The offseason starts with getting your own house in order. And that is a much taller order when the head coach hasn’t watched a full season of game film on the current roster. Marc Trestman and that big, cerebral, analytical football brain of his have some work to do.
The Chicago Bears have 20 players entering free agency this March, 18 of whom are unrestricted, meaning the Bears hold no preexisting rights outside of franchise tag designation, and those players will be able to explore any and all options.
Luckily for Marc Trestman, only a handful of the 18 are starters.
But Trestman knows, as evidenced in recent years, the middle-to-bottom of your roster is incredibly important down the stretch as injuries take hold and veterans wear down. And the majority of players up for free agency are middle-of-the-roster guys.
Most notable on the list, of course, is Brian Urlacher. Here they are:
- RB Kahlil Bell
- CB Zack Bowman
- QB Jason Campbell
- CB Kelvin Hayden
- LB Geno Hayes
- DL Israel Idonije
- G Lance Louis
- K Olindo Mare
- QB Josh McCown
- DT Henry Melton
- DB D.J. Moore
- S Troy Nolan
- DT Amobi Okoye
- G Chilo Rachal
- LB Nick Roach
- T Jonathan Scott
- G Chris Spencer
- LB Brian Urlacher
- DT Nate Collins*
- RB Armando Allen**
* Denotes restricted free agent
** Denotes exclusive rights free agent
So, who stays and who goes?
Well, that is the question, and it’s never a tougher one then when you’re dealing with a new head coach who will certainly see the pieces of the puzzle come together differently than in past years, and who has no established bias. But what would good would I be to you if I didn’t try?
Kahlil Bell, RB
What a roller-coaster year for Bell. After being waived by the Bears in August—he reportedly refused to accept a pay cut to stay—Bell worked out for a couple teams, the Patriots among them, but spent some time on the free agent market during the regular season before being resigned by Chicago in mid-September after Matt Forte was injured in Week-2.
In the Bears’ Week-3 matchup, Bell rushed for 20 total yards on 10 carries and added one catch for 11 yards. Just under a month later, he was released for the second time. Bell found another home in November, signing with the Jets but was out of a job again by December.
Bell re-signed with the Bears for the final time last season in mid-December, as Michael Bush was placed on injured reserve, and is now heading into free agency. So, what’s next for the veteran back?
Prediction: My gut tells me the Bears let him walk and also that Bell wants to walk. With Matt Forte and Michael Bush on the current roster, Bell would be better served trying to get picked up by a team where he’d have a better opportunity to compete for a backup role.
Zack Bowman, CB
In 11 games with the Bears in 2012, Bowman proved his worth as a special teams contributor, tallying 11 tackles, two fumble recoveries (one retuned for a TD) and two passes defended. With five corners currently on the roster, and a sixth—Isaiah Frey—on a reserve/future deal, there is a place for Bowman if the Bears want to bring him to camp.
Bowman’s immediate future is predicated on what the Bears intend to do in the external free agent market. While Chicago may boast two Pro Bowl corners in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, the only solid backup behind those two is Kelvin Hayden. The Bears need to add depth at corner once again.
I’m not sure that Bowman provides the Bears a reliable option at cornerback in 2013, and I expect them to find someone who is. But Bowman does provide value on special teams …
Prediction: I think it’s possible the Bears bring Bowman back on a single-year deal to compete in camp. While it may sound like I’m pulling a 180 in my explanation of why Bell will go in explaining why Bowman could stay, but the key difference here is I think Bowman would welcome a single-year deal.
Jason Campbell, QB
The Bears don’t win football games without Jay Cutler. Jason Campbell was brought here to change that should he be called upon to do so, but it proved a task to tall for the talented veteran QB. But let’s get one thing straight: the only reason the Bears were able to own Campbell as their backup in 2012 was because they paid him $3.5M.
But here’s what we know: the demand for Campbell in free agency wasn’t really all that high last season. After posting a career-low 72.8 passer rating in 2012, I’m not sure the demand will be all that high in 2013 either. In addition, Campbell trained under new head coach Marc Trestman prior to being drafted in 2005.
There are still a number of teams in need of a starting QB in 2013, but following the year of the rookie QB in the NFL, I’m not sure anyone wants a 31 year-old Campbell to be that guy. So, if a team is going to sign him as a backup, why not Marc Trestman and the Bears?
Prediction: This one is tricky-ish because of what I know about Josh McCown (will get to that in a bit) but I think chances are good that Campbell resigns as the team’s backup in 2013.
