2024 Bears Free Agent Target: Antoine Winfield Jr.
Kirby Lee - USA Today Sports

2024 Bears Free Agent Target: Antoine Winfield Jr.

by - Senior Writer -

Although a bit of a shocking, yet not surprising move, the Chicago Bears chose to part ways with Eddie Jackson after a seven-year run with the franchise. The former All-Pro Safety and captain of the defense became the highest-paid safety in the game. After showing why the Bears made him the highest-paid safety, Jackson went through a series of injuries before embarking on three consecutive down years.

Granted, this season was much better than his 2021 and 2022 showings, but it still wasn't at the level needed to earn that contract, so the Bears elected to move on from him. There is a chance the Bears could try to resign him at a cheaper deal, but given how fans felt about him the past few years, that doesn't seem like a likely or even a great decision for this organization.

His absence will open up a massive hole on this defense that will need to be replaced, and whether you want to believe it or not, Jackson's leadership will be tough to replicate. Looking at potential fits to replace Jackson, there isn't much to choose from, but there is one safety on the open market head and shoulders above the rest as Antoine Winfield Jr could be the Bears next great safety.

Son of former NFL great Antoine Winfield, Winfield Jr has been one of the best safeties in the game for the better part of five seasons and will now hit the open market looking to get paid like it. A bit undersized when you think of most safeties, Winfield Jr makes up for that with a high football IQ and has played at an all-pro level for the better part of five seasons. With an expected contract figure in the 17-20 million range, he could soon become the highest-paid safety in the league, but he has proven he is worth that kind of money.

When you look at the overall success of the Buccanneers the past few seasons, Tom Brady played a massive part in that, but so did their defense. Not only were they excellent at stopping the run, but they also had some excellent playmakers on the back end, with Winfield Jr. being the best of them all. This past season was a prime example of that, as he was all over the field, making 122 total tackles, six tackles for loss, six forced fumbles, six sacks, 12 pass deflections, and three interceptions (17 games). Those are more or less LB numbers and not safety numbers, so you can see how active he is on defense.

A big reason for the increase in tackles this season, as opposed to seasons in the past, was the defensive scheme that Todd Bowels put in place last season. As part of that scheme, he wanted Winfield Jr to play closer to the line of scrimmage as opposed to the deep coverage side of things. That decision benefitted both Winfield and the team as he went on to have the best season of his career while helping the Bucs reach the NFC divisional round in the playoffs.

Knowing what worked for Winfield Jr this past season, teams will look into that and try to lure him to their organization. The Bears are one of those teams and, realistically, are the one team that could allow him to play the same way he did in 2023 due to the Matt Eberflus system. With a young star in Jaquon Brisker, known more for his pass coverage, adding a guy like Winfield and his 91.2 PFF grade would be huge and would give the Bears arguably the best safety tandem in the NFL.

With Jackson out of the picture, the safety position suddenly becomes a high priority for the Bears, and unless someone can step up on this roster, free agency looks like the route they would take. Expected to make a few big moves this offseason. Adding Winfield Jr. would undoubtedly be a massive move, and it could be the one move that goes overlooked during the entire offseason.

Not only would he fit this scheme perfectly, but when you look at how he plays, this seems like a match made in heaven for both parties. His resume speaks for itself, but when you look at the schematical side of things, the Bear's scheme fits his playstyle better than most, if not all, other teams. Winfield Jr. is a do-it-all player, which Eberflus loves.

He can play close to the line of scrimmage in a pseudo-linebacker role, sit back in coverage and read the eyes of opposing quarterbacks, and be highly effective at getting to the QB on the blitz. That sounds like the Jackson of old and the way Brisker is now, so you can see the fit. Should the Bears make this move and go in this direction, you are looking at a defense that will be the best in the NFC North and could emerge as a top-five unit next season.

Comment on this story
Send Feedback to Dustin Riese: Email | Comment
Post your comments!