Draft or Free Agency: How Should the Bears Attack Their Needs This Offseason?
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The NFL Scouting Combine is now in the books. Bears General Manager Phil Emery will turn his attention to free agency in March before tackling the draft in April. As he evaluates the draft-eligible players, Emery must decide whether to approach a team need with a rookie or veteran.
Available money and the team's current free agents will be a big factor in how the Bears go into free agency and the draft. The team has to decide what to do with Henry Melton as well as Brian Urlacher.
There is a good chance both player will be back with the team next year, meaning Emery can turn his attention to other positions. Here is a breakdown on where the Bears should address their needs this offseason.
Wide Receiver: Draft
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Brandon Marshall had a record-breaking season for the franchise and Alshon Jeffery made some strides in his rookie season, but the team was still lacking something at the wide receiver position. No Johnny Knox and an irrelevant Devin Hester meant the Bears had little to no speed at receiver.
There will be some interesting options in free agency like Greg Jennings and Wes Welker, but the Bears should not overspend for a third or fourth option. With Marshall and Jeffery on the outside, the team needs Earl Bennett to step up more as the over-the-middle guy, allowing them to find a youngster with burst.
Corey Fuller out of Virginia Tech is an interesting option. The 6'2'', 204-pound receiver is a track star turned football player. He has outstanding size for a guy who runs a 4.43 40 time. He is still very raw at his position and is very deliberate in his routes, but would be a nice late-round option.
Tight End: Free Agency
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Tight end proved to be one of the biggest holes on the team last year. Kellen Davis seemed to have dropped more passes than he caught and was just terrible all year. There is no doubt the Bears need to find a new tight end. There is some top-level talent in the draft, but it's not worth a first-round pick.
Once you get past Zach Ertz and Tyler Eifert from Stanford and Notre Dame respectively, there is a considerable drop off at the position in this year's draft. This means teams clamoring for a tight end will overvalue both players, forcing the Bears to pick one in the first round.
There are far more glaring needs on the team than to draft a tight end that early. Most importantly, there are some very good options in free agency. Martellus Bennett, Brandon Myers, Dustin Keller and Jared Cook are all good, established options.
Cook is a 6'4'', 235-pound veteran who had 44 receptions and four touchdowns last year. Inconsistency at the quarterback position in Tennessee hurt his stats, but he can be a 60-receptions kind of player with a quality quarterback.
Offensive Tackle: Free Agency
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There is one position and one position only the Bears should go out and spend serious money on. A second year GM and new head coach cannot take the PR hit of missing out on another tackle in the draft. Therefore, they shouldn't take that chance.
It is no doubt a very deep draft at tackle, but outside of the top five guys, who seem to be rising up the boards quickly, the other players look like athletic projects. The Bears don't have time for a player like that.
There will be some guys in free agency like Jake Long and Ryan Clady looking to break the bank. Clady will most likely be franchised and Long is too injury-prone to be worth $10 million a season. Instead, the Bears should look towards Kansas City's Branden Albert.
It is likely the Chiefs spend their first overall pick on Luke Joeckel, thus making Albert expendable. Bears GM Phil Emery knows him well from his days in Kansas City and knows Albert would be a good fit for the team.
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Here is the surprise and not-so-sexy pick of the slideshow. It may not excite you, but it's the most logical choice. In addition to needing a left tackle, the Bears also need a quality guard. If there's a good player on the board in the first round, why not take him?
Many people are talking about drafting an inside linebacker to take over for Urlacher here. Others want the team to take a left tackle no matter what. Why? If the talent isn't there then you should never reach for it.
If a guard drafted in the first round turns out to be a Pro Bowl player, then nobody ever goes back and says: "why the heck did we draft a guard that year?"
Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina is a flat-out stud. He was instrumental in making the Tar Heels an absolute force in the running game.
His accolades speak for themselves. Cooper is a AP All-American First Team, 2012 Walter Camp All America First Team, 2012 AFCA FBS Coaches' All-America First Team, 2012 NCAA FBS Consensus All-American and 2012 Coaches All-ACC Football First Team.
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The Bears need a linebacker. They can use an inside and outside linebacker. Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach very well could return to the team but drafting a player is still a necessity.
We have already touched on the Bears not needing to overvalue guys in the first round. However, in the second round they can get a steal. Khaseem Greene out of Rutgers has the potential to be a very good player.
Greene is 6'1'' and 241 pounds and ran a 4.71 40 time at the NFL Combine. That's just slightly off Alec Ogletree's 4.70. Over the past two seasons in the Big East Greene average 10.45 tackles per game. He was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year for two straight seasons.
Aside from their own free agents, there are not that many quality options on the open market. There may be some cap casualties but at this point it is better to breath some younger, new life into the position.
Nickel Corner: Draft
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The Bears will likely let D.J. Moore and Kelvin Hayden walk away in free agency. Given that the market is fairly weak this year, the team is better off addressing the need in the draft.
There are some exciting and athletic corners in this year's draft. One who comes to mind is small-school prospect B.W. Webb out of William & Mary. At 5'10'' and 184 pounds, he can play zone or man to man. He had 11 interceptions in his career and made a school record 48 starts.
Webb also adds an added dimension in the return game. He will be available in the later rounds and provides great value.
Safety: Free Agency
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The Bears could use some depth at safety. Yes, Chris Conte and Major Wright stayed relatively healthy this past season, but can you count on that again?
One added bonus is the return of last year's third-round pick Brandon Hardin. He was placed on IR during the preseason after suffering a head injury.
As he gets acclimated to the NFL, the Bears should bring in an experienced player who can help in the backfield. There are tons of options to choose from, including Charlie Peprah. The veteran has been on the team's radar before and could be brought in for depth and special teams.