Chicago Bears: Veterans on the Roster Bubble for the 2014 Season

Andrew Dannehy@@ADannChiBearsCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2014

Chicago Bears: Veterans on the Roster Bubble for the 2014 Season

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears were active at the start of free agency as they created some cap space by releasing a few veterans. They used that space with a few players and are now stuck with more difficult decisions to make.

    As general manager Phil Emery made known, the roster is far from complete. He is still looking to add talent, and a number of players will be competing for their jobs when training camp rolls around.

    While the top-line talent may not be there yet, Emery has added a lot of competition to the roster. Competition breeds success.

    The potential cuts in the following slides wouldn't necessarily be for salary-cap purposes, but it is still a business, and the Bears have to be mindful of how much they're paying a player for what they're asking him to do.

    With that said, here's a predraft look at some veterans whose jobs are far from safe.

Chris Conte

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    If Chris Conte can't beat out new safety M.D. Jennings, the Bears might end up cutting their losses.

    The initial reaction at the end of the season was that the Bears should cut their losses and get rid of the third-year safety, who struggled all season.

    GM Phil Emery was a bit more thoughtful for a reason. As much as he struggled last season, Conte has talent and is capable of being a good safety.

    There isn't a safety in the league who would have looked good with the Bears last season, but their flaws as a team exposed Conte's flaws as an individual. He isn't a particularly good tackler and often struggles when it comes to taking the right angles. He has exceptional speed and range but still thinks a tick slower than most safeties.

    With a front seven that allowed running backs to burst into the secondary regularly and struggled to rush the passer, Conte's flaws were under a magnifying glass.

    His flaws looked quite huge last year. The Bears needed someone to make plays, and instead, too often plays were made at his expense.

    He's capable of being better, but potential is dangerous, and the Bears can't wait for him to realize his. Jennings is a similar player, as both have the talent to be starting safeties in the league but just didn't perform that way last year.

    What will hurt Conte's cause even more is that his playing time triggered a performance escalator in his contract. According to Over the Cap, he will now cost about $1.5 million against the cap, most of which they can salvage should they release him.

    Conte could still have value to the team as a third safety, but Chicago may also be adding a player through the draft. If he can't beat out Jennings, his price tag could be too much for someone who may just be a special teamer.

Eric Weems

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    When the Bears signed Eric Weems, the conventional thought was that he was going to challenge Devin Hester as the starting return man.

    Even though he made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner in Atlanta, he never emerged as a threat for Hester's job and may lose his roster spot even after the Bears let Hester go.

    Weems is entering the final year of the three-year deal he signed before the 2012 season and will count $1.6 million against the salary cap. That's a hefty price to pay for a special teamer who may not return kicks.

    Per the team's Twitter account, the Bears signed Domenik Hixon, who has been a standout on special teams in Carolina and New York during his career. He's about 5 inches taller than Weems and provides value to the team as a receiver. 

    Weems' height makes it hard for him to find a role in the Bears offense, as he has just three receptions in the last two years. His career high is 11 catches, which he got with Atlanta in 2011.

    Hixon didn't do much for Carolina's offense last year, finishing with seven catches, but he had 39 with the Giants in 2012. 

    Weems still remains the favorite to be the top kick returner, but he will have competition.

    Backup running back Michael Ford showed the ability to return kicks in preseason last year, and the team added former CFL star Chris Williams at the end of last year.

    We know Weems can't play offense. If he isn't as good of a returner as Ford or Williams and can't cover kicks as well as Hixon can, he'll likely be cut.

Kelvin Hayden

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    Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

    The Bears brought the veteran corner back after he missed all of the 2013 season with a hamstring injury, but that doesn't mean he's a lock to stick around.

    He'll be 31 by the start of next season and is coming off a major injury. Second-year man Isaiah Frey did a solid job of filling in for Hayden last year and should only get better.

    Hayden was a weak spot in an otherwise great defense in 2012. While Frey struggled at times, he wasn't a noticeable drop-off from Hayden the year before. Frey is young (23) and likely to improve, while Hayden is likely headed in the opposite direction.

    While they haven't done much yet, the Bears figure to address the cornerback position through the draft. With Jennings a lock to start at one spot and either a free agent or draft pick looking at the other spot, it'll be hard for Hayden to find a role in the defense.

    What makes him even more likely to lose his roster spot is the fact that he doesn't play special teams. 

    Hayden isn't expensive in terms of dollar amount, but the roster spot could be better used on a young player who could develop into a contributor on defense or special teams.

Earl Bennett

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    I've talked about the Bears cutting Earl Bennett for a while now, and they're running out of reasons to keep him.

    As I wrote in February, his lack of production last year wasn't about opportunities; it was about his inability to capitalize on those chances.

    The biggest threat to his roster spot will be second-year receiver Marquess Wilson. He had the talent and production to be taken high in the draft, but perceived attitude problems dropped him to the seventh round, where the Bears nabbed him. 

    Wilson has talent and has been training with star wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery this offseason. It would be a surprise if he didn't make significant improvement.

    The Bears also signed Domenik Hixon, who is primarily a special teams player but has experience as a receiver. He caught 39 passes as a member of the New York Giants in 2012 and is more of a vertical threat than Bennett is. That could be a significant addition to the offense, given how much the Bears like to use Marshall and Jeffery in the slot.

    If the Bears were to cut Bennett, they would save $2.45 million this year and $2.6 million next season. It has proved to be a very bad contract, and the Bears should do what they can to get out of it.