Chicago Bears Free Agency Tracker: Updated Signings, Rumors, Storylines
At 4:00 PM ET on Tuesday, the NFL free-agency period starts. For the Bears, this is an especially critical time as they have a new GM who is faced with the opportunity to win now while trying to build for the future.
The draft is a good place to do both, though free agency is more for the "now." In any case, the Bears have some serious gaps to close between themselves and their divisional rivals if they're going to contend in 2012.
So, there is good reason to think that this Bears team can be contenders simply with a healthy Cutler and running back Matt Forte.
Yet even then, the presence of those Packers and Lions—oh my—means Chicago will need to fill a couple holes to even have a chance.
But it's on the offensive side of the football where the Bears' most critical needs lie. A true No. 1 wide receiver is paramount. That may not come from the draft, so the free-agency market needs to be scoured thoroughly.
The offensive line could use a boost, as well, so let's take a look at the rumors and storylines that surround our Bears and see if they are going to be able to close the talent gap in the North.
Latest Rumors and Reports
4/11: Jason LaCanfora of NFL.com is reporting that Bears have agreed to a 1 year contract extension with LB Lance Briggs.
3/16: Chicago Tribune beat writer Vaughn McClure reports that the Bears and safety Craig Stelz haveagreed on a two-year deal.
3/15: Jason La Canfora of NFL.com reports via his Twitter that the Bears have retained defensive end Israel Idonije with a one-year deal.
3/14: ProFootballWeekly is reporting the Bears have agreed to a 2 year contract with TE Kellen Davis.
ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Bears have re-signed QB Josh McCown to a 1 year deal.
Report: The Bears have signed linebacker Blake Costanzo to a two-year deal according to his agent on Twitter.
Report: The Bears re-signed cornerback Tim Jennings to a two-year deal on Tuesday, according to ESPN.
Report: According to ESPN's Adam Schefter via Twitter, the Bears have agreed to a one-year deal with QB Jason Campbell.
Report: ESPN's Jeff Dickerson reports that the Bears signed free agent linebacker Blake Costanzo to a two-year deal worth $2.2 million.
Report: According to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bears have tendered the minimum qualifying offer to running back Kahlil Bell.
Bears Sign CB Kelvin Hayden
4/5: Adam Schefter is reporting the Bears have agreed on a 1 year deal with CB Kelvin Hayden.
ESPNChicago.com reports that the Bears are scheduled to visit with free agent cornerback Kelvin Hayden. He also visited last offseason but the Bears didn't sign him due to health concerns.
Zack Bowman and Corey Graham are unrestricted free agents.
Bears Sign RB Michael Bush
Update 3/22: Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting that the Bears have signed RB Michael Bush to a 4 year, $14 million dollar contract with $7 million dollars guaranteed.
This could be an indication that the Bears aren't bringing back Marion Barber.
Bears to Meet with Ex-Vikings Guard Anthony Hererra
While he can also play center, he has battled injuries the past two seasons. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice was the head coach in Minnesota during Herrera's first two seasons in the NFL.
The guard position is crowded so I'm not sure how they would fit him in.
Cutler Wants Eddie Royal
According to a report on ESPNChicago.com, Jay Cutler wants the Bears to explore signing his former Denver teammate Eddie Royal.
"I would love to see Eddie here," Cutler said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "But like I said, price and how he fits, and there are a lot of factors that go into it.
Cutler said he talked to Royal on Tuesday and he knew Royal remained a free agent despite a report that Royal agreed to terms with the Washington Redskins.
Royal caught only 19 passes for 155 yards and one touchdown for the Broncos last year.
Bears Sign KR / WR Eric Weems
Jeff Dickerson of ESPN is reporting that the Bears have signed Eric Weems to a three-year contract on Wednesday. The moves gives the team some protection in case Corey Graham leaves as an unrestricted free agent.
Weems was a 2010 Pro Bowl selection on special teams. He also has 2,896 kick return yards the past five seasons, seventh-best in the NFL for that time span.
Weems played for the Falcons.
Update: Bears Trade for Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall
This is a great pick up for the Bears. Marshall is re-united with his former QB Jay Cutler. The Bears got a high caliber WR with very little risk.
Rumor: Bears Interested in DE Dwight Freeney
This rumor, courtesy of Scout.com, is hard to believe. On the one hand, the Bears do need help with their pass rush. They would love to line up a pass-rushing stud like Freeney alongside Julius Peppers.
According to the site, Len Pasquarelli of the Sports Xchange had this to say regarding the Bears' interest in Freeney.
“If, as indicated by an ESPN report on Friday, the Colts are listening to offers for defensive end Dwight Freeney, word is that the Chicago Bears, who want to find a pass-rush partner for Julius Peppers, will be one of the teams in their ears," Pasquarelli wrote today.
Freeney, 32, had 8.5 sacks for the Colts last year after three consecutive seasons of double-digit sack totals.
But Freeney will be a huge hit against the salary cap for 2012 if he is signed. The $14 million that Freeney would cost Chicago would eat up much of the $20-plus million in cap space the Bears currently enjoy.
