2024 Bears Free Agent Target: Brian Burns
Morgan Tencza - USA Today Sports

2024 Bears Free Agent Target: Brian Burns

by - Senior Writer -

While most of the attention is about to shift to the MLB season, and rightfully so, let's remember that the busiest time of the NFL offseason is nearly here. While the NFL Combine takes center stage in the coming days, you also have the beginning of free agency set to begin, which is when the Chicago Bears, along with everyone, can take the first steps to improve their team.

Looking at the upcoming free agent class, you immediately notice many names, such as Jaylon Johnson, Eddie Jackson, Yannick Ngakoue, Justin Jones, Darnell Mooney, Mercedes Lewis, and D'Onta Foreman, who will all be looking for homes. Those were all guys on last year's Bears roster, and except for Johnson, who is looking for a long-term deal, it doesn't appear that anyone will be back.

While former Bears are aplenty in this year's class, so are some other big names that will help this Bears team get back to playoff contention and perhaps even more. One of those names has been linked to the Bears the past two seasons as a possible trade candidate, and now that he is a free agent, the Bears have their shot at getting him without giving up assets.

One of the key factors and the leader of the Carolina Panthers defense, the 25-year-old Burns, is entering free agency for the first time and is expected to have a plethora of suitors this offseason. Chicago will undoubtedly be one of them, and with an expected contract of 21 million per season, the Bears will have to fork out some dough, but it would be well worth it to add him to this defense, which is starting to become a top-10 unit.

There hasn't been much that has gone right for the Panthers as of late, especially last season, but Burns was one of the lone bright spots on either side of the ball. This past season, Burns came away with 50 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, 18 QB hits, two pass breakups, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery (16 starts). The sacks alone would put him right up there with Montez Sweat, and that alone is a massive get for this team up front.

Burns entered last season wanting a long-term deal from the Panthers, but after neither side could come to an agreement, he settled on the 16.7 million dollar fifth-year option. Keep in mind that Burns was coming off a career year in 2022 when he had 12.5 sacks, so with only eight sacks last year, you could consider that a down year, even if it was a good year all around.

From a stat line perspective, Burns did a little bit of a dip in 2023, but he was still a menace on that side of the ball as he recorded at least one sack in seven of the Panthers games last season. You also have to consider the injuries the Panthers defense dealt with throughout the season, putting more attention on Burns, who admitted he was nervous entering last season after not securing that long-term deal.

Burns had his second-best season, per Pro Football Focus, with a 74.1 overall grade, including strong marks in pass rush (75.2) and run defense (63.2), and started in all 16 games he played in. Ironically, the only game he didn't suit up for was against the Chicago Bears, which the Bears won.

With most of the attention gravitating towards the offense and what type of changes are coming, some need to remember to realize that adding EDGE rushers or, at the very least, a consistent pass rush is equally important. Sweat was phenomenal last season, but he will need more help next season for this pass rush to take off.

Adding Burns would give the Bears that help, as defenses wouldn't be able to double-team either of them, putting them in a lot of 1v1 situations on the line. After losing guys like Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith and several others the past three seasons, the Bears pass rush has been minimal at best, but finally showed sings of life during the second half of the season.

Burns would fill the void that some of these guys once occupied and fits the mold of a disruptive pass rusher on the defensive side. Throw in that he is still just 25 years old, Burns has already produced at a high level, and he is about to enter his prime as a player. Should they add him for multiple years alongside Sweat, you will have two players capable of double-digit sacks each season.

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