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NFL: Chicago Bears Likely to Be Big Players in Free Agency Again

John HatelakContributor IMay 5, 2011

NFL: Chicago Bears Likely to Be Big Players in Free Agency Again

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    (December 12, 2010 - Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)
    (December 12, 2010 - Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

     We all know the Bears didn't target wide receiver in the draft. Furthermore, It appears it was a position that was never going to be addressed. Regardless of who was where, and what value they had if they were there when the Bears were up. This is a glaring need just as relevant as offensive line, or any other the Bears may have. yet it was completely ignored.

     Now either the Bears are too stupid to see what every other expert writer/draftnick, fans, and former front office personnel men, and player or coach turned analyst, seem to see. Or they're sly like a fox. By that I mean targeting free agency to fill this, and the remaining needs they have. One thing to consider is that veteran wideouts should be more useful to Jay Cutler, and this offenses needs, than a learning youngster. Wide receiver is traditionally a position that takes a while to grasp. Mike Martz's offense is harder than most to grasp as well. Judging by the way the Bears went about the draft it appears to be the case that free agency is a very serious option for the Bears remaining personnel needs. Just don't expect it to be full of premium names.

     Of course a lot depends on the labor issues, and what the next collective bargaining agreement will look like, and what rules remain in place which will determine the pool of players that will be there for the Bears to pursue. Players like the one I have on my main picture, Sydney Rice, who is likely to be franchised, or tendered at a premium offer too large for the Bears to consider matching. Especially since it appears the Vikings will be relying on a rookie Quarterback to lead them, and will need all the veteran skill players it can keep to make it easier on the young signal caller.

Is the Defensive Line Set?

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    (September 11, 2010 - Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)
    (September 11, 2010 - Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)

     Apparently Jerry Angelo hasn't ruled out any position, including defensive line as per this quote by the Bears general manager.  “We are not shutting the door on any position,” said general manager Jerry Angelo. “The only position I would think we would do that to is the quarterback position. Other than that, we are going to look, no more than that.”

     Perhaps even defensive tackle despite investing a huge price to move up, and get Stephen Paea, and the probable resigning of Anthony Adams. Then consider the apparent good impressions newly bulked up Henry Melton Has made on head coach Lovie Smith, and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. They also have the option to flip flop Melton, and the Bears do it all lineman Israel Idonije (who loses and gains weight for certain roles as much, or even more than Robert Deniro, and Marlon Brando have done) at end, and tackle. There are still rumblings about acquiring Cullen Jenkins despite all this, and possibly the Bears let Adams go because of it, and put Jenkins in as the three technique and make Paea the full time nose tackle since he seems to be an every down player. Another name I heard tied to the Bears is soon to be former Eagles defensive lineman Trent Cole, who can play anywhere along the line and is a former pro bowler who may have some gas left in the tank.

     

     Theres also the possibility that the Bears want to take a book out of the new York Giants page, and stock pile Defensive Ends. There are some big time names out there like the aforementioned Giants very own scheduled Free agent Mathias Kiwanuka. as I mentioned the Giants have a plethora of defensive ends, and may not have the financial flexibility to retain him. Another top name Ray Edwards may be available because the Vikings may have to use their cap space, and tags on players like Rice, and they did invest in two lineman in the draft including great value pick Christian Ballard with their fourth round pick. Its unlikely the Bears invest huge money here so these names may be ones that won't factor once the lockout is lifted or ended by the owners, and free agency starts. Its more likely the Bears will go bargain hunting here with their own guys Matt Toeaina, and Adams, and/or undrafted free agents like former Notre Dame's defensive tackle Ian Williams, or Nebraska's defensive end Pierre Allen.

Could Offensive Guard Be on the List?

