When the Chicago Bears cut 23 players to reach the original 53-man roster on Tuesday, head coach Matt Eberflux said the lineup would continue to be tweaked throughout the season.
The Bears largely mixed it up Wednesday, claiming the league-high six players were exempt, including guard Alec Alec, who was drafted in the first round (17th overall) by the Las Vegas Raiders last year. S. Leatherwood. The Jacksonville Jaguars are close behind with five players.
The Bears also added tight end Trevin Wesco (New York Jets) and four defensive players — cornerback Josh Blackwell (Philadelphia Eagles), defensive end Kingsley Jonathan ( Buffalo Bills), forward Amon Watts (Minnesota Vikings) and linebacker Sterling Weatherford (Indianapolis Colts).
The Bears, seventh in the waiver application process under the 2022 draft order, released nose tackle Khyiris Tonga who appeared ready to start along with cornerback Duke Shelley, linebackers Zach Thomas and linebackers Joe Thomas and Caleb Johnson .
They also put wide receiver Taj Sharp on the injured bench because of a rib problem to make room for the rookie. Sharp will not be able to return this year.
It’s no surprise that Bears general manager Ryan Poles and his staff are busy. The Pole was on the Kansas City Chiefs staff in 2013 when first-year general manager John Dorsey enforced seven waivers at the start of coach Andy Reid’s campaign.
That includes safety Ron Parker, cornerback Marcus Cooper and defensive end Jay Howard. All signed lucrative multi-year contracts, and Cooper and Howard ended up playing for the Bears. Linebackers Dezman Moses and James Michael Johnson and tight end Sean McGrath also played big roles for the Chiefs.
If the Bears get half of their production from their claim, it will be a success. One of Eberflus’ favorite players in Indianapolis also made a waiver request. The Colts made six claims in 2017, the first year for general manager Chris Ballard, who was also on Dorsey’s staff in Kansas City in 2013. Among those waived waivers was Nickel cornerback Kenny Moore, who was waived by the New England Patriots.
Leatherwood is interesting because of the talent he came out of Alabama last year. Former Raiders general manager Mike Mayok has been criticized for picking such a tall interior forward, and plans to play Leatherwood at right tackle last season turned into a disaster as he played in Week 5. Pushed to inside defense before meeting with Bears at Allegiant Stadium.
Eberflus said he learned from mentor Rod Marinelli, who was on the Las Vegas staff last season, as well as assistant offensive line coach Austin King and defensive line coach Travis Smith. Got positive reviews for Leatherwood, both working for the Raiders in 2021.
“We studied him on tape. We watched him. All we got was good reports,” Eberflus said. “We’ll see where he goes from here. He’ll develop his game.”
The Raiders overhauled the team, and new general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels clearly didn’t like what they saw. Leatherwood is obtained by trade, but no one is interested.
By taking Leatherwood, the Bears will have $5.9 million left in his contract guaranteed. So the Raiders are happy to see their former No. 1 pick being claimed.
The 338-pound Tongan team started all three preseason games, but the Bears have been looking for a leaner, more muscular athlete.
Watts had five sacks as the Vikings’ interior forward last season, mostly off the bench. He is due to pay $2.54 million in the final year of his contract. Watts and Angelo Blackson are candidates to start alongside Justin Jones.
Wesco is a 2019 fourth-round pick from West Virginia. He has appeared in 40 games for the Jets over the past three seasons, mostly as a blocker and special team. He has six career receptions.
Blackwell (Duke), Jonathan (Syracuse) and Weatherford (Miami, Ohio) are all undrafted free agents this spring. Weatherford has excelled on special teams in the preseason.
The Bears announced the signing of 14 players to practice on Wednesday: tight end Chase Allen; defensive linemen Trevon Coley, Micah Dew-Treadway and Sam Kamara; offensive lineman Dieter Etheron and Lacavius Simmons; wide receivers Isaiah Coulter and Nsimba Webster; running back Darlington Evans; quarterback Nathan Peterman; linebacker DeMarquez Gates; Daventa Harris and AJ Thomas.
The team is expected to sign offensive tackle Kellen Diesch to the practice class soon.