2014 NFL Off-Season: Latest news on Bears plans in free agency

2014 NFL Off-Season: Latest news on Bears plans in free agency
Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune

After re-signing defensive tackle Nate Collins and quarterback Jordan Palmer on Sunday, the Bears still have 16 more of their own free-agents to make decisions on before or after the start of free agency on Tuesday afternoon.

Top free-agents for the Bears include cornerback Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, Josh McCown and D.J. Williams.

Williams appears to be close to inking a deal to stay with the Bears, while McCown could earn a big pay raise from a team in desperate need of quarterback help. Tillman in the meantime keeps getting inquiries about a possible switch to safety from club officials, while he rehabs from off-season triceps surgery.

It shouldn't be shocking to hear that Williams will be returning. He will get a shot to compete for the starting middle linebacker job once again with Jon Bostic. Mutual interest was apparent from both sides all off-season.

However, what should fans expect with McCown's future in the windy city?

McCown told ESPN's Mike and Mike on Monday that four teams are interested in him. The Bears are clearly one of them, while teams like the Jets, Bucs and Texans are rumored to be in the running, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Bears general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman stated at the NFL Combine that they want the soon to be 35-year old veteran back, but it could come down to where the better opportunity lies not the money.

“When he’s ready to say, ‘I want to come back.' I know Phil [Emery] is going to do everything he can and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure he is," Trestman said about McCown last month in Indianapolis.

McCown likes what is going on in Chicago and you can't blame him. They gave him a chance after he was coaching high school football and out of a high-paying job in the NFL.

"You never know what's going to happen, but you're right," McCown said on Mike and Mike. "To leave Chicago, it'll be a situation where I'm going to look to compete to start and to be able to grow more as a player. The only way you can do that as a player is to be on the field."

Pass Rushers in Sight

On Sunday, it appeared as the Bears were eyeing defensive end Michael Bennett as their top target. The older brother of tight end Martellus, who made a great impact in his first season in Chicago in 2013, Bennett has decided to stay put in Seattle.

ProFootballTalk reports that the Seahawks have come to terms with Bennett on a four-year, $28.5 million deal keeping him off the market. The deal comes with $16 million in guaranteed money. The Bears were among two teams that offered him more money than Seattle, but Bennett stayed faithful.

Bennett was at the Seahawks facilities for a longtime on Sunday afternoon, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport despite all the chatter coming from the Bears. Martellus didn't get the gift he was likely hoping for on his 27th birthday with a family reunion.

The Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs said this in a tweet earlier Monday: "One source says #Bears offering $8.5 million per year for Michael Bennett and #Seahawks at $8 million annually. That is word around league."

Bennett, who played an integral part in the Super Bowl run for the Seahawks, posted 8.5 sacks and 31 tackles in 16 games in 2013. Prior to landing a one-year, $5 million deal with Seattle last off-season, he spent his first four seasons in Tampa, where he racked up 15 sacks (nine in 2012).

The 6-foot-4, 274-pound Bennett has the ability to kick inside on top of his natural position at defensive end, where he's thrived. His versatility is what made him so important to the success of the Seahawks defense.

Now with Bennett off the market, the Bears are reportedly pushing hard to sign talented defensive end Lamarr Houston per Rapoport.

Houston, 26, is a 6-3, 300-pound end whose appeared in all 64 games, making 59 starts since being drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the second-round of the 2010 draft.

The Texas product has 16.5 sacks along with 226 tackles, one interception in four forced fumbles in his career. Houston posted career-highs in sacks (6), tackles (69) and forced fumbles (2) in 2013.

He isn't your prototypical end at his current height and weight, but he is quick and can play tackle as well which is a big plus. The Packers have been reported to have interest as well.

Houston wouldn't be a bad replacement for the soon to be released Julius Peppers, who the Bears have been shopping around on Monday trying to garner interest.

Plus Houston won't be nearly as expensive as Bennett, who they failed to reel in before the start free agency. It would be an interesting signing since he isn't a known commodity coming out of Oakland.

Houston, who played on 947 defensive snaps a season ago is ranked as the third best defensive end available one spot behind Michael Johnson and one ahead of Bennett by Rotoworld.

Speaking of Johnson, the five-year NFL veteran has reportedly been contacted by seven teams this weekend, including the Bears.

ESPN's Josina Anderson is reporting that it's "highly unlikely" that Johnson will be back in Cincy.