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    (November 13, 2010 - Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America)
    (November 13, 2010 - Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America)

     Angelo did not discount offensive line despite drafting Gabe Carimi who is projected by pretty much everyone to be slated as the Bears future right tackle of the next ten plus years. “We still want to look at the offensive line,” Angelo said. Music to most Bears fans ears as the outcry still continued from the fan base for the Bears to bulk up on offensive linemen. I myself actually like the offensive guard prospects we have, and think that with offensive line guru Mike Tice aboard, he can whip the likes of Lance Louis, massive, but surprisingly agile Herman "House" Johnson, possible center of the future Edwin Williams fit the  profile Tice loves in his linemen. Big, aggressive, and mean. Johan Asiata is also on the roster, but is undersized and a likely roster casualty. Its possible the Bears go for a Guard here, but no big names like Harvey Dahl of the Falcons, or the Panthers Ryan Kalil. A couple names Sean Jensen, Bears beat writer for the Chicago Sun Times offered, where Derrick Dockery who played left guard for the Redskins last season, and Kyle Kosier with the Cowboys as a swing guard.

     The Bears, it appears, also will have Frank Omiyale possibly compete at LG with one of the aforementioned names, and Chris Williams who played the final eight games at left Guard, and did what I thought was a great job. Particularly in the run, and screen pass area with pulling out in the counter trey play, and getting to the second level. Now does this mean it'll stay that way? Who knows? One thing the Bears and Tice showed us last year is their flexibility and non hesitation to change things with the offensive line. Its unlikely but possible the Bears look at a veteran tackle to come in like  Ryan Harris, Cutler ex teammate and right tackle, or even Matt Light who's aging, but available and did an admirable if not unspectacular job on the left side for the Patriots last season. With the addition of Draft pick Nate Solder he's an inevitable ex Patriot. This would mean they'd likely move Carimi to one of the guard spots. Perhaps even moving Chris Williams back to right guard, or even left guard, where most think that's where J'Marcus Webb will land.

     So once again the offensive line situation will be THE biggest off season story. and will be interesting to see where all the moving parts settle going into the season opener. Unlike last season the Bears coaches all have stated emphatically that they want the offensive line's depth chart settled and in place from start to finish. Of course its not always about what we want, but what we have to work with, and making the best of it. Fortunately it looks like this offensive coaching staff is open minded, and unafraid to make bold, and necessary changes as it sees fit for the betterment of the team above players fragile egos. 

     Notable UFA's that fit in with the Bears power blocking man scheme are guys like Carl Johnson out of Florida. he's huge, 6'5" 360 plus, 36 1/2" arms 10 1/4" hands, and has a nasty mean streak and is big and strong as one would imagine. Not very athletic, but could serve his purpose as a back up Right guard/tackle. Other UFA offensive linemen to watch are Zachary Hurd Connecticut, who is mean and nasty and has great work ethic, and is a projected Guard. Jarriel King is another kid who I love who has the size,(6'5" 320 10 3/4 hands, 36 3/8 " arms), and the athleticism to play left Tackle, and may be a good back/up developmental player for the Bears to scoop up. He does come with some health concerns with an irregular heart beat.

Linebacker Depth and the Strong Side Starter

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    (November 29, 2008 - Photo by Elsa/Getty Images North America)
    (November 29, 2008 - Photo by Elsa/Getty Images North America)

     Bears currently have only four players signed In Veteran mainstays Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs, as well as under the radar signing Chris Johnson, and Patrick Trahan formerly of the Arizona Cardinals and Tennessee Titans respectfully. They also have newly drafted J. T. Thomas out of west Virginia who they got in the sixth round, and may not make the team, but likely will given the Bears need for bodies there. There are also decisions to be made with their current crop of guys. Incumbent strong side starting backer Pisa Tinoisamoa is a free agent along with special teams core player and strong side back up Nick Roach. Its unlikely they sign both, but you never know. They are desperate for bodies at linebacker. Brian Iwuh, special teams ace, and Rod Wilson are also free agents to be, and both core special teamers. Its unlikely the Bears will sign all these players. Who they do may depend on who's available after roster cuts, free agency and the batch of UFA's on their list, not to mention players from other sources like Canada, Arena and UFL football leagues. 

     There are two Vikings who are out there that may interest Bears. Chad Greenway who will likely be tendered at his equal draft spot which will pretty much eliminate the Bears from the hunt, and Ben Leber who is all but out of Minnesota. There are a few interesting names out there like Tamba Hali, who will likely be resigned by the Chiefs, and cost the Bears a ton if they don't resign him, as they'll likely tender him high or franchise him. Maybe aging veterans like Dahani Jones, Shaun Merriman, and freshly cut Julian Peterson garner a look if they come on the cheap, and except their role as back ups unless they play so well they beat out their competition. There are other names of interest who can help like Takeo Spikes, Mike Vrable, Ex Bear Jamar Williams who was cut by the Panthers, and Steeler star linebacker Lamar Woodley.