Kelvin Hayden, CB
After Tillman and Jennings, no corner on the Bears’ roster took more defensive snaps than Hayden in 2012 (460). He is the team’s swing corner, so to speak, and he rotated in at some point in all 16 regular season games. Hayden played well. He tied for first in the NFL with a career-high four opponent fumble recoveries and tallied 26 tackles and five passes defended.
Prediction: The Bears will try and retain him.
Geno Hayes, LB
Hayes was a guy current GM Phil Emery wanted last offseason, and a guy he made it a point to bring in for depth. He was the team’s fourth linebacker in 2012 and is a good special teams contributor. Looking at Hayes statistics, and given the fact that he was a starter in this League prior to coming to Chicago, I believe he had a down but okay year.
Prediction: The Bears may try to retain him.
Israel Idonije, DL
The only player to see more time on the field along the Bears’ defensive line in 2012 was Julius Peppers. Idonije finished second on the team in sacks with 7.5 and is a career Bear. The team was in the same position as they are now with Idonije in 2012, and they chose to retain him for $2.5M. They got their money’s worth.
The question for me is not whether or not Idonije still has value; I believe he does. For the Bears, it comes down to having someone to replace him; I’m not sure they do. Idonije is a versatile player who can contribute well at the tackle and end positions. But it is possible that the Bears look to upgrade the position as a whole in free agency, and if that’s the case, Idonije’s salary number may not make sense.
Prediction: I never write off proven contributors simply because of age, and I definitely never do it when they’ve spent nine solid seasons in the system I’m probably going to continue to run in 2013 when I don’t have an immediate replacement. It simply doesn’t make sense. I’m not saying it is 100% that Idonije sticks, but I’d lean in that direction and say he and the Bears would like one more season.
Lance Louis, G
Here’s the thing with Louis: The recovery timeline from his torn ACL tear is something like eight to 10 months. That puts his return to participation somewhere around the end of training camp, if he’s lucky. While Louis was arguably the team’s best offensive lineman in 2012 while healthy, he may not have time to work with his colleagues prior to the 2013 season. That’s something o-line coaches put a premium on.
But the reality is that the Bears can’t afford to let him walk. They’d be foolish to do so considering what they probably would have paid him had he not gotten injured. They can now sign their best offensive lineman to an extension at a reduced rate. In addition, the Bears aren’t looking to lose any talent along a line they desperately needed to begin fixing yesterday.
Prediction: He will be re-signed.
Olindo Mare, K
Mare served as a decent stand-in for Robbie Gould, sending six of eight attempts through the uprights. But a stand-in is all he was.
Prediction: He hits the streets and plays golf while waiting for a younger kicker to pull a testicle or something during the regular season.
Josh McCown, QB
Here was that little nugget I alluded to about McCown while discussing Campbell’s future: Jay Cutler wants him and has a really great relationship with him. It’s not because of his ability as a passer, but his ability as a coach. Will it be enough to keep him in Chicago?
Prediction: No, I don’t think so. Having made my prediction that Campbell will stay, it’s a natural move to expect that McCown walks, but, hey, don’t be surprised if he shows up on some kind of coaching fellowship/internship at some point. Also keep in mind that the Bears may indeed sign McCown to carry into to camp, but they’re not likely to carry three QBs on the active 53-man.
Henry Melton, DT
The Bears want(ed) Melton back. They were negotiating an extension with him during the regular season. And while that was with Lovie Smith at the helm, Phil Emery knew full well Smith may not return, and he was still open to discussing a deal. Likewise, Melton wants to return to Chicago.
Great, right? Yeah, probably. But just because there’s mutual interest doesn’t mean both sides will agree on what the appropriate contract figures are (total value, guaranteed dollars and number of years). Melton wants to be paid like one of the best DTs in the League, and he played like it at the start of the regular season, making it to his first Pro Bowl.
Mel Tucker, the team’s new d-coordinator, will also want Melton to return. The Bears are not in bad shape salary cap-wise, but they will have to make smart decisions to try and fill as many needs as possible, but I’m trusting both sides will find the happy medium.
Prediction: It is very, very possible that Melton may secretly want to seriously explore options elsewhere with the dismissal of Lovie Smith. It’s also very possible that he finds another team who wants to overpay him, while the Bears won’t. Chicago will have the franchise tag to fall back on in that situation, so my guess is that one way or another he stays.
