addressing their pass rush.
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 strong-side rusher and 1C pressure provider after Mack and Akiem Hicks.
Would one of these players perhaps fill the bill?
Emmanuel Ogbah, Chiefs
Ogbah played slightly more than 37 percent of the total defensive snaps for the Super Bowl champs, clearly behind prize trade acquisition Frank Clark and fellow former second-rounder Tanoh Kpassagnon. Yet he matched a career high with 5 ½ sacks, compared to Floyd’s career-low 3 in more than twice the snaps. Ogbah matches Ryan 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 three 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 still only 27, and has always been impressive off the hoof with intriguing pass-rush tools. But it’s worth noting Pace has twice opted in free agency to insure his EDGE stable instead with Aaron Lynch.
Vic Beasley, Falcons
Obviously, he’s the most well-known name on the list, the Clemson Combine destroyer selected one spot after Kevin White became Pace’s first-ever draft pick. He led the NFL with 15 ½ sacks in his second season and posted 8 on the fifth-year team option this past season but has only 14 combined in his other three years, nothing if not enigmatic, even more so than Floyd. What Beasley has never had is a monster across from him like Mack, 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. That’s what Biegel came out of nowhere as a former Packers third-rounder to establish himself as 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 game including tantalizing rush potential.