The 6-foot-7 Georgia product has 26.5 sacks, three interceptions and three fumbles in his time in Cincinnati. Despite posting only 3.5 sacks in 2013, the 27-year-old racked up 56 tackles, one interception and two forced fumbles, a season after adding a career-high 11.5 sacks.

Some other older and cheaper options at defensive end could include Justin Tuck, Will Smith or recently released Jason Babin.

Safety Help

The Bears' defense as a whole flat out stunk last season, but the secondary played a huge part in the failures, specifically the safeties.

Chris Conte and Major Wright proved to be wildly inconsistent up until the very last play of the season against Green Bay, which cost them a playoff spot.

But help could soon be on its way. The Bears are interested in free-agent safeties Mike Mitchell and Ryan Mundy, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Mitchell has six interceptions in five seasons, including four in 2013 with the Panthers. Mundy was a career backup until last season, where he added 77 tackles, one sack and one interception with the New York Giants.

According to SFGate.com, the Bears are among three teams other than the 49ers that showed interest in signing Donte Whitner. The eight-year veteran spent his first five seasons in Buffalo, where he was drafted with No. 8 selection in 2006 out of Ohio State.

The 28-year-old has spent the past three seasons in San Francisco. He has 10 career interceptions and is a proven commodity at the position.

Inside Presence

With Collins and Jeremiah Ratliff officially back with the Bears, the depth at defensive tackle is starting to come into fruition.

Over the weekend it was reported that several teams, including the Cowboys expressed interest in Bears own free-agent Henry Melton. Melton should have a nice market, despite his recent ACL injury and off-the field arrest in his hometown in Texas.

The Bears want him back, but it remains to be seen at what price, only a season after they placed the franchise tag on him.

An under-the-radar defensive tackle currently on the market is Earl Mitchell, the former Arizona product is generating interest from not only the Bears, but the Texans and Dolphins as well.

Mitchell played nose tackle in the Texans' 3-4 defensive scheme the past four seasons. A third-round pick in 2010, Mitchell has missed only one game in his time in Houston, adding 3.5 sacks.

He started 14 games in 2013 for the Texans, playing on a career-high 553 snaps. He'd likely be a fall back option if the Bears couldn't re-sign Melton.

Melton is a better talent, when it comes to pass-rushing ability, but Mitchell is as steady as they come and could be much cheaper.

Running Back Moves

The Bears released 29-year-old third-down back Michael Bush on Monday. Bush signed a four-year, $14 million deal with $4 million in guaranteed money in 2012.

The move frees up $1.85 million in cap space, but the Bears will have to carry $2 million in dead space.

In two seasons with the Bears, Bush appeared in 28 games while carrying the ball 177 carries for 608 yards and eight touchdowns. He also had 13 catches for 131 yards for one touchdown.

The Louisville product averaged a measly 3.1 ypc and wasn't used enough for his overpriced price tag. Tight end Dante Rosario was also released despite re-signing with the team this past month.

With Michael Ford the only other running back under contract besides starter Matt Forte, the Bears will be bringing another body very soon.

My hunch is that Emery and Co. will be looking to add a change-of-back through the draft in later rounds, likely the fifth or sixth. Auburn's Tre Mason is a name to keep in mind since he is falling on team's draft boards.

Hester Believes In His Versatility

The Bears recently informed Devin Hester he won't be re-signed this off-season. While on vacation in Florida, Hester went on ESPN 106.3 to talk about his value in free agency going into his age-32 season.

“Me,” Hester replied sternly when asked who he thought was the best all-around player in the league was, “I can go and play corner, I can go and play receiver, I can play running back, and I can play a little bit of safety, as well as kickoff and punt returner.”

As much as I enjoyed watching Hester play, he is far from the best all-around player. He certainly has speed that makes opposing teams pay, but he has one position, returner, and that was proven in his time in Chicago.

Ditka Believes Secondary Must Improve

Bears legend Mike Ditka is never afraid to talk about anything football especially when it comes to his beloved "Monsters of the Midway."

"Where they have to get help is in the secondary. I don’t know who that guy is, but they must get help there," Ditka said to the Chicago-Sun Times last Friday. "Their front seven can hold up, but they need help at corner and safety. They have to have people who can cover multiple-receiver sets. That means they have to have more than one cover corner. That’s essential with the way formations are today."

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