8 Holes the Chicago Bears Must Fill Through Free Agency in 2012
The draft can be a relatively inexpensive way for teams to rebuild their football roster and infuse it with fresh, young talent. However, in some cases, it either isn't quick enough or good enough.
With the Bears having so many holes to fill, yet still clinging to aspirations of a championship while the window rapidly starts to close, free agency will be the only way to close some of those holes.
Now, in some cases, the free agents they sign may be their own.
And, as the Bears proved two years ago, when they act quickly and decisively, they can get the guy they desire. They scooped up Julius Peppers on the first day of free agency with a huge offer.
Now, I don't know what kind of appetite the Bears have to spend big dollars this offseason, nor how creative they can get with the cap, but if they truly want to take another run at a title before guys like Brian Urlacher join AARP, they will need to step up big.
Here are the areas that I feel would benefit the Bears most from exploring free agency this offseason. I know they won't be able to afford to fill all these holes through free agency, but in some cases, they have their own players to consider bringing back.
The Bears should draft at least one offensive lineman, but to get help that can step right in and immediately make a difference may require a move in free agency.
Demetrius Bell of Buffalo is someone I would consider. He is capable of pass protection and he is even better in blocking for the running game. With the Bills having a lot of work to do, he could slip through the cracks.
Top left tackle choices are slim, both on the free agent market as well as in the draft (at least where the Bears pick).
But Bell would be the best choice to push J'Marcus Webb, who was not consistent and didn't appear to improve throughout the year.
If the Bears drafted Peter Konz of Wisconsin, they could move Roberto Garza back to a guard position. But if they decide not to take a center in the first round, or if he's not still on the board at No. 19, they will need some help.
They can draft that help, but it may not be a player who will be an immediate upgrade. So I say they consider the free agency route for help.
As for the draft, the top three tackles will be gone when the Bears pick—Matt Kalil, Jonathan Martin and Riley Reiff—leaving Zebrie Sanders and Levy Adcock, who project to be right tackles in the NFL, and the Bears are set there if Gabe Carimi is healthy.
If they can't move Garza back to guard, Carl Nicks could be attractive to the Bears. The Saints already paid Jahri Evans, so they may be hard-pressed to offer big money to another guard.
Nicks is one of the premier guards in the league and the Saints may be hard pressed to sign him. He will want big money, but he is worth it.
The Bears have one proven, solid corner in Charles Tillman, and he is on the wrong side of 30. With Tim Jennings an unrestricted free agent, there is a need to upgrade here.
Brent Grimes could help. I'm sure Atlanta wants to bring Grimes back, though he is not strong in run support. But he is very good in coverage (both man and zone). He is the best option on the open market.
Carlos Rodgers may return to the Niners, but if available and healthy, he is one of the overlooked corners in the league. The poor hands he showed in Washington appear to be a thing of the past.
Tracy Porter of the Saints is good but has injury concerns, while Marcus Trufant (Seattle) is also over 30, though he is good in press-man coverage.
Cortland Finnegan is an interesting name. Though he's been accused of being a dirty player, he's strong in run support and solid in coverage. Finnegan is said to be displeased with the titans for contract reasons, so he may test the market.
As for their own guys, Zack Bowman, Corey Graham and Tim Jennings are all free agents. They desperately need Graham back for special teams, though he may be seeking starting corner money. Bowman will be gone and I would consider bringing Jennings back.
The Bears should consider bringing in a safety to work with our young tandem of Chris Conte and Major Wright.
Enter Tyvon Branch, who is strong vs. the run and is young. Like Wright, he has some issues in coverage, but should be solid at strong safety.
Though he doesn't have the versatility to play much man coverage, he's more than adequate when given zone responsibilities.
Meanwhile, LaRon Landry will be re-signed by Washington, but Tennessee may let Michael Griffin go. I am concerned about his inconsistent play, though he has played at a Pro Bowl level at times.
As for their own guys, they will want to bring back Craig Steltz.
If the top three wideouts are gone in the first round by the time the Bears pick, they will need to seek out free agent help.
In fact, even if one of them is available, I still feel they need a veteran presence to provide Jay Cutler with a reliable playmaker at the position.
Sure, they could try and trade for Brandon Marshall, but that would costs multiple draft picks, so instead I would consider making a day one pitch to Vincent Jackson.
Jackson could be the true No. 1 receiver the team sorely needs. Another option is Dwayne Bowe, who is big and strong and knows how to run routes. DeSean Jackson is another option, though I am not as high on him as I am Jackson or Bowe.
Marques Colston, when healthy, is a very physical receiver and a polished route runner. Steve Johnson, however, will probably get locked up by Buffalo.
As for their own free agent, Roy Williams should not return.
Even if the Bears stick with Josh McCown, technically they will be going through free agency to get him, as McCown is eligible for unrestricted free agency.
But if for some reason they don't decide to go with McCown, they would almost certainly need to look at a veteran to come in from free agency, as opposed to drafting a backup QB. They already have Nathan Enderle—they don't need another project.
Kyle Orton is someone the Bears would be interested in—they claimed him when he was released by Denver but Kansas City won the claim—but he may get a better opportunity to play with the Chiefs or elsewhere.
Jason Campbell is another QB who should be looking for a new team, as he doesn't want to be the caddy in Oakland for Carson Palmer. Of course, that probably means he wouldn't want to backup Cutler, either.
I like Shaun Hill from Detroit if he is available. Other candidates include Chris Redman, Derek Anderson, David Gerrard (though when fully healthy will look for a starting job) and David Carr.
Again, this is another area where the Bears have their own free agent to think about. I truly think the Bears will hang onto unrestricted free agent Isreal Idonije, while they could shore up the pass rush by drafting Melvin Ingram in the first round.
But if they decide to go the free agent route to shore up a shaky pass rush and give Julius Peppers a bookend, look no further than Cliff Avril from the Lions.
Not only would they be weakening a division rival, they would be signing an immediate impact player. But they would have to attack Avril like they did Peppers, and I don't know if the Bears want to spend that kind of money.
Calais Campbell of the Cardinals will likely be retained, but if he hits the market, he would be a solid choice as well.
Alright, so this one is not a player, but still, the new GM will come from a pool of candidates who are "free" only in the sense that their current teams will allow the Bears to talk to them, although some may be currently out of work I suppose.
They also plan to interview Kansas City director of college scouting Phil Emery and New York Giants director of college scouting Mike Ross.
And just like many of the positions on the field, the Bears have their own guy to consider, though he is not a free agent. I do not like the idea of making interim GM Tim Ruskell permanent. I hope that doesn't happen.