     

     UFA's of note to keep an eye on are guys like Nick Ballore out of Central Michigan, Scott Lutrus Connecticut, and perhaps the biggest name of the entire UFA list the oft mentioned Mark Herzlich formerly of Boston College.

The Back End

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    (October 11, 2008 - Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images North America)
    (October 11, 2008 - Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images North America)

     Bears had a great year in the secondary last year despite huge concerns. The acquisition of Chris Harris made a huge difference for the Bears. Tim Jennings stepped in to start for the disappointing Zachary Bowman who seemed disinterested. I haven't given up on Bowman just yet, because he has the size and athleticism to be a starting cornerback in the NFL, but he will have to prove his desire to excel and work his ass off to regain his starting status, and maintain it if he should win it back.  Charles Tillman is a fixture on the right side, but its clear they need someone to step up in this current roster or they'll need to add  someone from the outside to solidify the left side starting position.

     D.J. Moore is a possibility despite his size. What he lacks in sizes he makes up for in desire, and confidence. he's very competitive, jumps out the gym with a 40 plus vertical, and has excelled against top competition when he played cornerback against the best NFL prospects in the SEC. Last seasons fifth round pick has the size and speed to compete for the starter job, but needs to be stronger and likely has worked on that in the off season. At least he'd better have. If he expects to eventually start or even contribute in a nickle rotation and special teams to take on these brute wide receivers now a days. Bears have options at cornerback in house. There are top corners available, but are too pricey, and have been, or will be tagged, or tendered top offers that will price the Bears out. So get Nnamdi Asomugha out of your head. For that matter Antonio Cromartie. Trumaine Mcbride and Corey Graham are both unrestricted and might be resigned for depth, and special teams if they don't find more suitable, and/or economical options.

     Safety appears set. There's questions about Daniel Manning resigning, but have covered themselves with the drafting of Chris Conte. Its obvious they feel he can step in and start right away by using a pretty high pick on him and what most think was an extreme reach. I think they smartly figured out Major Wright is a strong safety who is a fit as an in the box type. He's more of a hitter who has no interest playing the ball preferring to slam into bone and flesh instead. If he does make it as a starter that moves Harris to the strong safety. If Conte is that centerfield type they have been seeking for the longest time, than that will make the Bears back end very formidable. Especially if the pass rush is there. Harris already has a knack for causing turnovers either by knocking balls loose for fumbles, or INT's. He had five picks last season which got him to the pro bowl. If Conte could be a ball hawk with errant forced passes into the secondary this will be very good news for the Bears offense as they'll get plenty of opportunities to score the ball in likely great field position.

     

    A notable UFA that could fit perfectly in the Bears defense is Kendrick Burney, who many had as a mid rounder. He's supposedly the prototypical Tampa-2 corner who can also add some turnovers which is this defenses life blood. Deunta Williams is another name of intrigue at the free safety spot, and can compete at cornerback when healthy.

Wide Receiver

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    At 6-2 and about 200 pounds, the Jaguars’ Mike Sims-Walker could fill the hole the Bears have at wide receiver. | Ronald Martinez~Getty Images
    At 6-2 and about 200 pounds, the Jaguars’ Mike Sims-Walker could fill the hole the Bears have at wide receiver. | Ronald Martinez~Getty Images

     To say the wide receiver spot is a black hole devoid of talent is a bit of an overstatement. The Bears have some decent options, but they still need help there. Make no mistake about it. I just hope the Bears front office, and coaches know this as much as the rest of the world does. I don't expect a big name though. But I do expect help. An interesting name that Sean Jensen had mentioned in the article I brought up earlier is Mike Sims-Walker. He's big at 6'2" 200 plus pounds, and young with big play ability. he could be ready to take that next step and the Bears may want to get in on the ground floor. Jaguars already told him they wouldn't pursue him and he's free to go. There are no restrictions on him, so all it would cost the Bears is money. Sidney Rice is the catch of this class, but as I mentioned earlier he's likely going to be franchised when the lockout is lifted and transactions are once again permitted. They didn't go with a wide receiver of note so as I mentioned they need top veteran talent to help bring Christian Ponder along. 

