In Part 1 of this series, we took a look at each of the 20 players on the Bears’ roster due to become free agents this March, predicting who will stay and who will move on for the 2013 season. In Part 2 (you’re reading it), we’ll offer a look at the external FA market to see who Phil Emery might consider adding to the mix. To do this, we have to understand a few things …
First, the goal in free agency is to supplement depth and fill holes on the existing roster, not really build for the future. You may inadvertently do that in your quest, but the idea is to target players for the positions you need them in the most. If you do this successfully, you can focus on drafting the best players available on your board instead of drafting to fill needs.
That is a perfect world scenario, however. Things won’t work out that way—at least perfectly—in the end, and regardless of who’s on the Bears’ board in rounds one and two, it’s very likely they lean toward offensive line/tight end anyway.
Second, while a shopping list of available free agents may look great on the surface, when it comes to big-name, high-performance players, the majority of them will resign with their existing teams in free agency. Another handful will be franchise tagged, and the rest will be overpaid.
My point? Just because Ryan Clady may be a free agent, it doesn’t mean Emery is an idiot if he doesn’t wind up in Chicago. Understand that Emery may decide, for plenty of sensible reasons, that the best option for his team moving forward is to draft and develop their tackle of the future, not overpay for a retread.
While cap figures are not yet finalized, reports suggest that the Bears have around $13.3M to spend, considerably less than they had last season but not a minuscule amount. After re-upping a few of their own free agents, however, I would not expect Chicago to be a major player in free agency.
So, instead of looking at players in every position, and instead of looking at only the best of those in my identified positions, I’m going to offer what I believe to be the Bears’ top-5 positions of need, and offer a look at a couple players each who will be available and who could make sense.
I look at it as a depth and history thing. If Major Wright and Chris Conte are healthy, we’ve seen them play well. But Conte hasn’t played a full season in two years, and Wright played the first full season of his three in 2012. Brandon Hardin spent 2012 on injured reserve, and Craig Steltz wound up killing time there alongside him.
The other two safeties on the roster? Anthony Walters and Troy Nolan. Now, I think everyone expects everyone to stay healthy in 2013 (right, class?), but the depth is virtually non-existent at this position should the injury bug strike a group of frequently injured players. Who do I like?
1. William Moore (ATL) – Moore is probably a stretch here, as I’m not sure the Bears are looking for a starter considering the current entrenchment of Wright and Conte, and also with Phil Emery having drafted Hardin last year. It’s also unlikely that the Falcons want to let Moore walk, but they may face salary cap issues after signing a few other in-house FAs.
Unless the Bears want a starter, if Moore leaves ATL, someone will likely pay him more than Emery will be willing to. So why even list him? Because of the free agents available, not many seem to be a perfect fit. My guess? Even though I identified it as an area of need, the Bears could stick with who they have and look for “better luck next year.”
2. Glover Quin (HOU) – Now, Quin makes slightly more sense given his versatility. A corner-turned-safety, Quin played well in 2012, and he could be a fit for the Bears doubly as an interchangeable defensive back. It’s likely that the Texans want him to return, and they will likely have the space to make that happen.
Bottom line: the Bears may have to settle for athletic prospects as opposed to established players if they’re looking to add depth at safety given their needs elsewhere. Moving on …
Say what? Excuse me, Adam, but the Bears just saw their two starting cornerbacks to starting spots in the Pro Bowl. I think we’re good, genius. Yeah, maybe, and while I like Kelvin Hayden as a backup, the rest of the group leaves a lot to be desired.
There are very few of us who want to see Zack Bowman, D.J. Moore or Sherrick McManis have to start on Sunday should it come to that. The Bears won’t be looking for a starter here, but they should be looking to add starter-potential depth via free agency. Here are some guys who might make sense for that role:
1. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (PHI) – The Eagles have some issues to work out and very little cap space to do any of it. Given that and Cromartie’s struggles in 2012, it may be best for both sides to part ways. Because of his talent level, Cromartie could be offered a starting job elsewhere, but don’t completely rule him out.
