Chicago Bears: 3 Potential Free Agent WRs to Sign This Offseason
In 2012, new Bears wide receiver, Brandon Marshall, had one of the best seasons for a wide receiver in team history. He set new records for catches (118) and receiving yards (1,508) and set a personal career high with 11 touchdowns.
Despite constant double teams, Marshall was still productive but even with single coverage often in front of them, the other Bears wide receivers combined for just 78 catches and 1,011 yards.
Some of the blame can be put on the poor offensive scheme utilized by then-offensive coordinator Mike Tice and some can be put on the porous O-line that often forced quarterback Jay Cutler to rely on his security blanket, Marshall.
New head coach Marc Trestman is expected to help transform the Bears offense into one of the NFL's elite. Marshall will still be the focal point of the passing game and Alshon Jeffery was impressive at times during his injury-marred rookie season.
Johnny Knox's return is still in doubt following a back injury in the 2011 season, Devin Hester has hinted at wanting to move on (h/t ESPN), and although still under contract, Earl Bennett was average at best last season.
The Bears will likely try to add a quality tight end either through the draft or free agency which may limit their ability to spend at the wide receiver position, but even if they have limited funds, there are still quality receivers that could potentially help improve the wide receiving core in 2013.
2012 was a career year for fourth-year pro Brian Hartline.
In 16 games this past season, he hauled in 74 catches for 1,083 yards and one touchdown. His lack of touchdowns could be of concern, but considering he had rookie Ryan Tannehill throwing to him, and he was one of the few offensive weapons on the field, he was typically heavily covered.
He often gets the stigma of being slow just because he is white, but his speed and ability to get open deep are often overlooked with Dolphin wide receiver Davone Bess saying (h/t The Palm Beach Post):
He can run. That's good that they sleep on him, because come game time he can open up on them
He has good hands and is a solid route-runner and although he would be a solid No. 2 wide receiver, his ideal position is in the slot where he could best take advantage of his speed.
According to the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero, "Brian Hartline, a No. 2 receiver, will be looking for $5-$6 million per year on the open market if he gets there."
$5-$6 million per year would likely push Hartline out of the Bears price range, but it may be difficult for him to find that type of money from any team. If he is willing to settle for less money, he could be a great fit in the new Bears offense.
A former sixth-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2009 draft, Brandon Gibson had one of his most productive NFL seasons in 2012, where he hauled in 51 catches for 691 yards and a career-high five touchdowns.
His production rose after an injury to Ram's receiver Danny Amendola earlier in the season, and in some ways he could be looked at as a cheaper version of Amendola in the free-agent market.
He has above-average speed and much like Amendola, plays well in the slot and works well running slants and crosses (two routes that likely will be important in Trestman's new offense).
He has often been cast aside because of the ineptitude of the Ram's offense at times, but for the right price, Gibson could be a solid addition and help push Earl Bennett for the slot position in 2013.
With Devin Hester's once contemplation of retirement coupled with his new desire to possibly be traded (h/t ESPN Chicago), signing a wide receiver with the ability to return kicks, like Julian Edelman, makes sense.
Edelman is known more for his special teams ability not only as a return man but as an open-field tackler. He has three career punt returns for touchdowns and has been solid in limited action as a kick returner.
He had 21 catches for 235 yards and three touchdowns prior to a foot injury that put him on injured reserve late in the 2012 season.
He likely will not command a large contract and much like Hartline and Gibson, his strengths lie as a slot receiver but unlike the other two, he has had consistent success as not only a return man but as a special team's contributor.
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