With the new collective bargaining agreement put in place just before the start of the 2011 season, many teams will have an influx in available money and many will be forced to overspend to reach the league minimum in regards to the salary cap.
The Chicago Bears more than likely will be spenders this offseason, needing to address the Matt Forte contract and deciding on contracts for guys like Israel Idonije, Tim Jennings and Khalil Bell. They also will likely be pursuing either a top wide receiver (Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe or Marques Colston) or top pass-rusher (Mario Williams or Cliff Avril).
Teams do not win championships solely based off of the big-name, big-contract players, but championships are often won with the role players supporting the big-contract players.
Here is a list of five under-the-radar potential free agent acquisitions the Chicago Bears could make this NFL offseason.
After a stellar college career in which he finished fourth in the Heisman race and used his incredible speed and quickness to elude defenders, Steve Slaton's NFL career has been anything but stellar.
Despite a solid rookie season with the Houston Texans (1,282 yards rushing, 9 rushing TDs, 50 catches and 377 yards receiving), Slaton has been plagued with poor performance and has had trouble with protecting the football.
After being released earlier in the season by Houston, Miami took a chance on Slaton but he appeared in just three games.
Reading this, I am sure many are asking, "Why would anyone want him?" With two between-the-tackle/north-to-south running backs (Matt Forte and Khalil Bell), the Bears would be smart to acquire someone with the ability to bounce to the outside and utilize his speed and quickness.
Slaton would be nothing more than a situational running back, but in order to be successful in the running game, a bit of variety will help to confuse defenses.
In three of the last four seasons, Rashean Mathis has ended his season on the injured reserve list. While most might shy away from a guy who is injury prone, the Bears should look at it as an opportunity to acquire a player who, when healthy, can be a major contributor in the secondary.
Mathis has been one of, if not the only, good secondary player the Jaguars have had in recent years. Despite teams often shying away from Mathis because of the lesser talent around him, Mathis has still accumulated 30 interceptions in nine seasons.
Mathis brings experience, toughness and is a great cover corner, who, if healthy, would make a great cornerback opposite of Charles Tillman.
2011 could be coined the "Year of the Tight End" as guys like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Jermaine Gresham tore up opposing defenses.
Before the start of the 2011 season, the Bears decided to trade their best tight end, Greg Olsen, to the Carolina Panthers, in exchange for a third-round draft pick. The Bears struggled all season to get the tight end involved, mostly because of now former offensive coordinator Mike Martz's belief that the tight end should be nothing more than an extra blocker.
With the promotion of offensive line coach Mike Tice (a former NFL tight end himself) to offensive coordinator, look for the Bears to try to upgrade and utilize the tight end position.
With the drafting of Kyle Rudolph in the 2011 draft, Shiancoe's role in Minnesota began to diminish and he is not expected to return. The Bears can utilize Shiancoe's height and athleticism and give Jay Cutler the red-zone target he so desperately needs.
When Jay Cutler was injured against the San Diego Chargers in the middle of November, many felt that backup Caleb Hanie, who had never started an NFL game, could lead the Bears to the playoffs, at which point Cutler could possibly be able to return.
I as well as many "experts" were wrong, as Hanie struggled mightily in his four starts, throwing just three touchdowns to nine interceptions.
Hanie's failure was proof that there must always been an effective backup plan in place in case of an injury to Cutler.
In 2006, following an injury to starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, journeyman Shaun Hill stepped in under center and in 11 games threw for nearly 2,700 yards and 16 touchdowns. Hill will not wow you with a rocket arm or perfect accuracy, but he understands the game well and does not put his team in bad situations.
If the Bears were to go again without Cutler for an extended period of time, Shaun Hill could provide the perfect backup scenario.
Other than needing help on the offensive line, the next biggest need for the Bears is a playmaker on offense. The Bears will more than likely look to target at least two wide receivers via free agency, the draft or both. The biggest need in terms of a receiver is a guy that can stretch the field and that can go up and get the football over opposing defensive backs.
In a star-studded offense, Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem has often been overlooked when playing alongside players such as Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Darren Sproles. With the Saints needing to re-sign quarterback Drew Brees, offensive lineman Carl Nicks and Colston, look for Meachem to hit the open market.
In Meachem's four seasons, he has amassed 2,269 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns and has averaged nearly 16 yards per catch.
Meachem more than likely would not be targeted as a No. 1 type receiver, but could be very serviceable as a No. 2, being a guy that can go up and get the football and be a red-zone threat.
If the Bears are able to sign Meachem in combination with another free agent and/or rookie, the Bears might finally be able to boast a wide receiving corps that could have multiple 1,000 yard seasons.