2. Leodis McKelvin (BUF) – McKelvin could make more sense here for a team like the Bears. The only problem is his near inevitable return to the Bills. But he’s a solid corner and a great contributor on special teams; particularly in the return game—an area where Chicago could be looking for help.
3. Offensive guard/center
From left to right, the Bears’ offensive line needs improvement and players entrenched in their respective positions. Too much shuffling around in recent years has set this unit back considerably. Granted, much of that was due to injury, but a steady left guard and/or center could make a world of difference.
1. Andy Levitre (BUF) – Again, no reason up-front why the Bills won’t at least try to re-sign Levitre, but he’ll be able to test the market. The Bears may not be willing/able to shell out the cash necessary to get a stud guard in here this offseason, but they should at least pick up the phone and say hello.
2. Kevin Boothe (NYG) – Here’s what I like about Boothe: the guy can play the center position. He’s 30, so age is a factor-ish, but he probably has two or three years of solid ball left in him. He’s a stout run-blocker and can fill in wherever needed along the Bears’ line from left to right guard, and center.
2. Tight end
Is there much to say here? Kellen Davis was a guy Lovie Smith vouched for, and I doubt Marc Trestman will do the same. Phil Emery came right out and expressed the need to catch up with the rest of the League and get better at this position, and if they can assure themselves of that in free agency, it could wind up being the big move of the offseason.
1. Jared Cook (TEN) – At 26, he’s still young and he’s talented. He’s a fantastic athlete, and he could make sense as a player actively looking for a better fit elsewhere. And who wouldn’t want to catch passes from Jay Cutler? (Wait, haters … don’t answer that.) Cook is by no means a sure-fire bet, but he’s a much better option than anyone on the current roster.
2. Martellus Bennett (NYG) – Also 26, Bennett would be a great option for the Bears considering his versatility as a pass-catcher and a blocker. Make no mistake, he’s more of a receiving threat than he is an extra lineman, but that’s how Chicago needs to use the position if they can. My only hang-up is it’s difficult to see him leaving NY, although I don’t believe the Giants will overpay.
1. Left tackle
Coaches and GMs have tried to fix it, but it’s gone nowhere. While I don’t expect J’Marcus Webb to be gone in 2013, if he’s the starting left tackle in Week-1, something will have gone horribly wrong this offseason.
This is where things get tough, because everyone wants to talk about Ryan Clady, Jake Long and Branden Albert. Now, while I will mention Long, you can take Clady off your list now. I don’t envision any scenario in which he’s not protecting Peyton Manning’s blindside in 2013. As for Albert, Andy Reid is not letting him walk with the money to make sure it doesn’t happen. So …
1. Will Beatty (NYG) – No, I’m not trying to morph the Bears into the New York Giants 2.0 despite having now mentioned three of their free agents in this post. But the fact of the matter is I’m considering practicality here, and the Giants have cap issues. Many of their FAs will be realistic options for teams in the market, and they boast middle-of-the-pack talent.
Beatty, however, is not middle-of-the-pack talent. I’m not sure many would consider him “elite”—whatever the hell that word means—but he’s a pretty good player. Given the tackle issues plaguing the League right now, solid players like Beatty are hard to come by. Bears need to try, try and try.
2. Jake Long (MIA) – Long is declining, it would seem. It would also seem that he’s been dealing with a number of injuries his past two seasons. So while you may be inclined to blame the injuries, declining play is declining play no matter what the reason.
The reason he makes my list is because I think there are two factors keeping him in the mix for Chicago: Miami may actually be willing to move on, and Long may find the free agent market completely unwilling to meet his demands of a huge contract. Having said that, tackle issues abound in the NFL, as I said, and someone may indeed shell out cash for the name.
No doubt about it, if your list substitutes safety for linebacker, in terms of need, with mine, I completely understand. If you want to see the Bears add another quality receiver—a speed threat perhaps, who can stretch the field vertically—I’m with ya. What will be most interesting is to see where Phil Emery and Marc Trestman’s synergy ultimately aligns priorities.
Filed under: Free Agency