     

    another name to consider on the relative cheap, but with upside are Limas Sweed of Pittsburgh, who say he's still in their plans, but unlikely they'll tender him too high and for sure won't tag him. Sweed's big and fast and has some upside. he's not the answer to the number one receiver issue but could provide another type of receiver that the Bears don't have. A go up and get it guy down field. Other big names are Dante' Stallworth, Terrel Owens, Randy Moss, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Steve Smith of the Giants, and a slew of other unlikely Bear signings. 

      Speaking of Steve Smith, the other well known receiver of the same name wants out of Carolina, and its unlikely he'll want to stay with the clearly rebuilding Panthers, and their project quarterback Cam Newton. If Bears are wise they will offer a package for him and it shouldn't require more than a 5th rounder to get him. I know he's not the giant everyone wants, but he's every bit as good of an option that's out there Sidney Rice excluded.

     

     Some UFA's to keep an eye. Ricardo Lockette, Fort Valley State. A Big receiver with sub 4.4 speed who runs with reckless abandon, is a worker, but is raw,  Darvin Adams, Auburn. Tall, and a downfield threat, with good hands and crafty route runner. DeAndre Brown who's huge 6'6" 233, and runs a sub 4.6, but has off field concerns. Reminds a little of Brandon Marshall. Almost the same player on and off the field. huge boom or bust prospect. Worthy of a flier as a UFA. Jeffery Maehl Oregon. He's not athletic with burning speed, but is a skilled route runner with a high football IQ, who will make sight reads and make himself available as a hot read. Sounds like he can be a Rickey Proehl type and seems to have some of the skill set this offense thrives from. Andre Holmes out of Hillsdale is another big receiver 6'4" 210 who runs a 4.53 40 who can make his way on the Bears training camp roster

The Plan Is in Place

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    (April 3, 2009 - Photo by Jim Prisching/Getty Images North America)
    (April 3, 2009 - Photo by Jim Prisching/Getty Images North America)

    “We prepared for free agency to open at the appropriate time,” general manager Jerry Angelo said. “There is a lot of work to do in free agency given the number of players, and we feel real good about our free-agency plan as well.

     We shall see if the Bears have the right idea of how to compete in this league. It does appear that the Bears have the foresight to realize they must compete with the best in the division which is the Green Bay Packers. I do think that competing with the Packers is about competing with all the elite teams. They have all the elements that you need to be legitimate contenders in this league year in and year out. Thats tough, smart football players, and have a top notch passing game, and the aggressive defense to consistently pressure the quarterback, and cause turnovers, and three and outs. Bears have the turnover element in place, but will need more pressure on the quarterback more consistently. They seem to do it in spurts. Hopefully with the further development of Melton, and Corey Wooten, along with the addition of second round draft pick Paea to penetrate the interior, that will happen. 

      On offense its clear. They need to get the passing game tight. For that to happen they'll need to have more understanding of how to attack the blitz. When this offense is right it will discourage the blitz by burning it with big play after big play. Its an offense designed to burn the blitz. For that to happen routes need to be precise, and sight reads need not be right. All too many times the blitz was bungled by the skilled guys. Backs weren't picking up blitzers, and Wide receivers, and Tight Ends often weren't where they were supposed to be. This contributed to many of the sacks and hits on Jay. It wasn't just offensive line play alone. Good news is this is year two and should be vastly improved in every area. Particularly in blitz situations.

     This in its basic form is all about making Jay Cutler succeed. Everything this franchise does should have the thought of making Cutler one of the best quarterbacks in the league. This only will happen with surrounding him with the proper weapons. They have the defense, they have the running game, they have the special teams to give him good field position. Now they need receivers and linemen to seal the deal. Jay Cutler clearly has what it takes to propel this franchise to the top of the league, and bring it in the new age of football where it needs to be to compete with the best of the best. So this free agency needs to be the success it has to be, and the pieces that weren't added in the draft need to be added in free agency. Otherwise they'll have that opportunity next year picking at the top of the draft.

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