Ranking the 2014 Impact of the Chicago Bears' Free-Agent Signings so Far

Ross Read@@RossReadContributor IIIMarch 24, 2014

Ranking the 2014 Impact of the Chicago Bears' Free-Agent Signings so Far

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    Bears general manager Phil Emery
    Bears general manager Phil EmeryAssociated Press

    General manager Phil Emery has been a busy man since the offseason started. He needs to be after a disappointing 8-8 season. 

    When the season ended, the Bears had nearly 40 of their own free agents. They have been busy making a flurry of transactions. New players have been brought in and familiar faces are gone. 

    How has the team done so far? This free-agency period can be consolidated into 10 key signings for the Bears. 

    Take a look at the rankings and be sure to comment on what you believe are the most important ones. 

10. Re-Signing Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    The Bears brought back veteran center Roberto Garza in February. The 35-year-old signed for a one-year deal. They also re-signed left guard Matt Slauson to a four-year deal. 

    Their signings keep continuity on the offensive line. That is the one area where a team doesn't want too many players shuffling in and out.

    It's important for the growth of Kyle Long and Jordan Mills to keep the group intact for another season. Bringing back Garza also means the Bears can take their time finding a long-term replacement.   

9. Re-Signing Kelvin Hayden

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    RICK SCUTERI/Associated Press

    It was a missed season for Kelvin Hayden last year. He was out all year due to a torn hamstring. 

    The Bears still decided to bring the nine-year veteran defensive back for another season. He will likely compete at the nickel spot with Isaiah Frey. 

    Frey had a solid season last year, but he isn't as savvy as Hayden and doesn't do enough to force turnovers. Hayden has 12 career interceptions and four fumble recoveries in a Bears uniform. 

8. Re-Signing D.J. Williams

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    It was a terrible season for the defense last year. They put up franchise-worst numbers against the run, and rookie Jon Bostic struggled at middle linebacker. 

    D.J. Williams was supposed to be the veteran bridge from Brian Urlacher to Bostic, but he missed most of the year with a chest injury. 

    Williams and the Bears will give it another go-round. He re-signed to a one-year deal and is an upgrade over Bostic. Williams has over 600 tackles in 107 career starts. 

7. Bringing in the Safeties

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The combination of Chris Conte and Major Wright was an epic failure last year. Both players struggled, and Conte's blown coverage in the final regular-season game kept the Bears out of the playoffs. 

    General manager Phil Emery knew he needed to replace Wright and find some healthy competition for Conte. He signed Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray and re-signed Craig Steltz. 

    McCray and Steltz are special teams players, but Mundy and Jennings are potential starters. 

    Mundy brings a much-needed physical presence. He will do well in stopping the run and has solid coverage skills. 

    Jennings will look to prove to the Bears and any skeptics he's a starter. He struggled in a starting role in Green Bay but will bring a motivated confidence to camp as he tries to push Conte out. 

6. Re-Signing Jeremiah Ratliff

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    In four starts last season, Jeremiah Ratliff showed flashes of what made him a Pro Bowl defensive tackle in Dallas

    The Bears were patient as Ratliff recovered from a gruesome groin injury. The patience wore off as Ratliff proved he's healthy and can still play in the league. 

    Impressed with what they saw and what he might be able to do with a full healthy offseason, the Bears brought Ratliff back on a two-year deal. 

    The deal is important because it allowed the team to not overpay for Henry Melton and shift their focus toward finding another tackle in the draft. Ratliff is the perfect starter to line up alongside a potential first-round pick. 

5. Re-Signing Tim Jennings

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Re-signing Tim Jennings early in the offseason is the most important and under-the-radar move the Bears have made. 

    The team got a Pro Bowl cornerback at a bargain compared to what others were getting. Jennings signed a four-year deal worth $22 million. 

    Green Bay will pay Sam Shields $39 million over four years, and Tampa Bay will pay Alterraun Verner $26 million over four years. Both players combined only have one more interception than Jennings over the past two years. 

    Jennings continues to be the Bears' best bargain. 

4. Signing Willie Young

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    It's important to get a player who's trending up and not down. Defensive end Willie Young is entering the prime of his career, and the Bears got him at the right time. 

    Young was a starter for the first time last year in Detroit. The 28-year-old took most of the season learning the role and adapting. 

    As he gets better and more comfortable, those 48 hurries from last year will turn into sacks. Young should improve on his three-sack season last year. 

    Should Young turn into a premier pass-rusher, the $9 million over three years will be a great deal for the Bears. 

3. Re-Signing Charles Tillman

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    Paul Connors/Associated Press

    How nervous were you when you knew Charles Tillman was visiting Tampa Bay? The suspense was likely killing Bears fans, but when the dust settled, the longtime Bear came back home. 

    Bringing Tillman back was vital. It allowed the Bears to patch up a hole on defense without spending a ton of money or an early draft pick. 

    When healthy, Tillman is as productive a cornerback as any in the league. He's a leader on the team and makes the players around him better. 

    One more season of Tillman allows the Bears to focus on the defensive line in the first round of the draft. They can find his replacement in a later round or even next season. 

2. Signing Lamarr Houston

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Revamping the defense was a priority for the Bears. They needed a younger pass-rusher whom they can build around. 

    It will cost the team $35 million over five years, but only $14.9 million of that is guaranteed. When splurging on a defensive lineman, the contract is actually very team-friendly. 

    Lamarr Houston is a tough and versatile defensive end who's hungry and ready for the Chicago spotlight. His skill set and athleticism allow the Bears to line him up in various spots.

    It was important for the Bears to land a big fish on the defensive line, and they did just that. Houston is an upgrade over Julius Peppers and will be a great improvement against the run.   

1. Re-Signing Jay Cutler

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    If you want to win in the NFL, it starts and ends with the quarterback. Nothing could have been realistically addressed in the offseason before the Bears locked up Jay Cutler

    Cutler got $54 million guaranteed and $126 million over seven years. This kept the best free-agent quarterback off the market and allowed the Bears to shift their focus toward more pressing needs. 

    A happy Cutler in a second season in Marc Trestman's offense brings a wealth of promise and expectations. He will now be forced to live up to the big money but has the weapons around him to do so. 

    Josh McCown wasn't a long-term answer and there just wasn't any other quarterback on the market with Cutler's capability. The options in the draft are not as impressive, and this team is built to win now. Waiting for a kid to develop just wasn't an option. 

    If the Bears need to upgrade the roster over the years, they can shift some of Cutler's annual salary into a signing bonus. This takes money off the cap, allowing the team to use it on other positions. 

    Should Cutler not perform well, the team can part ways with him after the 2016 season and not face any dead money.