2012 NFL Free Agency: The Chicago Bears' Options at Each Position of Need

Adam LufranoCorrespondent IIIJanuary 31, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agency: The Chicago Bears' Options at Each Position of Need

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    In the 2010 offseason, the Bears needed an impact defensive end who could rush the passer.

    Luckily for them, All-Pro DE Julius Peppers from Carolina was a free agent. Jerry Angelo decided to make a huge splash by signing the free agent to a lucrative contract.

    Two years later, the Bears have decided to part ways with Jerry Angelo.

    However, new general manager Phil Emery, who used to be the Chief’s director of college scouting, may want to start off his tenure with the Bears by continuing to dip into the free agent pool.

    While the Bears hired Emery to help out in the scouting department and the draft in April, it’s not like he won’t be asked to know what to look for this March.

    The Bears have a few positions this offseason that they are going to want to upgrade, whether it be through free agency, trades or the draft.

    This article will evaluate different options for Chicago in free agency that could fill team needs.

    Just so there aren’t any surprises, the team needs that I have listed for Chicago are OL, backup QB, WR, DE and CB.

    To find out who may be able to fill those needs for the Bears in free agency, read on. 

Offensive Line Information

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    The Bears' offensive line struggled mightily in the beginning of the season last year. Jay Cutler barely had any time to throw the football, and the struggles of the OL contributed to the Bears starting 2-3.

    A big reason the line struggled was because Cutler took a lot of seven-step drops and the line couldn’t hold their protections long enough.

    Quarterbacks in a Mike Martz offense historically get sacked quite a bit, but it was at a new extreme in Chicago because the line was below average to begin with.

    However, once Martz adjusted his calls, brought in extra blockers and took out the seven-step drops, the Bears' line blocked a lot better.

    This OL improvement helped the Bears score in the 30s many times over a five-game win streak. At 7-3, the Bears were looking like a sure wild-card threat.

    We all know the story after that...injuries took their toll, and the Bears crumbled.

    We won’t dwell on that, though. However well this OL played during stretches last season, improvements to this unit would be welcome.

    If the Bears could find a LT in free agency, then they would consider that a success.

    J’Marcus Webb wasn’t awful last year, but he struggled mightily against Jared Allen in Week 17 when the Bears’ focus on offense should’ve been “don’t let Allen break the sack record.” At least that is what I would have made the focus.

    Webb would be a really good back up for the Bears, but as a starter he isn’t the best option. The other offensive linemen for Chicago—Roberto Garza, Gabe Carimi, Chris Williams and Chris Spencer, played fine, albeit inconsistent.

    While upgrades at the guard spot could come this offseason, they are not immediate needs, so they will likely be found through the draft.

    Free agency is where the Bears will look to find help at Jay Cutler’s blind side. 

Offensive Line Options

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    Demetrius Bell, OT


    Demetrius Bell suffered injuries last season that allowed him to only play in seven games. However, Bell has been a very good offensive lineman for the Bills for the past three seasons.

    Bell is an above average pass-blocker, something that the Bears could really use. What he really excels at, though, is run blocking on the left side. Having a left tackle that can pave way lanes for Matt Forte out of the backfield could be a huge plus for the Bears.

    Bell would be an upgrade over Webb, and if the Bears are serious about making a change at tackle, they could give Bell a hard look.



    Carl Nicks, OG


    This one is a little less likely. For starters, Nicks is one of the best linemen in the league. He will garner a lot of money from whoever signs him. Unless the Bears really want this guy, they probably aren’t going to land him.

    Also, Nicks plays left guard. While the Bears wouldn’t mind an upgrade at left guard, they would probably rather draft a player who can play that position rather than spend a ton on the best free agent in the market.

    But if the Bears decide they don’t care about the above things mentioned, then Carl Nicks would undoubtedly be a great signing. He would come in and take over the left guard role, and Mike Tice, Bears' new OC and former OL coach, would decide where Chris Williams goes.

    Adding an All-Pro left guard to an offensive line that struggled with consistency last season is never a bad move, so look for the Bears to give another hard look at Nicks.



    Other Options


    Ben Grubbs, OG

    Chad Clifton, OT (provided he gets cut by Green Bay)

    Levi Brown, OT

Backup Quarterback Options

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    After Jay Cutler went down with an injury last season, the Bears were forced to roll with backup quarterback Caleb Hanie. That didn’t work out so well, as the Bears went 1-5 to finish the season.

    The Bears will undoubtedly let Hanie walk this off season, so that leaves them with one quarterback under contract for 2012 (not including Nathan Enderle).

    Chicago can’t let what happened last year happen again, so they are going to need to have a reliable backup quarterback on the roster next season.



    Josh McCown, QB


    McCown came in last season for the Bears and played remarkably better than Hanie did in his time starting. While that may not be too hard to accomplish, no one is denying the fact that McCown would be a good re-signing by the Bears to compete for a backup role on the offense.

