Ranking the Chicago Bears' Best Remaining Free Agent Options
When free agency began on March 12, the Chicago Bears were quick out of the gate to fill two major holes at left tackle and tight end with the signings of Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett.
Following the announcement of their signings the Bears parted ways with tight ends Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth and are expected to release defensive tackle Matt Toeaina (h/t Chicago Sun-Times).
According to the Chicago Sun-Times' Sean Jensen, the Bears entered free agency $7.01 million under the cap and after the Bushrod and Bennett signings the team has roughly $5.6 million left.
A lot of that money will be allocated to the upcoming draft class but the team still has the ability to restructure and extend contracts to free up more space.
With the majority of the big names now signed and limited cap space the team will be looking for solid players who can contribute but may come at less than market value.
Here is my ranking of the five best remaining free agent options for the Chicago Bears:
5. Julian Edelman, Wide Receiver
In 2012, for the first time in years, the Chicago Bears had a go-to number one wide receiver in Brandon Marshall. Marshall came to Chicago in a trade with the Miami Dolphins, and he immediately went on to break the team's single-season receptions and receiving yards records.
Marshall was quarterback Jay Cutler's primary target for much of the season with injuries and poor performances plaguing the rest of their receiving corps.
Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett are both expected to be fighting for playing time in 2013, while Johnny Knox was released—then retired—and it is unknown whether or not Devin Hester will remain in Chicago.
The team will likely look for a speedy wide receiver at some point in the draft that can help stretch the field, former New England Patriot Julian Edelman could provide depth as a special teams contributor and could fight for some playing time in the slot.
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 at worst he is someone that can push Earl Bennett in the slot and Hester as a return man.
4. Kelvin Hayden, Cornerback
Following the demotion of D.J. Moore early in the 2012 season, veteran Kelvin Hayden slid into the nickelback role and played well, finishing the season with 37 tackles, an interception and five passes defended.
Currently the Bears only have two quality starters in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings on the roster.
Re-signing Hayden would afford the team the ability to draft a cornerback early in the draft and have time to develop him behind Hayden, Tillman, and Jennings.
The cornerback market has yet to take off with top name guys like Brent Grimes, Antoine Winfield, and Nnamdi Asomugha so it could take some time before the Bears would sign Hayden.
With much bigger needs for this team they could sit back and wait to see what sort of market develops and considering his age (30 in July) there might not be as many teams who value what he does as much as the Bears do.
3. Daryl Smith, Linebacker
Not long after signing their two big name free agents last week, the Bears saw one of their starting linebackers depart for the Oakland Raiders.
Nick Roach started 59 games over the last six seasons in Chicago, mostly at the strong-side linebacker position but filled in at middle linebacker for Brian Urlacher in the final four games of the 2012 season.
The Bears currently only have one proven starter at linebacker in Lance Briggs and will no doubt look to add some youth to the position in the draft but may need to look to the free-agent market for a stopgap.
New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is expected to implement a similar Cover-2 scheme that the Bears have run in recent years and given his time spent in Jacksonville, veteran Daryl Smith may be a logical choice to come to Chicago.
Smith was injured most of the 2012 season, only making two starts, but prior to that he has been consistently healthy and one of the most unheralded starters in the NFL.
Pro Football Focus lists Smith as their top available free agent linebacker, saying:
This long-time Jacksonville Jaguar hasn’t gotten as much attention as he deserves since joining the league in 2004. He spent nearly all of the 2012 season injured and played only in the last two games. Prior to that he was the standard for 4-3 outside linebackers. In 2011 he finished third in Run Stop Percentage at 10.6%, in Pass Rushing Productivity (for those with at least 50 pass rushes) at 13.0, and in Yards per Coverage Snap at 0.67. Many of the free agent linebackers available are good at one or two of those things, but he is the rare talent who can do it all. He will be 31 in a month, so his best football might be behind him, but even if he can’t reach the same heights he once did, he can still be a great upgrade for most teams.
Given his age (31) and the fact that he is coming off of an injury may drive the market price down and given his relationship with Tucker, the Bears may find a guy who can hold down the strong side for a couple of years until they are able to develop his replacement.
2. Brian Urlacher, Linebacker
Aside from how the Bears were going to address the offensive line this offseason, the next biggest question has been whether or not Brian Urlacher is going to return to Chicago for his 14th season.
He struggled to get back into form in 2012 following a knee injury at the end of the 2011 season that kept him out of the majority of training camp. He played slower then he ever had in the past and due to a hamstring injury, he missed the final four weeks of the season.
Bears President Ted Phillips has not been shy about his desire for Urlacher to return in 2013, saying (h/t Chicago Tribune):
The reality is we would like nothing more than for Brian to finish his career as a Bear. I still remember the day we drafted him. He played safety in college and he’s turned into one of the best middle linebackers and Chicago Bears in history. I hope his career ends with us.
General Manager Phil Emery is playing his cards close to his chest but has indicated that they would like him back, saying (h/t Chicago Tribune):
We have approached him(Urlacher) about coming back. As far as working it out, that is an ongoing process
Losing Nick Roach has vastly depleted the Bears depth at linebacker and although Urlacher is not the same player he used to be, his knowledge of the system could help mask some of his deficiencies.
1. Brandon Moore, Guard
The Bears already addressed its biggest need on the offensive line by signing left tackle Jermon Bushrod but the line as a whole is still far away from being an above average group.
J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi are expected to battle for the right tackle position and with Lance Louis still not re-signed, the Bears are likely in the market for a veteran guard.
Brandon Moore has started every game since 2005 with the New York Jets and although he will be turning 33 in June, he has been consistent throughout his career, being named to the Pro Bowl following the 2011 season.
Pro Football Focus ranked Moore its fourth best guard in 2012, saying:
Success is nothing new for Moore who has now posted a positive grade every year since PFF’s inception in 2008. His +12.8 run blocking grade will be attractive to any team looking to move the ball on the ground, though he’s also more than capable in pass protection. He graded at +5.6 as a pass blocker with a Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) of 97.2 that ranked 18th among all guards. Moore’s all-around game has him as our top interior lineman heading into free agency.
Given the need the Bears have for a proven veteran along the offensive line, Moore makes the most sense. Similar to what Ruben Brown was able to do when he was signed in 2004, he can add a veteran presence to an offensive line that desperately needs it.
The difficult part will be determining whether or not they can fit him in under the salary cap.