The reigning NFC North Champion Chicago Bears have a lot of work to do in a very short amount of time, as does every other team in the NFL thanks to a lockout-dominated offseason. However, attempting to retain their title as NFC North Champions in the same division that houses the Superbowl Champion Green Bay Packers brings a little extra motivation to the table—just a little.
Take out that checklist of what the Bears need most, and more than likely you will find two items that will commonly top nearly every list out there: a big, aggressive, playmaking wide receiver and a young, strong guard to shore up an offensive line that did find a way to improve toward the end of the season, but still got QB Jay Cutler nearly killed far too many times.
Today, we focus on the most glaring of those two needs: wide receiver.
There is only one answer to this question, and it's quite obvious: current Minnesota Viking wide receiver Sidney Rice.
Thanks to the owners sacrificing their case for "Right of First Refusal" under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which would have entitled a free agent's previous team the opportunity to match a competing offer, Rice will now be an unrestricted free agent—no ifs, ands or buts about it.
The Bears must do everything and anything to pry Rice from the cold fingers of a depleted free-agent market of wide receivers. Rice has both the speed and size at 6'4" to excel in the Martz offense and still be a giant target for Jay Cutler.
But while size and speed are great attributes, what Jay Cutler has been lacking since his days with Brandon Marshall is a physical receiver that will fight for a ball to make a game-saving catch or break up a game-ending interception. Rice has a nose for the ball, runs great routes and does what it takes to make a catch in traffic and bring down balls that the Bears current corps. of receivers in Knox, Hester and so on, would be unable or have been unable to.
The Bears would also weaken a division opponent in Minnesota by acquiring Rice. Rice is easily their best receiver when healthy, and with the predicted departure of wide receiver Bernard Berrian from Minnesota as well, the Vikings would be starting a rookie QB in Christian Ponder with a very depleted receiving corps.
The Bears are one of the few teams who will have a formidable amount of money to spend in free agency. Thanks to a restructured Julius Peppers contract, and the release of several former players who ate up cap space such as Tommie Harris, the Bears have all they need to contend with any offer Rice would receive.
The teams that are rumored to pursue Rice are the Patriots, Bears, Redskins, Rams and of course the Vikings. Of all those teams, the Patriots and Bears are the most attractive for Rice, who wants to go to a winning situation (one of the reasons he is testing the free-agent market instead of going back to Minnesota immediately).
However, the Patriots just signed Tom Brady to a huge deal, have franchised offensive linemen Logan Mankins and have several overpaid players on their current roster such as James Sanders, Tully Banta-Cain and Nick Kaczur to name a few.
Rice would also be the star attraction on the Bears, a team one step away from the Superbowl last season, as opposed to falling into the "spread the wealth" system of New England. He would undoubtedly be the No. 1 receiver on a team in a city that has been starving for a wideout for nearly as long as they have been starving for a quarterback.
And as if to tease Bears fans, Rice has spoken highly of Chicago, saying it would be a great city to play for and was quoted by SI.com as citing the Chicago Bears uniform as one of his two favorites in the league.
Once the lockout ends, and Rice officially becomes a free agent, Jerry Angelo and the Bears must do everything in their power to get Rice to Chicago, and keep him there—for good.