With Senior Bowl practices ongoing, much of the attention is on the Draft. But the NFL Free Agency period will begin in earnest during the afternoon of March 12. For Phil Emery and the Bears, the UFA (Unrestricted Free Agent) market is another resource they can utilize to improve a team that went 10-6 but faded down the stretch and failed to make the playoffs.
The Bears have lots of needs along the offensive line, and the defense is getting long in the tooth. But with $13.3M available to spend under the cap, Emery will have to choose wisely. Some of the UFAs on this list will undoubtedly end up being too pricey for the Bears, but it doesn’t cost anything to browse.
Of course, Emery has to deal with his own FAs. No one knows if Urlacher will return, and Henry Melton will want a lot of money to stay, though I expect him to come back. I would also re-sign Lance Louis and Nick Roach. Other Bears’ UFAs: Kahlil Bell, Zack Bowman, Kelvin Hayden, Israel Idonije, Johnny Knox, Olindo Mare, D.J. Moore, Amobi Okoye, Chilo Rachal, Jonathan Scott, Chris Spencer, Jason Campbell, Josh McCown and Geno Hayes.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the external players I believe should interest the Bears’ brain trust. Remember that some of these players may get franchise-tagged or signed to an extension by their respective teams, which would take them off the market. I’m also only targeting the offensive side of the ball, since that is what Trestman was brought in to fix.
The draft pool is fairly deep along the offensive line and that is where I expect Emery to focus. However, there is a lot of potential value in the UFA market. I’m focusing on tackles, more importantly left tackles, though there are plenty of right tackles and guards in the free agent pool.
Ryan Clady (Denver) is the top lineman on the market, and he may be the best overall UFA. But the 26 year-old tackle will most likely be tagged by the Broncos if they can’t come to an agreement, so he won’t be an option for the Bears. Jake Long (Miami) is the name most often mentioned by Bears fans, but he will be too costly for Emery. According to Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune, he is seeking around $11M plus a huge signing bonus.
So who’s left? Well, Andre Smith (Cincinnati), but he has a court date on February 4th in Atlanta for attempting to carry a hand gun onto an airplane. Plus, he’s a right tackle, and I am assuming that J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi will battle for that position.
Sebastian Vollmer (New England) is a German import, so the Bears may need to get the Bundesspielordnung out if they sign him. But once again he is a RT. Same with Phil Loadholt (Minnesota) and Gosder Cherilus (Detroit). Will Beatty (Giants) is a LT who played well this season, but is not considered elite and yet at 27—someone will overpay for his services.
Jermon Bushrod (New Orleans) is another option at LT, but he was named to the Pro Bowl for his second consecutive season, so I don’t think the Saints will let him walk. There are other, lesser candidates out there, but I’m not sure they are distinct upgrades for the Bears.
The Bears need a backup QB, and they have two of their own UFAs to consider in Jason Campbell and Josh McCown. If they don’t choose to bring either one back, there is no shortage of guys out there. Hey Bears fans, Sexy Rexy is out there … been there, done that. Byron Leftwich (Pittsburgh) just can’t seem to stay healthy, and Drew Stanton (Indy) hasn’t thrown a pass in two years, but Matt Moore (Miami) could be a decent option as a reliable game manager. Best bet is the return of Campbell.
Would the Bears invest in a backup wideout? I doubt it, but as of right now, their only sure thing is Brandon Marshall, with Alshon Jeffrey as a project and Earl Bennett in the slot. Hester shouldn’t see the light of day as a WR. But even if they dip their toes into the open market, Emery won’t spend big bucks.
There are a couple of options, but I don’t think it’s a pressing concern right now. Wes Welker may not get re-signed by the Patriots, though Tom Brady wants him back. Danny Amendola would be a terrific slot option, and the Rams don’t have much cap space, so they may not be able to tag him.
Now, this should be a huge concern, as Kellen Davis can’t catch. The Bears need an upgrade at TE, so unless they draft one, they could go the FA route. If future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez continues playing, it will likely be with the Falcons.
The Titans will want to bring Jared Cook back, but will he want to return? He finished 24th in targets among TEs in the League. Dustin Keller (Jets) could be an inexpensive option, though it’s risky with his injury history, as is Fred Davis (Washington), who is coming off a torn Achilles tendon.
The Giants want Martellus Bennett to return, but if he is available, he will be in demand. He dropped fewer passes this season and has the size and strength to be effective over the middle. Brandon Meyers (Oakland) was a top-5 TE last season, though he isn’t spectacular.
Filed under: Free Agency