D.J. Moore, DB
Moore lost his starting spot at nickel during the regular season to Kelvin Hayden. Reports at the time suggested he was, “in Lovie’s doghouse.” Whatever the hell that means. Moore missed some key plays in 2012 (I seen ‘em wit my own two eyes, kids), and he wasn’t a standout special teams performer either. His unique skills and positional fit, combined with his slumping performance, make him one of the more difficult players to predict.
Prediction: My gut tells me the Bears allow Moore to seek employment elsewhere, but really, a feeling is all it is.
Troy Nolan, S
The Bears signed Nolan as a stand-in when multiple injuries at the safety position left them incredibly thin toward the end of the regular season. Nolan didn’t take a single snap on defense, and is not likely to hang around.
Prediction: He’ll hit the streets.
Amobi Okoye, DT
Okoye notched one sack in nine games played with the Bears in 2012 and was really brought back to serve as an injury stand-in. He could have depth value, but something tells me the Bears will want to have a look at some new talent in that regard.
Prediction: Okoye does not return.
Chilo Rachal, G
What a tough string of seasons for Rachal. His off-field history and personal issues have led to a player with a ton of potential struggling to find his place on the field. Rachal had a really bad game for the Bears in 2012 when he went up against his former team in the San Francisco 49ers. According to reports, 49ers’ players knew just how to get in Rachal’s head and found a way to do it in the 32-7 victory over Chicago.
When it was discovered that the Bears intended to replace Rachal with Chris Spencer the following week, Rachal left the team for “personal reasons.” Those “reasons” were believed to be his inability to cope with being benched. None of it bodes well for his future in Chicago, despite the offensive line woes.
Prediction: Rachal will not return.
Nick Roach, LB
Roach is a starter for this team, and I believe he’s earned it. Given the uncertainness with Brian Urlacher—both his contract situation and his durability—keeping Roach on the roster is of high importance. He won’t command a huge deal in free agency, although he should get a significant pay increase.
Prediction: No brainer. Bears will look to retain him, and I believe he wants to be retained.
Jonathan Scott, T
Scott saw somewhat significant playing time in 2012, but it was more do to the slumping of other players on the roster and injury shuffling. He struggled in both pass protection and run blocking, and I’m not sure that he did anything to convince the Bears that he’s worth another shot as opposed to finding another competition-caliber player.
Having said that, Phil Emery did include him among the linemen he touted in his post-Lovie press conference, so unless he was pandering, he saw more than I did.
Prediction: Possible he stays, but I'm going to say no.
Chris Spencer, G
Personally, I thought Spencer had a decent 2011 for the Bears. 2012 was a different story. It’s hard to go through this list and start axing offensive lineman left and right when the Bears need all the help they can get, but at 30 years-old, coming off a below average season, I’m not sure Spencer is one of the guys who sticks. Having said that, you can’t get rid of guys you don’t have replacements for.
Prediction: Spencer could stick on a minimum one-year deal in an effort to provide veteran depth.
Brian Urlacher, LB
Crap. Do I have to? Okay …
In all seriousness, I think this decision is easier than many may believe. Brian Urlacher, despite the stupid things he says from time to time, is the face of the franchise, and he’ll be willing to return on a hometown discount. I believe that will still be the case, even with Lovie Smith now gone.
This is one area I believe the McCaskey family could have a hand in. I’m not the guy who goes around suggesting that the McCaskey’s are pulling the strings up at Halas Hall—because they’re not—but that doesn’t mean they won’t ask Emery to consider their position when working on this issue.
Given Urlacher’s lack of durability in 2012, I don’t believe he’s a candidate to be overpaid by another team this offseason. In fact, I think he’ll have to take a serious pay cut in order to keep playing altogether. Given those things, and also considering what the locker room—especially on defense—will be feeling post-Lovie, I think it does make sense to bring ‘Lach back.
Prediction: While this one is as complicated as it gets and can go either way, I’m guessing the 34 year-old LB returns to Chicago for a final season in 2013.
Nate Collins*, DT
Prediction: It makes sense, in my mind, to tender Collins a qualifying offer, keep him around and continue to develop the young talent.
Armando Allen**, RB
Prediction: Bears hold all rights to Allen should they offer him the three-year veteran minimum, which I believe they will do. He sticks.
In part-2 of this series, we'll look at the external free agent market and determine who the Bears might target.
Filed under: Free Agency