Signing Freeney would seemingly rule out signing a top-free agent wide receiver like Vincent Jackson. Personally, I'd rather spend my big dollars on a wideout.
The Bears were said to be very interested in making a run at Detroit Lions DE Cliff Avril before the Lions tagged him. So we know they're interested in helping the pass rush, which was inconsistent last year.
But again, the biggest need for Chicago is at receiver. Jay Cutler needs some weapons to throw to and now that Notre Dame's WR Michael Floyd's stock is rising, they may have to go the free-agent route to obtain that weapon.
Bears Need Free-Agent Wide Receiver Vincent Jackson
UPDATE March 13, 2012: Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting that the Buccaneers have signed Vincent Jackson to a 5 year, $55.55 million dollar contract with $26 million dollars guaranteed.
Jackson is the top wideout on the open market and, at 6'5", one of the tallest weapons in the league. That would certainly help Cutler and the Bears, who not only lack a No. 1 wideout but also lack height.
Jackson won't come cheap, and there will be a lot of suitors for his services. If I'm GM Phil Emery, I have a bag of cash waiting at his doorstep at 4:01 PM ET on Tuesday, similar to how they attacked Peppers when they decided they wanted him as a free agent two years ago.
Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune tweeted that he expects the Bears to make a run at Jackson. NFL Trade Rumors wrote that "Jackson seems like an obvious target for Chicago and many of our readers seem to believe that it’s a foregone conclusion."
But, as the site goes on to point out, the Bears won't be alone in their quest for Jackson. "The Redskins, Rams, Jaguars, Buccaneers and Vikings have all been suggested as possible options..." according to them.
Jackson will probably demand around $12 million per season, but the Bears have the cap space. If they sign Jackson, they won't have to worry about Notre Dame's Floyd being taken before Chicago's first-round draft pick.
Jay Glazer of Fox Sports is reporting the Bears have agreed to the terms of a trade with the Miami Dolphins for Pro Bowl WR Brandon Marshall for 2 third round picks.
Bears Release Adams and Omiyale to Save Cap Space
The Bears officially released Anthony Adams (who was targeted to be the starting DT for Chicago, but hardly played this season) and offensive lineman Frank Omiyale on March 1st.
The Omiyale cut saved the Bears about $1.35 million in cap room. Meanwhile, Adams was scheduled to receive $1.9 million in base salary while counting $2.65 million against the Bears' salary cap.
These cuts will increase the $20 million-plus in cap room that the Bears are thought to have, however, $7.7 million of that will be earmarked by Matt Forte, and the draft and their own free agents will also eat up some of that number.
This potentially leaves Emery about $14 million to $18 million to work with, depending on who else they may cut. One big free agent, like Freeney or Jackson, would use up the majority of that amount.
Will Bears Make a Play for Super Mario?
March 15, 2012 Update: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports via his Twitter that Mario Williams will be given a six-year deal from the Bills. He reports that the contract is worth up to $100 million dollars with $50 million guaranteed.
The Chicago Tribune's Dan Pompei has a different idea for solving the Bears' pass rush woes. Instead of going after Freeney, his suggestion is for the Bears to throw big wads of cash at DE Mario Williams.
While I personally think Williams may be out of the Bears price range—after all, he would likely eat up all of the remaining cap space—there is no question the sight of he and Peppers would scare every offensive coordinator in the NFL.
Texans defensive end Mario Williams is a beast. But to suggest that the Bears need him more than Vincent Jackson is incorrect in my world. Yet in Ponpei's kingdom, the Bears would take Williams instead.
They won't have enough money for both, that much is clear. While Williams is only 27, he only started 18 games over the last two seasons. He did have one sack for each game started in 2011, however.
Following seasons in which Williams sacked the QB 26 times in two years (2007 and 2008), he has 22.5 sacks over his last three seasons combined.
But he remains a force and the Bears could use a guy like him. Heck, every team in the NFL could use a guy like Williams.
Pompei may think that "Many teams have won big without star receivers. Few have won without a pass rush that keeps quarterbacks up at night and down during games," but I'd prefer Jackson for this Bears team.
Which of Their Own Free Agents Are Staying, Going?
With all of the talk surrounding other teams' free agents that the Bears may covert, like Vincent Jackson, there hasn't been as much word on the street regarding what Chicago intends to do about its own free-agent situation.
It is likely that many will be re-signed, if nothing more than the fact that other teams fail to offer them a bigger contract. Guys like Corey Graham would love to be paid as starters, but they may mean more to the Bears as reserves (or, as in the case of Graham, as special teamers).
Recognizing that, here are my predictions, along with some supporting evidence:
Josh McCown, QB: Whether this precludes the Bears from going out and bringing in another veteran to be No. 2 (or No. 3 depending on how the Bears view McCown), is anybody's guess. However, it appears likely the Bears will bring back McCown.
He played better than Hanie (which isn't saying much) and is familiar with the players and coaches. ESPN's duo of Bears experts, Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright, have this to say about McCown.
