NFL Free Agency: Grading the Chicago Bears' Transactions, Part II
Welcome back! Yesterday we graded the moves Chicago made Friday in the first day of the free-agent feeding frenzy that has followed the lifting of the NFL lockout.
And we're back again today to take a look at what the Chicago Bears did on Saturday!
Saturday was slightly less active for the Bears, at least in terms of completed transactions, but the Bears made a few moves that were noteworthy, and we're going to assign a grade to those moves.
So without further adieu, let's jump into the moves made by Chicago yesterday.
Olin Kreutz and the Case of the Missing $500K
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The Bears have yet to re-sign veteran center Olin Kreutz.
Plenty of speculation is floating around about the series of events leading to the showdown between the offensive leader and the Bears.
The one-year deal talks apparently started with Olin at the $5 million end of the bridge and the Bears at the $3 million side. It ended with the Bears giving a $4 million take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum and Kreutz standing firm at $4.5 million.
So, $500K is standing between Kreutz playing or walking away.
There's an argument to be made for both sides.
From the Bears' point of view, Edwin Williams—the man Chicago has tabbed to eventually replace Kreutz—was the Bears' top-rated lineman last season, according to Pro Football Focus' offensive linemen premium statistics. And Kreutz was one of the worst run-blocking centers in the league last year. With Kreutz in decline, the Bears feel their offer is fair and are standing firm—at least for now.
But Kreutz probably sees it a bit differently.
While his run-blocking was third from the bottom, his pass-blocking rating was third also—from the top. In fact, PFF has him ranked as the league's best pass-blocker at his position over the past three seasons. Additionally, Kreutz's leadership and signal-calling on the line are a big loss. Plus Williams was signed to a one-year deal, which doesn't exactly signal a deep-seated confidence in Chicago's heir-apparent to Kreutz.
Kreutz also has another point, too. When he signed with the Bears in 2002, he took a lucrative offer from the Bears over a much more lucrative offer from the Dolphins because of team loyalty. Now, as he's in decline, he may feel like some of that loyalty should be returned, and $500K is a small number by NFL standards.
Speculation on this can be found all over, from the Bears not wanting to bring back Olin but wanting to push the public opinion backlash onto him, to the two sides playing a game of chicken that will end in Kreutz retiring as a Bear.
The real question comes down to this: Are the Bears truly comfortable with moving on at center, or is this all a game between the sides?
Grade: No grade yet, as there is no conclusion to the talks, but stay tuned.
Bears Re-Sign DB Corey Graham
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Special teams ace and DB backup Corey Graham was re-signed to a one-year deal.
Graham is a fan favorite and a versatile backup who many thought would be leaving Chicago for a shot at a starting job.
Graham is one of those players Chicago has stunted in development after a very promising rookie year.
The Bears' coaching staff got the idea that Graham has the size and skill set to make a switch to the safety position to fill a need for the team. So, like many other young Bears, Graham was shuffled around instead of being allowed to develop at a single position.
But where Graham did excel was special teams, leading the Bears with 25 ST stops in 2010, and his 82 special teams tackles ranks second all-time to Adrian Peterson's 110 in Chicago since the stat started being recorded in 1995.
The Graham signing helps the special teams unit that has already taken a hit with the losses of Garrett Wolfe, Rashied Davis and Danieal Manning.
Bears Sign DT Amobi Okoye
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The youngest player ever drafted in the first round at the tender age of 19, Okoye had a good year last season with 44 tackles and three sacks.
But the Texans are in defensive overhaul, and Okoye was one of the odd men out after Houston drafted eight defensive players in this year's draft.
Amobi has racked up 11 sacks and 138 tackles in his four NFL seasons, and represents the former third-round selection the Bears have grabbed up so far, joining WR Roy Williams and DE Vernon Gholston.
The pickup likely signals the end of the Marcus Harrison experiment, especially after Harrison reportedly showed up to camp overweight—again.
The Bears have one of the best defensive line coaches in the league in Rod Marinelli, and Chicago was an ideal spot for Okoye to land. The Bears' defensive line just got another boost.
Bears Sign RB Marion Barber III
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Barber was released Friday—along with fellow Bears pickup Roy Williams—in a cost-cutting move, with the Cowboys as much as $18 million over the cap.
Last season the Bears had serious problems with their short-yardage situations, memorably the Bears failed from the one-yard-line on three rushes and a pass attempt in their Week 1 meeting with the Lions, which set up the controversial Johnson no-catch later in the game.
Barber helps with that situation. Known for his punishing rushing style, many are questioning how much he has left in the tank after offering his worst performance last season with 113 carries for 374 yards and four touchdowns.
It should be noted that Barber has never taken the "feature back" amount of carries in his career. In fact, he's taken 1,042 carries in six years, contrasted by Matt Forte's 811 carries in just three years.
The Barber signing signifies trouble for previous-year free-agent signing Chester Taylor.
After a disappointing 112 carries for 267 yards and three touchdowns with a 2.4 yards-per-carry average, in a season where Taylor was consistently misused as a short-yardage back, the embattled complementary back has seen the Bears re-sign backup Kahlil Bell and a new short-yardage back in Barber.
Taylor could very well make the roster, though, and might even benefit from Barber taking away the short-yardage carries. That would allow him to spell starter Forte properly and could make the Bears' backfield deadly.
Many are panning this pickup, but not here. This was a smart move by the Bears.