With the NFL draft just a week away, not every void for the Chicago Bears can be filled with young rookies. With needs at linebacker, defensive line and left tackle, the Bears could still be players in the free agent market.
Despite a new class of rookies coming in, only a few could be looked at as being potential impact players from the get go. With the window closing on this defense, the Bears need to be thinking, "win now," and adding veteran talent can certainly help.
Here's my list of four veteran free agents that the Bears should sign.
After releasing veteran Anthony Adams and letting Amobi Okoye hit the open market, the Bears currently only have three defensive tackles on their roster: Henry Melton, Stephen Paea and Matt Toeaina.
The Bears will likely look to address the defensive tackle position in the draft, possibly even going after someone like Dontari Poe or Fletcher Cox in the first round, but will certainly be in the market for another veteran defensive tackle.
Losing a guy like Anthony Adams leaves a bigger void than Okoye. Okoye was known as a pass-rushing defensive tackle and has a knack for getting to the quarterback while Adams is more of a run-stopper. With both Melton and Paea viewed as pass-rushing defensive tackles, a guy like Marcus Thomas, a run-stopper, would make a lot of sense for this defense.
Thomas, a former fourth-round pick for the Denver Broncos in 2007, was tendered by the Broncos but is not expected to re-sign with them unless they up their offer, and he will likely wait until after the draft to sign with another team.
Part of one of the best defensive units in the league last year, Thomas could fill the void that Adams left and could find himself being a productive player, especially when asked to help stop the run.
On Wednesday, veteran linebacker Rocky McIntosh visited the Chicago Bears. McIntosh, a former second-round pick out of Miami, possesses the ability to play both outside linebacker as well as middle linebacker.
Having to move to inside linebacker in 2010 when the Redskins switched to a 3-4 defense, McIntosh saw his numbers improve from his previous years as an outside linebacker. Riddled with injuries during the first part of his career, McIntosh has become a much more reliable player on the field.
McIntosh lost his job this past season to Perry Riley, but given the opportunity in the Bears 4-3 defense, he would have the chance to fight Nick Roach for the starting strong-side linebacker position and would provide reliable depth behind Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker.
Despite having one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the league during his first three seasons in Chicago, the Bears have done little to shore up protection for Jay Cutler.
J'Marcus Webb had done little to provide hope to Bears fans that he can improve and help protect Cutler's blindside. With very few left tackles available on the market, the Bears could find a bargain in former pro-bowler Marcus McNeill.
McNeill, when healthy, has been one of the best left tackles in the game, but the biggest negative against him is his health. Having suffered two neck injuries in the past, including last season, McNeill would be a wise signing only if he could be had for a small incentive-based deal.
With there only being a handful of left tackles in the draft that could start from day one, McNeill could provide a stopgap at the position until they can develop another tackle down the road.
One of the positions with the most turnover during Lovie Smith's tenure as Bears head coach has been the safety position. We've seen guys like Al Afalava, Mike Green, Mike Brown, Danieal Manning and Chris Harris—the list can go on and on—form safety combos throughout the years.
Last season saw a young duo start to find their own rhythm together when Chris Conte and Major Wright started the majority of the second half of the season together until Conte had to finish the year on injured reserve. Despite the solid play by the Conte/Wright tandem, the Bears still need to find someone who can provide depth and who could possibly compete for playing time.
Enter O.J. Atogwe.
A former third-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2005, Atogwe became known as one of the best free safeties in the game. If it were not for such a checkered injury history, Atogwe may of not been released by the Washington Redskins in early March. Much like Marcus McNeill, the Bears would be wise to sign Atogwe to an incentive-laden contract that could reward him for staying healthy. If the Bears were to sign Atogwe, and he could stay healthy, he could help shore a pass defense that desperately needs a playmaker at safety.