The Bears are entering the 2011 offseason with 14 free agents (including two restricted free agents), so they have some decisions to make this offseason. Granted, some of their decisions will depend on what happens with the collective bargaining agreement but let’s just think that things will proceed normally and the Bears will have to deal with these 14 players.
The Bears recently announced that they will not be using the franchise tag this offseason. Teams are allowed to use a franchise tag to give to one player that they want to keep around and not yet sign to a long-term contract. The franchise tag allows for any team to take a player that is going to be an unrestricted free agent and keep that player with the team for one season.
The franchise tag is a bit expensive for teams to use. There are two types of franchise tags that teams can use. The first, a non-exclusive rights franchise tag, gives the player a one-year salary that is no less than the average salary of the top five players at that player’s position for the year prior.
Another option is to give the player 120 percent of his salary from his previous year’s contract, but the player has to get the greater of the two. These players can negotiate with other teams and if the player ends up signing an offer sheet with another team, his original team can match the terms of the offer or refuse to, thus letting the player move to another team.
When using an exclusive-rights franchise tag the player is offered a one-year contract that is based on an average of the top five salaries at the position going to April of the current season or the 120 percent option (120 percent of the player's previous salary), and the higher of those two will apply. These players are not allowed to negotiate with any team.
So why did the Bears state that they didn’t want to use their franchise tag?
Let’s look at the free agents that the Bears have going into the offseason. They include:
Quarterback Caleb Hanie; running backs Garrett Wolfe and Kahlil Bell; wide receivers Devin Aromashodu and Rashied Davis; tight end Desmond Clark; center Olin Kreutz; defensive tackle Anthony Adams; outside linebackers Pisa Tinoisamoa and Nick Roach; cornerback Corey Graham; safeties Danieal Manning and Josh Bullocks; and punter Brad Maynard.
Looking at this list, it didn’t appear as if there was any one player that the Bears would choose to put the franchise tag on. Knowing just how much the salary would be for franchising a player, it would not appear that any one of these guys would be worth putting a tag on and giving him top money.
Would they want to franchise a guy like Wolfe and give him top-five running back money? No. The same can be said about Hanie.
So the Bears decided not to use their franchise tag. Now the question is, which free agents should be re-signed and which ones should be let go.
The following is an argument for keeping each player and letting them go.
There is really no argument for letting him go other than he might want to have a chance to shine elsewhere. The Bears need to keep Hanie around as a backup because he knows the system and can play well in a pinch. Look for them to make efforts to re-sign him this offseason.
The only way that the Bears would decide to keep Wolfe would be if they decided that his special teams value would warrant that he stay with the team. He has almost no value as an offensive player and wouldn’t be a part of any offense that offensive coordinator Mike Martz would run. Look for him to not be back in 2011.
Some of what happens with Wolfe and Chester Taylor this offseason will dictate what happens with Bell. The Bears may decide to keep him around because of his familiarity with the offense but he hasn’t been used that often and may be considered expendable. Don’t expect the Bears to keep him around next season.
Coming into the season it was thought that the Bears would use Aromashodu a lot on offense but it never worked out well for both parties. Chicago could keep him for depth but the most likely scenario is that they will let him walk.
Davis is kind of in the same boat that Wolfe is in. He’s valuable on special teams but doesn’t really have a place in the offense. Granted, he did step in and have a good game in Earl Bennett’s place earlier in the season, but overall, his value on the team comes almost exclusively on special teams and that may not be enough to keep him around.
The argument to keep Clark can be made because of his ability to block as well as his ability to catch passes, but the Bears basically shut him down this year, which may indicate that he’s no longer in their plans. The Bears may choose to let him go and find another team to play for.
The Bears will have to sign Kreutz to a contract, possibly a one- or two-year contract, because they have no other player on the roster that can play the position. Don’t expect another long-term deal, but just enough to help get someone else in there and up to speed.
The Bears will probably keep Adams around to help solidify their defensive line and keep some experience there. While he may not be “outstanding” at the position, he is definitely effective. The only reason why the Bears may not keep him is if they find some talent at the position through the draft or an undrafted free agent that may be able to beat him out.
The argument for keeping Tinoisamoa is that the Bears don’t have adequate depth at the outside linebacker position. With Roach being a free agent as well, it’s going to be difficult for Chicago to let both of these guys go, so at least one of them will stick around. Tinoisamoa beat Roach out in training camp last summer (barely, due to an injury to Roach) so he might get the thumbs up, but due to his injury problems the last couple of seasons Chicago may decide to let him go elsewhere.
As previously discussed, it’s hard to believe that the Bears would let both Roach and Tinoisamoa go instead opting to keep one of the two (or perhaps both). Roach has had some problems staying healthy but so has Tinoisamoa, so it might come down to which player they think is better. It would be a surprise if they let both outside linebackers go.
Just like Wolfe and Davis, Graham has value on special teams but doesn’t factor into the defense that much if at all. The Bears will be looking for some depth at the cornerback position this offseason and if they find some guys that they like and that can play special teams, they may not bring Graham back.
What happens between the Bears and Manning will be very interesting to watch this offseason. Manning’s value as a return specialist is key but he hasn’t performed that well in the secondary, so the Bears will be torn on what to do with Manning. Since he does have value as a special teams player and can at least be effective at the safety position, Chicago will probably make an effort to re-sign him.
Bullocks hasn’t done much of anything for the Bears and may not be around when the Bears open the season in 2011. Bullocks has experience, which is always valuable, but he’s just not the kind of guy that they would want starting back there on a regular basis. Look for him to be out of Chicago when they start the season next September.
This is a difficult one because he wants to come back and play another two years but the Bears, surprisingly, may not want him back. They just went out and signed Richmond McGee to give Maynard some competition in training camp and quite possibly take over. Maynard is still effective and can play at a high level but he has slipped a little and so Chicago may choose to try to find someone else and replace him. Consider his status for the 2011 season up in the air.