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Former Philadelphia Eagles free agents try to give Chicago Bears direction on both sides of the ball

Chicago Bears safety Kevin Byard speaks during an NFL football press conference Thursday, March 14, 2024, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — D’Andre Swift is focused on doing his job in his first season with the Chicago Bears. The running back likes Justin Fields, but the team's quarterback situation is outside of his control.

Swift and safety Kevin Byard were formally introduced Thursday as two of the team's new free agent additions. The Bears also announced they had agreed to a one-year contract with offensive lineman Coleman Shelton, pending a physical.

There has been no word just yet on Fields, who made 38 starts in his first three seasons with the team. Chicago is expected to take a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft, likely Southern California's Caleb Williams, and that means Fields is in limbo at the moment.

The 25-year-old Swift was Fields’ teammate at Georgia before the dynamic QB transferred to Ohio State.

“I’ve always been a Justin Fields fan — from Georgia to when he was in high school once I first found out about him,” Swift said. “I feel like he hasn’t even touched the ceiling of who he can be. I’m excited to see him keep going.”

Swift said he hadn’t talked to the team or Fields about the situation.

“Yeah, Justin’s my guy,” Swift said. “That’s a decision for the people up in those offices. I can’t really focus on that too much. I have to worry about my job and my task at hand.

“I’m sure that’s a decision that they will make.”

Swift does plan to have a big part in the Bears' plans, although his situation could be nearly as awkward as what is going on with Fields.

Swift became very familiar with his new team through his first three NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions, facing Chicago twice a year. He gained 1,680 yards on 365 rushing attempts for Detroit, and then went on to a career-best 1,049 yards on 229 carries for the Eagles in 2023.

“It seems like the division is wide open,” Swift said of the NFC North. “Yeah. 100 percent. I feel like the division is wide open for whoever wants to take it.”

Swift might be back in the division where he started, but he is leaving home. The Philadelphia native has fond memories of his first home game for the Eagles last year against the Minnesota Vikings. He gained a career-high 175 yards on 28 carries.

“That game I was just locked in," Swift said. "I was blocking out the crowd, everything. It was one I’ll remember for sure.”

Swift joins a crowded running backs room with 2023 starter Khalil Herbert and second-year back Roschon Johnson.

How the carries are divided is yet to be determined.

“I think I speak for any running back you need touches to get a feel for the game, and the more touches you get the game kind of slows down for you and it comes a little bit, I wouldn’t say easier, but you make a little bit more things happen,” Swift said.

The Eagles moved on from Swift to free agent Saquon Barkley, just as they moved on from the new Bears safety, Byard. They acquired Byard in a trade last year with Tennessee, but the 30-year-old veteran isn’t looking to prove Philadelphia made a mistake by cutting him just before free agency.

“I’ve never been in the business of trying to prove anybody wrong,” Byard said. “I’m in the business of trying to prove myself right. Over my entire career, if I’m underrated or anything like that, I just try to prove myself right.”

Byard gives the Bears a veteran presence in a promising young secondary, replacing Eddie Jackson.

Jackson missed 13 games over the last three seasons. Byard hasn’t missed a game in eight years, and he thinks his durability is something that can help him become a defensive leader.

“I think one of the best ways you earn their respect is by showing up every single day, working extremely hard, studying in the classroom, practicing,” Byard said. “I’ve never missed practice before in my career, other than for the birth of my children.

“Being available, being there, being a good resource, I think once you earn their respect you can kinda gain, not that leverage, but that respect of the guys.”

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