"It’s believed the Bears plan to bring back McCown as the No. 3, with a chance to win the No. 2 spot in training camp."
3/14: ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Bears have re-signed QB Josh McCown to a 1 year deal.
Craig Steltz, S: Steltz played surprisingly well in his stint late in the season. He plays with discipline and knows the system well. There shouldn't be too much interest in his services, plus he's a good special teams contributor.
The ESPN duo seem to agree with me. "The Bears are a better team in 2012 with Steltz on the roster than without."
UPDATE: Steltz re-signed with the Bears for two years, $1.64 million, according to ESPNChicago.com.
Kahlil Bell, RB: For one thing, he's a restricted free agent and for another, he looked good in 2011. Though he had some problems holding onto the football at times, he will be back next season.
UPDATE: Bears tendered offer to Bell to retain right to match any offer.
Kellen Davis, TE: Lovie Smith practically exalted Davis after the season, implying that he could be as good as the top tight ends in the NFL. While I don't know about that, he does deserve a chance to show what he can do. Mike Tice will use him as a pass-catcher more than Mike Martz, so this is his opportunity.
UPDATE#2: Davis re-signed for two years.
Amobi Okoye, DT: Okoye did fine in limited opportunity last season. By releasing Adams, the Bears have opened up an even greater need for depth and Okoye fits that bill. Unless another team offers him more than he's worth, he should be back.
Isreal Idonije, DE: Unless the Bears sign a guy like Freeney, expect them to bring Idonije back. He didn't play as well as he did in 2010, but he finished strong and knows the system.
UPDATE: Idonije signed a one-year deal with the Bears.
Zack Bowman, CB: Bowman hasn't done anything since his rookie season, so he needs a chance of scenery. Someone will sign him but it won't be the Bears.
Brandon Meriweather, S: An expensive mistake that the Bears won't make again.
UPDATE: Meriweather signed with the Redskins.
Chris Massey, LS: The Bears only need one long-snapper and if their longtime, veteran snapper Patrick Mannelly can return from injury, Massey will be a numbers casualty.
Corey Graham, CB: This one hurts. I'd love to see Graham return since he's such a valuable member of special teams. He also played pretty darn well at the nickle last season. But there already are teams willing to start him on defense and the Bears won't pay him for that. Hope I'm wrong here.
Tim Jennings, CB: This one is a toss-up. Jennings got into Lovie's doghouse last year though he made amends late in the season. I thought he played pretty well for a little guy.
UPDATE 3/13: Tim Jennings has been re-signed by the Bears.
Roy Williams, WR: While the ESPN duo think he may stay (officially calling it a toss-up), I disagree. Williams is gone, in my opinion. The Bears brought him in due to his familiarity with Martz, but they didn't recapture the magic. He and his alligator arms must go away.
Caleb Hanie, QB: In the immortal words of Hawk Harrelson, "He gone!"
The Other WRs Not Named Jackson
Jay Glazer of Fox Sports is reporting the Bears have agreed to the terms of a trade with the Miami Dolphins for Pro Bowl WR Brandon Marshall for 2 third round picks.
Update: According to ESPN's Adam Schefter via his Twitter, the Indianapolis Colts have re-signed star wide receiver Reggie Wayne to a three-year deal.
Yes, there are other wide receivers on the open market not named Vincent Jackson. And with all of the competition for his services, along with the huge price tag, let's take a look at these other options.
UPDATE: According to a source on ESPN, the Saints have agreed to a five year contract with Marques Colston.
Marques Colston, Saints: The Saints have other free agents on their own team to re-sign, so Colston could fall through the cracks. The Bears should at least kick the tires of this 6'4" wideout. He caught 80 balls for 1,143 yards but does have an injury history.
According to the Chicago Tribune, "some personnel men" around the NFL wonder whether free-agent Marques Colston would be as productive in an offense different from New Orleans. He has been a single-covered slot receiver with a future Hall of Fame QB throwing him the ball. With the Bears he'd be double-teamed all the time.
Colston could be this year's version of Sidney Rice. I don't like this fit for the Bears, though he would certainly be better than signing no one.
Reggie Wayne, Colts: Wayne may follow Peyton Manning, but whoever gets him will be getting a wideout who is a little long in the tooth but still productive. Last season was the first year since 2003 that Wayne didn't produce 1,000 yards receiving.
I searched for, but didn't find, any rumors surrounding Wayne coming to the Bears.
UPDATE: Wayne was re-signed by the Colts.
Robert Meachem, Saints: Perhaps he stays if Colston goes, but he would be a target for Chicago if the price was right. Though he's not a true No. 1 wideout, he would be on the Bears receiving corps.
ESPN's Michael C. Wright thinks Meachem would be a good target for the Bears.
"But don’t let Meachem’s production in 2011 (40 catches, 620 yards and 6 TDs) fool you. His lack of mega numbers stems in part from New Orleans’ spread-the-wealth system, and the fact he often became the clear-out man to open up things underneath for tight end Jimmy Graham."
UPDATE: Meachem signed with San Diego.
If the Bears can't land Jackson, he would be my next choice among the available receivers.