Week 3 is just about to get under way in the NFL, but that doesn't mean it isn't too early to start looking towards next season. The Bears have holes on their roster and some shopping in free agency can definitely fill these needs and bolster the roster. A lot can happen before the 2013 free agency period begins with players re-signing with their current teams, getting injured, retiring, etc. For now, let's dive in to see who the Bears should target in 2013 to help them fill needs and depth.
1) Jake Long, Left Tackle
Current Team: Miami Dolphins
Why he helps the Bears? : There couldn't be a more obvious choice for who should be the Bears' #1 target in free agency. Barring a new contract from the Dolphins, which doesn't seem likely given financial restrictions, Long should be hearing from the Bears early and often when the clock strikes midnight on free agency. Long is a three time Pro Bowler and has only missed two games in his NFL career. He is young, reliable and a top 5 left tackle. He would fill the most glaring need on the entire Bears roster and give Jay Cutler a security blanket that he has been without since he first arrived to Chicago. Being the best available player at a position that a lot of teams lack stability at means the asking price will be high and may be out of the Bears' range. Given the fact that the Bears have potential big contracts to re-sign in Cutler, Peppers, Urlacher, Tillman, Hester, Briggs, etc. over the next couple of seasons may make the addition of Long a pipe dream, but the possibility of the Bears being able to afford Long makes it too good of a signing to pass up.
2) Jairus Byrd, Free Safety
Current Team: Buffalo Bills
Why he helps the Bears?: Given the fact that the Bears have drafted a safety in each of the past six drafts shows there is a need for stability in the secondary. Byrd fills the need at free safety and has missed only two games in his four years in the league. He was the first Bills' rookie to be selected to a Pro Bowl since 1984 and is considered a top 3 free safety in the league. He is on the verge of super stardom and another solid year in Buffalo could solidify him as the best and youngest free safety in the game. The Bears definitely need to stop using draft picks to fill the position and the addition of Byrd would do that. With holes starting to appear at other positions on the roster it is a necessity that the Bears finally stabilize a position that has been a problem for far too long. He will be one of the top safeties available in free agency behind Ed Reed, but given his younger age and potential he should be the answer at safety that the Bears have been looking for.
3) Andy Levitre, Left Guard
Current Team: Buffalo Bills
Why he helps the Bears?: Two Buffalo Bills on the list? Some may forget the Bills are still and NFL franchise as they are hardly featured on national TV but they have a good, young core of players. Levitre is no exception. At 6'2", the 305 pound lineman from Oregon State is one of the best young guards in the NFL. In his first NFL season he made the rookie All-Pro team and is quickly climbing the ranks of elite left guards. He was part of a Bills offensive line that allowed the least number of sacks in 2011, a stat the Bears would no doubt like to be in. The Bears have had a rocky situation at left guard with Chris Williams, Chris Spencer and now Chilo Rachal getting a shot to solidify the position and Levitre would be an easy fix. The possibility of Levitre landing in Chicago, or any other team besides Buffalo may be slim considering the Bills are actively trying to re-sign him to a long term contract. However, if Levitre and the Bills are unable to come to an agreement and he tests the free agent waters, the Bears better be one of the first to make the call.
4) Dustin Keller, Tight End
Current Team: New York Jets
Why he helps the Bears?: One of general manager Jerry Angelo's last blunders before exiting the team was trading away tight end Greg Olsen for next to nothing because he didn't fit then offensive coordinator Mike Martz's system. Olsen was not only Jay Cutler's go to guy in the red zone but also a safety net when plays broke down. Since Olsen's departure from the team the Bears have had a gap at pass catching tight end. The Bears plugged in every one from Brandon Manumaleuna, Matt Spaeth, and Kellen Davis with none of them seeming to be a real threat in the passing game. Dustin Keller is a solid pass catching tight end who is not only a free agent at the end of the season, but growing frustrated with the Jets and the lack of discussion about a contract extension. Keller has been a reliable target for Mark Sanchez and has averaged 53 receptions a season since coming into the league in 2008. There are a decent amount of quality tight ends in free agency potentially available in 2013 with Keller including Heath Miller, Fred Davis, Jared Cook Jr., Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett. Any of these tight ends would be better than what is currently on the Bears' roster but Keller fits the bill of a reliable tight end who can pick up tough yards and be a safety net for a quarterback when a play breaks down.
5) Henry Melton, Defensive Tackle
Current Team: Chicago Bears
Why he helps the Bears?: He is currently helping the Bears in the pass rush attack by racking up 3 sacks in just two games in this early season. Melton has started evolving into a potential beast at defensive tackle. At only 25, Melton is all ready considered one of the top defensive tackles in the league and has a burst of speed that may put him as the fastest at the position. He has shown the ability to disrupt offenses and get after the quarterback on a regular basis. With an aging defense Melton has shown signs of being a key role in the next generation of Bears defense. The Bears must make Melton one of the essential in house signings when free agency hits. It would best suit the Bears to start negotiating a long term deal with Melton because with every sack and solid performance his price tag goes up as does the number of suitors who would love a chance to woo him if he tests free agency.
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