Chicago Bears: The Complete Guide to Free Agency
The Chicago Bears have made their offseason moves in the front office already, and that means that it's now time to move on the the free agency portion of the NFL offseason for the team and its new-look front office.
The Bears have a lot to look at as far as free agency goes, including free agents on the team both restricted and unrestricted and addressing team needs by signing free agents from other teams.
This is the complete guide to free agency for the Chicago Bears. In here, you can find out everything you need to know to get up to speed on what the Bears have done already this offseason, and on moves that the team plans on making in the near or distant future.
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The Bears are in a bit of a rough spot right now when it comes to the subject of free agency.
In a nutshell, the Bears were around $12 million under the projected salary cap figures for this upcoming season.
Seems pretty good, right?
After the team decided to place the franchise tag on Pro Bowl DT Henry Melton, however, that number quickly went from $12 million to about $3.5 million, the amount that it would take to sign the 2013 rookie class for Chicago.
Basically, if the team stays where they're at, after the draft they'll have no money left to sign their own free agents, let alone try and get another player in free agency.
There is hope, though, that the Bears can get new deals done for players who are expected to get a lot of money this season, and that could give the team a lot more room to move under the cap.
For example, the team placed a franchise tag on RB Matt Forte last season. That changed, however, when the team was able to get a long-term deal done, pushing his base salary down and moving money into a roster bonus. That possibility is still there for Henry Melton, as a long-term deal doesn't have to get done until July 15th.
Another move could be tacking "dummy years" onto the contracts of existing players, making most of their base salaries into signing bonuses.
An example of this would be DE Julius Peppers. He has the biggest cap hit for the Bears right now, with just under $16.4 million due to him next season. By adding two years to his contract, the team could take $10 million of what he is expected to make this season and $10 million of what he is supposed to make next season and turn it into a $20 million signing bonus.
His salary for this year would go from $12.9 million to $2.9 million, and he would still get all of his money. This would allow the Bears more room to make moves in free agency right now.
A complete list of cap hits for the Chicago Bears in the 2013 season can be found right here.
No matter how they handle it, the team needs to do something about their salary cap numbers. If they don't, they could lose a lot of talent from their roster to free agency and only be able to sign the draft picks they get this year, without getting one single player through free agency.
Unrestricted Free Agents and Restricted Free Agents
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It's well known around the league that the most important unrestricted free agent that the Bears currently have to deal with is MLB Brian Urlacher. Urlacher has been the face of the franchise for years and has made it known that he will be playing next season, and he wants to be with the Bears (per ESPN).
But the Bears have to worry about much more than just Brian Urlacher. They have a multitude of players that are set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason, and the team currently has no cap room to sign them.
Some of those unrestricted free agents include players such as Jonathan Scott, Lance Louis, Kevin Hayden, Nick Roach and, perhaps most notably, Israel Idonije.
The team would like to retain Nick Roach, who plays the linebacker position for the team, but there are some notable names on the UFA list that could be detrimental to Chicago if they were to lose them.
DE Israel Idonije has played for the Bears since 2004 and was a major contributor to the defense last season, recording 7.5 sacks and forcing a fumble for the Bears.
For a complete list of UFAs and RFAs, click here.
The team also has one Exclusive Rights Free Agent in Armando Allen. This means that he has been in the league for two years and has the option to either take the offer the Bears make to him at the three-year veteran minimum salary or leave the league.
The Bears have a lot of UFAs and RFAs in this year's offseason. It's going to be important for them to clear up cap space not only so they can try to bring Brian Urlacher back, but other players who are essential to the team's success as well.
Franchise Tagging Henry Melton
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When the Bears chose to place a franchise tag on Pro Bowl DT Henry Melton, it meant a few things for the organization as a whole.
First of all, it meant that the team would be going from about $12 million in cap room to roughly $3.5 million, because all of the money that Melton would be making in his new deal would be entirely paid out in 2013 salary money.
Secondly, it meant that a deal had not yet been struck between the two sides, a deal that could possibly save the team millions and millions of dollars.
Third, it meant that the team basically got an extension to work on a deal with Melton, just like they did with Matt Forte.
Forte was quite unhappy when the franchise tag was placed on him, saying he wasn't going to sign the tag offer and would hold out until he got a new deal.
The same thing may still happen with Melton. Just because the team placed the franchise tag on him doesn't mean that it limits what they can do and that he has to play under the tag for next season. The deadline for players to get a new deal done with their team is July 15th, so the Bears can work with Melton into the summer to get a new deal done.
