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Latest moves of GM Ryan Poles

The NFL’s new league year will officially kick off on Wednesday at 3 p.m. But the free agency frenzy begins at 11 a.m. Monday morning, allowing teams to begin contract negotiations with players who will hit the open market.

The Chicago Bears, under the control of general manager Ryan Poles, will enter free agency with plenty of room under the NFL’s inflated $255.4 million salary cap for 2024. This opens the door for the Poles to be aggressive in the open market if they wish. But the third-year GM took a practical, disciplined approach to free agency during the first two offseasons and could pick his spot again by choosing how to invest wisely.

As the action heats up, the Tribune is covering all the Bears-related news around the league. Here’s our snapshot of what’s happening so far.

March 8

The Bears are re-signing long snapper Patrick Scales to a one-year contract. his representative tweeted.

What does it mean: Scales, the Bears’ longest-tenured player, is returning on a guaranteed deal worth more than $1 million, according to NFL Network. Scales, 36, has played in 120 games since joining the Bears in 2015. He is part of the team that has helped Cairo Santos score more than 91% of their goals in three of the last four seasons. Santos signed a four-year, $16 million extension in December.

The bears announced two more moves on Friday. They renegotiated and extended wide receiver Collin Johnson, who played in three games and made one catch last season. And most recently, they signed a contract with shortstop Tarvarius Moore, who plays for the San Francisco 49ers in 2022. Moore was with the Green Bay Packers in 2023 training camp, but he suffered a knee injury and they released him in a deal. He has started 13 NFL games since 2018.

March 5

The Bears signed cornerback Jaylon Johnson a four-year, $76 million contract.

Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson throws an interception for a touchdown against the Raiders at Soldier Field on Oct. 22, 2023. (Trent Sprague/Chicago Tribune)

What does it mean: Two days after the Bears applied the franchise tag to Johnson, the two sides reached a deal that reportedly included $54 million in guarantees and could have the team’s top cornerback in Chicago through 2027. Drafted in 2020, Johnson was taken 50th overall. He earned second-team All-Pro honors in the Pro Bowl last season, capping off a breakout year in which he had four interceptions and established himself as one of the league’s best cornerbacks.

Johnson hasn’t been shy about expressing his desire to cash in on his second contract, aiming to be rewarded as one of the league’s best defenders. At the NFL scouting group, Poles emphasized to Johnson that the Bears made an offer that he believed was fair in terms of cash value, guaranteed money and term length. A little more than a week later, they reached an agreement.

February 15

bears released safety Eddie Jackson and offensive lineman Cody Whitehair.

Bears safety Eddie Jackson celebrates after a victory over the Panthers on Nov. 9, 2023 at Soldier Field.  (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)
Bears safety Eddie Jackson celebrates after a victory over the Panthers on Nov. 9, 2023, at Soldier Field. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

What does it mean: Jackson and Whitehair played their entire careers with the Bears, were team captains at different points, and were entering the final year of their contracts.

A second-round draft pick in 2016, Whitehair started 118 games as a center and guard over eight seasons, including 11 games in 2023. Jackson, a fourth-round pick in 2017, started 100 games in seven seasons, including 12 last season. Jackson, an All-Pro in 2018, left the Bears with 15 career interceptions, 44 passes defensed, 10 forced fumbles, six return touchdowns and 459 tackles.

According to overthecap.com, cutting Whitehair would net $9.15 million in salary cap space, while cutting Jackson would net $12.56 million.

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