The Chicago Bears lack a legitimate pass-rush presence along the interior of the defensive line. Heading into free agency, finding a defender who can collapse the pocket in the face opposing quarterbacks should be a top priority.
For that reason, the Bears would be wise to pursue Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson.
Jackson is just 26-years-old and is about to enter the prime of his career. The 6-3, 293 Tennessee product had 5.0 sacks and 45 QB hurries last season, which is exceptional from a 3-4 defensive end. By comparison, Jarvis Jenkins led all Bears interior pass rushers with 28 QB hurries.
In the playoffs last season, Jackson was a man among boys and was one of the main reasons Denver was able to shut down both Tom Brady and Cam Newton en route to a champioship. Jackson topped of his career year with a fumble-recovery touchdown in the Super Bowl.
Drafted by John Fox in 2012, Jackson is familiar with Chicago's head coach, his expectations and the type of locker room he oversees. In additioin, the Bears have one of the league's top defensive coordinators in Vic Fangio, who runs a 3-4 system similar to that of the Broncos last year.
With Jackson applying pressure up the middle, along with the Bears trio of quality edge rushers squeezing the pocket from the outside, the Bears pass rush would immediately elevate to near the top of the NFC. And remember, an elite pass rush will mask any deficiencies a defense has on the back end.
Over the past three seasons, Jackson has tallied 14.0 sacks, 15 pass breakups and 2 forced fumbles.
He's considered one of the top free agent defenders on the market, so Jackson won't come cheap, but the Bears have money to spend. If they want to pay Jackson $10 million per season, that's not a problem, as GM Ryan Pace would still have plenty of cap space remaining to fill out the rest of the roster.
If the Bears are serious about turning around the defense next season, Jackson has to be priority once the opening bell rings on free agency next Wednesday, March 9th.