A new deal means more cap room for this season, and the Bears can sign more players and address their needs better.
Keep in mind, just because the team has placed the franchise tag on Melton doesn't mean their options are limited from here on out.
Biggest Team Needs
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When looking at the current roster of the Chicago Bears, there are multiple areas that could use improvement going into the 2013-14 NFL season. The most obvious, of course, is the offensive line.
The Bears have many questions surrounding their current offensive line, a line that has underachieved all season long and hopefully will get shaped up by new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer from New Orleans.
One question about the line involves J'Marcus Webb. Webb was recently arrested on drug charges, but the charges were soon dropped. Nobody is sure what the team plans to do about the incident.
The Bears are also wondering about whether they should take linemen in the draft, go after them in free agency, or both.
Another area needing improvement for Chicago is the linebacker position. Lance Briggs is locked up under contract, but Nick Roach and Brian Urlacher are both unrestricted free agents as of now, and could end up going anywhere.
The team also needs to find a receiver to complement Brandon Marshall on offense, whether that comes in the form of a wide receiver or a new tight end.
It has became clear that Johnny Knox will not be returning to the game of football (per ESPN), and it's just as clear that Devin Hester may see even less time on the playing field at the WR position this season.
Targets by Position: Wide Receiver
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With Greg Jennings not being franchise tagged by the Green Bay Packers, it's a possibility that the wide receiver could end up playing for the Chicago Bears next season.
While it is a long shot, there are several reasons that Jennings could fit with the Bears.
First of all, Jennings is used to playing against NFC North teams.
Secondly, the team needs another big receiver to complement Brandon Marshall. While Marshall had great numbers last season, the team needs somebody to play alongside him that they know can play well, especially with the permanent loss of Johnny Knox and the quickly diminishing role of Devin Hester. Sure, Bennett can play, but is he a real legitimate threat to line up opposite Marshall and make big plays on offense?
There are some snags in the process, however, that would prevent Jennings from ever becoming a Bear.
First off, he is testing the market expecting big money. The Bears would have to put a lot into a signing bonus and make his base salary for the next few seasons very small.
Secondly, Jennings has been public about his dislike for Chicago, saying "Let him [Marshall] hate us. We hate them, too. That's the bottom line. We don't like them, they don't like us."
Any way you look at it, Jennings would make a good fit next to Marshall in Chicago, and it could possibly be the greatest WR combination in the entire NFL. The biggest question, however, is still how the Bears would be able to get him. Keep in mind that while Marshall has 118 catches in his first season with the Bears, no other receiver for the team got higher than 45 catches all season long.
Targets by Position: Linebacker
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The Bears have a few options when it comes to linebacker, but the options may not be as viable as they would like right now.
They want to sign Roach, but they need to clear up the cap room to do so. When the cap room is cleared, Roach can be signed. Then the team has to figure out what they want to do about eight-time Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher.
Urlacher has made it clear that he wants to return to Chicago, but the team is still deciding if they can bring him back and let him finish his career with the Bears or if they need to move forward getting someone in the draft.
As of right now, the only certain thing for the Bears at LB is Lance Briggs.
In the coming months, fans will find out more and more on what their team is going to look like next season. Will it be the same three that they saw last season? Or will there be some unfamiliar faces in the middle of the defense when the Bears take the field in 2013?
Targets by Position: Tight End
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After Kellen Davis had a "rough year" last season, according to Bears GM Phil Emery (Chicago Tribune), the team is now looking at different possible options for the tight end position.
One player that has been making a lot of noise lately is Jared Cook, the TE for the Tennessee Titans.
Cook was not franchise tagged, just like Greg Jennings and the Packers, and is looking to test the free-agent market. One team that's in the market for a tight end is the Chicago Bears.
The 6'5", 250-pound tight end out of Tennessee caught 44 passes last season for a total of 523 yards and four touchdowns. That would be a significant upgrade from Davis, who caught just 19 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns for the Bears last season.
Ever since getting rid of Greg Olsen, the Bears have been looking for a tight end that can both block and catch the ball well. Cook may be the player that they've been looking for.
According to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bears could be actively be looking to add the 25-year-old to their roster and see how he does with the team. Cook would be an impact player right away if signed by the Bears, something they must be considering while looking to add him to the team.
Keep in mind that Cook's 44 passes caught last season would be good enough for the second-most passes caught by a Bears receiver last season. He could also be a player that would take defenders away from Brandon Marshall.