As things are beginning to shake out around the NFL and teams are the free agency period is approaching with rapidity, it is time for me to start guessing. That's all this time of year is for football writers, after all. None of us know which team is going to cut which player. None of us know which prospect has become the apple of which team's eye. And then there's the bloody franchise tag making the whole system even more unpredictable. So here are four guesses, mixed with criticisms, opinions and erroneous conjecture.
- Tackling the wide receiver is a tricky proposition but it is actually rather easy this offseason. If Phil Emery can't orchestrate the near-impossible trade for Brandon Marshall, there are four WRs on the market with 80-100 catch potential: Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston and Stevie Johnson. Jackson possesses the combination of speed and size Cutler covets on the outside and he's spent his career playing with an enigmatic quarterback in a dynamic offense. The Bears could then use their first round draft pick to take either Kendall Wright from Baylor or Michael Floyd of Notre Dame (both projected to be available) and find themselves with an entirely rebuilt receiving corps heading into 2012.
- I think it's time for the Bears to put more value on the cornerback position. For years we've heard that corner in the Lovie system is valued less than around the rest of the league because it is far more reliant on sound tackling and discipline than on excellent cover skills. But the league has changed and teams are now moving to almost exclusive passing attacks. With what might be the deepest FA cornerback field in a generation, I'd like to see Emery add some physicality on the outside. Cortland Finegan would do that. So would Brent Grimes if he becomes available. Brandon Carr, Carlos Rogers and the Terrell Thomas (coming off a bad injury in 2011 for the Giants) would all be improvements to the Bears secondary.
- The more days goes by the less likely I believe the Bears will be interested in a premier defensive end on the FA market. Those guys cost a boatload of money and defensive end is fourth or fifth on the Bears' needs chart. Mario Williams will require not only a lot of years but a lot of money. It will be interesting to see if the Bears become players for Robert Mathis or Osi Umenyiora - two elite, pass rushing veterans who might require a less-lengthy commitment.
- Let's not forget backup quarterback. Right now Peyton Manning is clouding the issue. When he lands somewhere the dominoes will begin to fall. But it seems two players will be available next month: Kyle Orton and Jason Campbell. Both would provide the Bears with experience and poise behind Jay Cutler. Both would have led the 2011 Bears to the postseason after Cutty broke his thumb.
You'll notice I've left the offensive line out of the mix. Why? Because I believe Mike Tice will convince Phil Emery he can win with Webb, Williams, Garza, Spencer, Louis and Carimi. And I believe those will be the guys playing offensive line for the Bears this year.
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