    I see McCown as more of a great third-string quarterback, but if he were handed the backup role it wouldn’t be the end of the world.



    Jason Campbell, QB


    The only reason this might not work is if Campbell winds up being signed by a different team to start. Even if that doesn’t happen, Campbell still might want to sign with a team other than Chicago to at least compete for a starting spot in training camp.

    If no one wants Campbell for their starting spot, though, he would be a great option for Chicago. Campbell could come in if Cutler ever got hurt and play well enough to not cost the team wins. He’s been solid enough in his career as a starter that he’d be more than suitable as a backup.

    The Bears should be the first team in the NFL to invest in their backup QB position right away this offseason. They can’t walk into 2012 with a player like Nathan Enderle as their backup.



    Other Options


    Kyle Orton, QB

    Donovan McNabb, QB

    David Garrard, QB

    Vince Young, QB

    Rex Grossman, QB

Wide Receiver Options

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    The Bears haven’t had a No. 1 receiver in a long time. They could be looking to the draft for a talented receiver like Michael Floyd, but WR is one of the more likely positions Chicago is looking to upgrade through free agency.

    There are a lot of good options out there this offseason, and you can bet that the Bears are going to want to bring in at least one of them.



    Vincent Jackson, WR


    Vincent Jackson is a favorite in Chicago to become a Bear this offseason and with good reason.

    Jackson is coming off a season which saw him collect 1106 yards on just 60 catches. He also had nine touchdowns last season, and he has had three seasons of at least 1000 receiving yards in his seven-year career.

    Jackson is only 29 years old and would provide a valuable target for Jay Cutler for many years to come.

    However, you can say that about any of the elite wide receiver free agents this offseason. The hard part is distinguishing which one is better than the other.

    Jackson provides a big, physical receiver that will provide plenty of opportunities for big plays. He is always one of the league leaders in yards per catch and that's because he's a phenomenal deep threat every season.

    If the Bears want a guy that can win a lot of jump-ball situations, they will go after Vincent Jackson.



    DeSean Jackson, WR


    Now if the Bears want a deep threat that is so quick he doesn't need to win jump-ball situations, they will go after DeSean Jackson.

    DeSean is only 25 years old and last year was only his fourth year in the league, so he will be entering his prime by the time he gets to Chicago. He is one of the best in the league at simply outrunning everybody on the defense and getting open downfield.

    Vincent Jackson will out play the defensive back to the ball, while DeSean will simply be faster than the defensive back.

    While either DeSean or Vincent would be great signings by the Bears, I would rather see them sign a different type of receiver.  

    DeSean and Vincent will get the big plays, but Chicago already has Devin Hester and Johnny Knox to make plays down field.

    I think the Bears are going to want to grab a player that can get them those eight reception games because Cutler is going to want a consistent target to throw to from the pocket.




    Dwayne Bowe, WR


    Dwayne Bowe is the best wide receiver available in free agency, and the Bears should pursue him before anybody else.

    Bowe had 81 grabs last year for 1159 yards and five touchdowns, and that was an off year for Bowe. He had 15 touchdowns in 2010 and he's had at least 70 receptions every year he's been in the league—except one.

    Bowe would give Cutler a great target to throw to next year, and Cutler could look to him on third downs and important passing situations throughout the game. Bowe would give the Bears their first No. 1 wideout since the days of Marty Booker.

    The Bears should go after Bowe first over DeSean and Vincent Jackson because Bowe is the best player out of all the wide receivers in free agency.



    Other Options


    Marques Colston, WR

    Stevie Johnson, WR

    Brandon Loyd, WR

    Robert Meachem, WR

Defensive End Options

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    The Bears' last big splash in free agency was defensive end Julius Peppers. Now it appears that the Bears want to upgrade their other defensive end spot opposite Peppers for next season. 

    While they could look to the draft to upgrade their defensive end spot, there are a lot of options in free agency this season at DE.

    Here are just a few of those options.



    Calais Campbell, DE


    Campbell had eight sacks last season as a 3-4 defensive end, which is very good. He is a 25-year-old player who was on the Cardinals last season, and the team will be very keen on trying to keep him in Arizona. 

    However, if the Cardinals can't keep Campbell around, the Bears would be very smart to get Campbell signed in Chicago.

    Campbell might have to play DT for Chicago if he can't adjust to being a DE in a 4-3, but if that's the case, then Chicago will likely re-sign Idonije to be their DE and Campbell can wreak havoc from a tackle position.

    I think Campbell can handle a DE spot in a 4-3 defense, but we'll have to see how that works out if he decides to leave Arizona this offseason.

    Bottom line—Campbell would be the perfect compliment to Peppers on the Bears' defensive line, and if he is made available this offseason, the Bears have to try and get him. 



    Cliff Avril, DE


    Cliff Avril had a ridiculous 11 sacks last season, and the year before that he had 8.5 sacks. Avril might be a gift to the Bears if they can sign him because he would compliment Peppers fully and would also step up every time they played Detroit

    Avril, like Campbell, is only 25 years old. He's also had at least five sacks in every year he's been in the league.

