Free Agents That Would Fit With the Chicago Bears Super Bowl Dreams
The Bears roster is thin on talent. Forget the issues at the wide receiver and safety positions.
Yes, there are a few all-pro starters and General Manager Jerry Angelo went out and got some major talent to improve the team. He stole Jay Cutler from the Denver Broncos to obtain the team’s strong-armed quarterback of the future—a quarterback capable of overthrowing Devin Hester on a fly pattern down the sidelines.
Angelo found Cutler’s bodyguard in the form of Orlando Pace, the former St. Louis Ram who will protect the QB’s backside.
Naturally, both players will lighten the load and open running space for the Bears phenomenal rookie running back, Matt Forte.
But what if The Bears lost one those players to injury?
Which player will step in and allow the Bears to continue on their hypothetical path to the Super Bowl?
Now consider the defense.
Can the team be successful without either Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs playing their positions as all-pro linebackers?
Let’s say defensive tackle Tommy Harris blows out his knee again. Will rookie Jarron Gilbert become the new force in the middle of the defensive line?
Or what if Charles Tillman, the Bears’ most reliable cornerback, joins fellow starter Nathan Vasher on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury. Backup cornerback Corey Graham can’t cover two receivers simultaneously.
Can the Bears win the division and a playoff game if any starter is injured?
Bears Have $11 Million of Cap Space
It’s time the Chicago Bears consider using the additional $5 million in salary cap space to add depth to the roster. The Bears have a little more than $11 million available in salary cap space to sign free agents during this off-season, according Web sources. The franchises gained another $5 million, approximately, when the NFL announced on May 15 that it would to raise each team’s maximum combined players’ salaries to $128 million instead of $123 million for the 2009 season.
The additional cap money was intended for the 2010 season budgets, but it was added to the 2009 season budget to provide more space for teams to sign or lengthen player contracts. Unless the League and the NFL Players’ Association agree to a new collective bargaining agreement—the League chose to opt-out of the final two years of the existing contract—the 2010 season is expected to be uncapped.
Here’s a short list of remaining free agent players the Bears should consider signing to add depth to the roster and increase competition for starting positions.
Cornerback/Safety – Chris McAlister, Baltimore Ravens
The Super Bowl XXXV champion, two-time all-pro, and 11-year veteran would be an instant contributor to the Bears’ defensive backfield.
At 6' tall and weighing 210 pounds, McAlister has been considered a shutdown cornerback, has provided excellent run support, and was accustomed to playing on a hard-hitting defense.
McAlister could replace Nathan Vasher, who has been injury prone the past few seasons as one of the starting Bears cornerbacks and cause Vasher to shift to nickelback, helping further develop Corey Graham’s coverage skills.
If the Bears are interested in McAlister, the franchise will have wait until doctors clear him of knee surgery and allow him to workout at full speed, reported Vic Carucci, a senior columnist on the NFL.com Web site. McAlister has only started in 13 games during the past two seasons because of knee injuries.
Considering McAlister’s injuries and age, Carucci added, he may be a better player as a safety than as cornerback in 2009.
Other notable free agent safeties: Rodney Harrison–the hard-hitting 15-year veteran and former Chicago native – was on the New England Patriots’ injured reserve list last season with a torn thigh muscle. Although most consider the injury career ending, Harrison has not filed his retirement papers.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks, Formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brooks was one of three Buccaneers to score a defensive touchdown in the 48-21 blowout of the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl 37.
Blessed with incredible speed, according to former teammate Warren Sapp, Brooks averaged more than 100 tackles in nearly every season of this 14-year career at Tampa Bay. The 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is a perfect fit for Head Coach Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2 scheme.
Brooks has only played in the Tampa-2 defense and knows every nuance of the scheme. In addition, Smith coached Brooks between 1996 and 2000 when Smith was in charge of Tampa Bay’s linebackers.
Brooks was less productive in 2008, with 73 total tackles according to NFL statistics, and may have lost a step due to age. The main hurdle to signing Brooks is that he and Bears starter Lance Briggs play the same position—weakside linebacker.
Unlike the strongside linkbacker, the weakside linebacker’s responsibility is to make tackles in the short zone behind the defensive linemen in the Tampa-2 defensive scheme. Faster, more agile players are chosen to play the weakside because of the greater area to cover.
Strongside linebackers are more bulky and are responsible for fighting through tight end blocks to make a defensive stop.
Other possibilities: None. Considering the number of linebackers on the Bears roster–nine players at the position including rookies–and the complexity of the Tampa-2 scheme, it is Brooks or none from the pool of free agent linebackers.
Update: Pisa Tinoisamoa, former St. Louis Rams linebacker, is scheduled to meet with The Chicago Bears on May 20. The Rams released Tinoisamoa on May 8 after an unsuccessful attempt to trade the six-year veteran weakside linebacker, according to Brad Biggs, a reporter with the Chicago Sun-Times. Tinoisamoa led the Rams in total tackles, with 104, last season and his release was unexpected. A possible reason for his release was his low playing weight of 225 pounds. Most coaches would prefer Tinoisamoa to weigh 240-pounds. If he can gain 15 pounds, Tinoisamoa could compete for the strongside linebacker position. Tinoisamoa spent his rookie season, 2003, working with Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith when the latter was the Rams defensive coordinator.
Backup Running Back: Former Arizona Cardinal Edgerrin James
Matt Forte did a great Walter Payton impersonation last year. In 2008, Forte accounted for nearly 35 percent of the Bears’ total offensive yardage, the highest percentage in the league according to Kevin Seifert, an NFL analyst and ESPN writer.
The Bears' rookie running back carried the ball 316 times for 1,238 yards. Forte was also the team’s leading receiver with 63 catches for another 477 yards through the air.
With that many touches and tackles, Forte needs another Bears running back to help with the offensive load.
James would be the ideal player to help Forte further his development in the league. James knows how to set up his blockers and can run with power. James’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield would enable him to relieve Forte on third downs.
With 12,121 yards rushing and 430 receptions for another 3,345 yards through the air, James has 10 years of NFL experience working with franchise quarterbacks.
In addition, James is a four-time Pro Bowler with 10 years of experience and played with two of the League’s best quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner. He could further develop Forte’s skills and become an elite player in the NFL.
At 31 years old, however, James has lost the speed to run around the corner and is at the age when running backs decline in performance. Moreover, the Bears already have four running backs going into this year’s training camp.
Kevin Jones signed a one-year contract for 2009. Garrett Wolfe is returning from a season-ending injury. Adrian Peterson is a special teams contributor and “will always have a place” on the Bears, according to Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith. Tyrell Fenroy is a 2009 rookie free agent from Louisiana—Lafayette.
With the limitations of a 53-man roster, it is unlikely that the Bears will keep five active running backs on the team.
Money vs. Super Bowl
From the free agents’ perspectives, signing with the Bears is a matter of balancing salary demands against the chance of winning a Super Bowl.
• McAlister accounted for approximately $5 million of the Ravens’s salary cap in 2008.
• Brooks could have earned more than $13 million of the Buccaneers’s roster.
• James’s maximum salary would have been $8 million if he met every performance requirement of his contract.
If those players lowered their demands, it may be possible to see all three of them in Bears uniforms this fall.