Bears Projected to Reunite With Former $10.5 Million Starter in 2024

Yannick Ngakoue Chicago Bears News Bears Free Agents Bears Targets Austin Booker

Getty Bears head coach Matt Eberflus.

The Chicago Bears have vastly improved their roster over the past few months between free agency and the 2024 NFL draft, but could lingering needs on their defensive line push them to reunite with edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue?

A potential reunion between the Bears and Ngakoue has been floated a few times since the conclusion of the 2024 draft. Most recently, Windy City Gridiron’s Bill Zimmerman raised the subject in his “way too early” 53-man roster projection, saying that Ngakoue makes “too much sense” not to re-sign for the 2024 season.

“I think the Bears sign an additional veteran here and I think Ngakoue makes too much sense,” Zimmerman wrote on May 3. “He didn’t have a great 2023 season in Chicago, but he knows the Matt Eberflus’ system and it’s not like there are veterans available who were wildly productive in 2023. The bottom of this group is weak.”

Ngakoue signed a one-year, $10.5 million contract with the Bears just before the start of training camp last year and opened the 2023 season as their top defensive end starter, but he finished with the fewest sacks (four) and pressures (34) of his eight-year career. He also broke his ankle in December and spent the final four games on injured reserve.

Still, Ngakoue could be a quality reinforcement for the Bears now that he is healthy. They added Jake Martin in free agency and traded into the fifth round to draft Austin Booker, but the 29-year-old Ngakoue has 69 career sacks and would raise the bar for their depth alongside star Montez Sweat and returning starter DeMarcus Walker.

Could Bears Re-Sign Yannick Ngakoue for Less in 2024?

The Bears paid a pretty penny to sign Ngakoue in 2023, even adding him as late in the summer as they did. This offseason, though, they are likely unwilling — and unable — to spend so much money on a single veteran addition at any position.

According to Over the Cap projections, the Bears will have roughly $12.5 million in effective cap space after signing their five 2024 draft picks. They will also want to set aside a good chunk of it for potential in-season expenses, such as acquiring a veteran player in a trade at the midseason deadline or signing a free agent to offset an injury.

Of course, things are a little more manageable if they can add back Ngakoue for much less than they spent to sign him in 2023. While Ngakoue is still a talented pass rusher and will not turn 30 until after next season, he is coming off his worst season yet and a significant injury last year. Wherever he signs, it will likely be for less than $10 million.

Would Ngakoue be willing to sign for as low as $3 million, the amount the Tampa Bay Buccaneers agreed to pay veteran Randy Gregory to sign with them for 2024? If so, then Zimmerman is right; A reunion makes too much sense for the Bears to avoid it.

Bears May Still Avoid Yannick Ngakoue & Other Vets

The Bears may feel the need to explore the veteran edge rusher market over the next few months. Even if re-signing Ngakoue does not appeal to them, one of the other free agents — perhaps Emmanuel Ogbah or Carl Lawson — could make sense for them.

That said, Chicago could always take the other route and throw Booker into the fire.

The Bears have not shied away from throwing rookies into their starting lineup over the first two seasons of Eberflus’ tenure. Braxton Jones and Jaquan Brisker were both Day 1 starters in 2022, while Darnell Wright and Tyrique Stevenson continued the trend in 2023. While Booker is raw and might not be quite ready for such a crucial role, it could benefit both him and the Bears defense if he works into the rotation early on.

Booker looked explosive during his lone season as a starter for Kansas in 2023, putting up 56 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss, eight sacks and two forced fumbles. The Bears may need time to help him tap into that at the NFL level, but it helps to have a rising star in Sweat who can take him under his wing and teach him the tools of the trade.

Who knows? If Booker is a quick study, it is possible he could make an early impact.

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