    Avril would replace Idonije on the defensive line for the Bears next year and give the Bears one of the best pass-rushing front fours in the NFL.

    The Bears need to go hard after Cliff Avril or Calais Campbell, because if they can get one of those players, they will be a tough defense to go at.



    Mario Williams, DE/OLB


    This is a less likely scenario, but it is still plausible for the Bears.

    Mario Williams was a DE for Houston his entire career until last season. Last year, Houston switched its defense to a 3-4 and Williams moved to OLB. Williams, who is excelled at DE, played great at linebacker before being placed on IR with a season-ending injury.

    The Bears could try to bring in Williams and put him back at the DE position where he played so strongly at in Houston. There, he would be opposite Peppers and the Bears would easily have the best DE combo in the NFL.

    It would be impossible to double-team both of them, so the Bears would get almost constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season.

    Again, this isn't very likely because Houston will either keep him or Williams will go somewhere to play linebacker, but the Bears would be foolish to not offer Williams a big contract to play in Chicago. 



    Other Options


    Robert Mathis, DE

    John Abraham, DE

Cornerback Options

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    The Bears could use some help at the cornerback position next year. They have Charles Tillman as their starter, but after that it is a little messy.

    Both Tim Jennings and Zachary Bowman are free agents, and both were very inconsistent last year in coverage. Jennings looks to be the better guy to keep next year, but that still isn't said with a lot of confidence. 

    Jennings would be much better served as a third cornerback on this Bears team, and not a starter. This leaves a hole at the second starter at cornerback next year. However, there are some options in free agency at corner that could make the Bears want to invest in their pass defense.



    Cortland Finnegan, CB


    Finnegan has been called a dirty player by many people across the sports universe, but he still is one of the top corners in the league.

    The Bears pride themselves on run defense, and Finnegan has been very good in run support in his career. He is also good in coverage and would compliment Charles Tillman very well.

    Signing Finnegan would give the Bears two Pro Bowl caliber corners and allow Tim Jennings to be a solid third cornerback.

    If the Bears can also upgrade their DE position and give them more pass-rush, this signing makes the Bears' defense—on paper—one of the better units in the league.



    Terrell Thomas, CB


    Terrell Thomas missed the entire season last year due to an ACL injury. However, before he got hut Thomas was one of the best No. 2 corners in the NFL. He is extremely active in run defense, something the Bears would love out of their corner opposite Tillman, and he is also good in coverage.

    The Bears will have to make sure he's healthy, but Thomas would be a great fit in Chicago.

    He wouldn't have to be the top guy because Tillman already claims that role for the Bears, so he could just play his physical game and help make hard-nose plays for this defense.

    The Bears would really like to add a player like Thomas this offseason, and because of his injury last year, he could be quite the steal.



    Other Options

    Carlos Rogers, CB

    Brandon Carr, CB

    Tracy Porter, CB

Other Options in Free Agency

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    Fred Davis, TE

    The Bears would love to add a pass-catching threat to their tight end core next year because Jay Cutler needs all the weapons he can get.

    Fred Davis would be a great signing this offseason, for he provides Cutler an option to go to on third downs and when the protection breaks down.

    Davis is big, athletic and has proven in this league that he can be a viable option in the passing game. Now that Mike Martz is gone, the Bears can add a tight end that can catch the ball, so Mike Tice can incorporate more things into the offense next year.

    The Bears should already be formulating a plan to get Davis to Chicago, and that starts by getting ready to hand some money over to the talented tight end.



    Tyvon Branch, SS


    Branch would be a good signing by the Bears because Chicago needs quality safety play next year.

    The Bears switched around too many guys at both safety spots last season, and it is time to get some consistency in the team's defensive backfield. 

    While it may not be in the best interests of the Bears to spend a lot of money on an elite free agent strong safety, if they love Branch enough they could make a strong play for him. Branch is really physical, helps out a lot in run defense and he can play zone coverage very well.

    He still needs some work in man-to-man coverage, but as long as Chicago won't be asking him to do too much man coverage, he would be a good pickup.



    Final Thoughts


    In conclusion, the Bears are probably going to look towards free agency this year as a time to make some big splashes in some key areas.

    I personally look to see Chicago make a big splash on offense and defense. I definitely see them signing a wide receiver in free agency, and they might also grab a corner or defensive lineman. 

    I also wouldn't be surprised if they grabbed two wideouts in free agency this year. It is long overdue, but the Bears need elite receiving talent to help Jay Cutler out in the passing game.

    I would not be surprised if the Bears signed Vincent Jackson and Dwayne Bowe. It's time to get serious about this offense, and it wouldn't shock me one bit if they made that kind of a splash.

    If it were me, though, I would rather sign Bowe and a Fred Davis-type tight end. That way you get involved in the NFL's new tight end movement because it seems every team has a freakish athlete at their TE position.

    It never hurts to be included.