2024 Bears Free Agent Target: AJ Epenesa
Gregory Fisher - USA Today Sports

2024 Bears Free Agent Target: AJ Epenesa

by - Senior Writer -

After trying to get a deal done for the better part of a year, the Bears made their first big splash of the offseason by signing CB Jaylon Johnson to an extension. This wasn't just an ordinary extension, as he gets four years and $76 million dollars to become the highest-paid CB on the market. That came days after he signed the franchise tag, so you knew that a deal was imminent.

Now that he has been locked up, the Bears can begin to focus on other needs, one of which is finding another Edge rusher to pair with Montez Sweat. With some of the free agents having the franchise tag placed on them, the Bears may be in on fewer targets than they once were. That doesn't mean good names aren't available and leave it to the Buffalo Bills to have one of those names available.

After what looks to be a full-blown rebuild on the defensive side for the Bills, AJ Epenesa has emerged as a free-agent option for the Bears and one who could make a difference for this team. The fifth-year man may not have the experience that some of these others do, but he has played a ton over his career and could be a sleeper addition to an already young and improving defense.

With a projected salary of six million per season, Epenesa would be a much cheaper option and someone with more upside than many realize. Despite making just one start in 2023, Epenesa was very active on the defensive side, playing in 15 games for the Bills. During those games, he didn't make a ton of tackles, but the ones he made proved to be massive plays.

Epenesa finished the season with 20 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 10 QB hits, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, two interceptions, and one INT touchdown. In other words, he is a playmaker who is always around the ball and can do a lot of things on the defensive side. Matt Eberflus looks for that from his defense, and this seems like the perfect pairing for both parties.

Epenesa enjoyed an excellent four-year career with the Bills and has been a versatile player who has moved all across the line. The Bears defense is looking to have more of that next season, as they want versatility just as much as pure skill. While getting to the quarterback was his best attribute last season, he can also set the edge using his excellent speed and power combo, which helps make him a run-stopper.

Ideally, you would love to add a guy with plenty of starting experience, but although Epenesa only started one game, he played more than some of the starters on that Bills defense. That alone helped him have a career year and has teams wondering what else he has left. Set to enter the prime of his career, this offseason will be the first time Epenesa hits the free agent market, as it will give him a chance to pick his next home.

Not only that, but he will be given a chance to go to the right situation, hoping to become a full-time starter on the defensive side. Every player wants to start, and for Epenesa, that is no different, as he is looking for more opportunities to remain a key contributor. That would happen in Buffalo, but his best chances at starting would be with another team.

When you look at the Bears' needs this offseason, especially on the defensive side, adding an EDGE rusher is at the top of their list. Adding Sweat and signing him to that extension last season does help, but with Yannick Ngakoue a free agent and DeMarcus Walker still unproven, there is a massive void on the other side of Sweat.

Walker proved he can play last season, but he is best suited as a rotational piece, so the Bears are looking to upgrade his position. Behind those two, this team doesn't have a ton of depth, and they want to find an ideal complement to Sweat to have multiple players capable of changing a game. Epenesa could be that guy and, at the very least, would give Chicago an excellent 1-2 punch on the Edge that offenses will have to account for.

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