5 Perfect Free-Agent Fits for Chicago Bears
Now that the 2014 season is officially in the rearview mirror, the Chicago Bears can start looking toward the 2015 offseason and how to improve their team moving forward.
Once they get a new general manager and head coach in place, the team will then be able to focus on potential free agents who would be perfect fits in Chicago.
According to Over the Cap, the Bears currently have $110,199,687 committed to their roster for next season. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported last month that the salary cap is projected to increase to between $138.6 million and $141.8 million in 2015. If the cap is roughly $140 million, Over the Cap projects the Bears to have around $28 million in cap space.
Despite the big money the team owes in guarantees to quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive end Jared Allen in 2015, the Bears should still be able to make a splash in free agency.
Detroit's Ndamukong Suh will likely be the biggest name on the free-agent market this offseason, and Chicago's Kyle Long lobbied for Suh to come to Chicago in December.
"Shoot, Suh," Long said in a conference call with the media, via Carlos Monarrez and Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, "Come on down and play with us, man. We'll take him."
Even though the Bears have plenty of money available to spend this offseason, signing Suh would likely limit the team's ability to go after other free agents.
It is tough to gauge what direction this team is going to go this offseason without a general manager or head coach currently in place, but there are still a handful of players who will be available in free agency who would be perfect fits with the Bears regardless of scheme.
Here are our five perfect free-agent fits for Chicago Bears.
Linebacker David Harris
Since the departure of Brian Urlacher after the 2012 season, the Bears have tried to solidify their middle linebacker position with a combination of veteran D.J. Williams and 2013 second-round pick Jon Bostic. Williams struggled with injuries and is set to become a free agent, while Bostic looks better suited to playing weak-side linebacker than middle linebacker.
With no in-house candidates to take over the position in 2015, the Bears could look to free agency to shore up the position.
With Bostic and Christian Jones likely penciled in on the weak side and strong side for next season, respectively, a veteran like David Harris could help solidify the group in the middle.
A former second-round pick of the New York Jets in 2007, Harris has been one of the league's most consistent middle linebackers over the last eight seasons. He has not missed a start since 2008 and has racked up 885 tackles, 30 sacks, six interceptions and nine forced fumbles in 123 career games.
He has limitations against the pass but has been one of the NFL's best against the run. Despite his solid numbers over the years, Harris has been largely underrated throughout his career.
Following New York's final game of the season, Harris made it clear he would like to stay with the Jets.
"I've been here my whole career," he said, via Dom Cosentino of NJ.com. "I would love to be back. But I'm not worried about that right now."
Although he might want to be back with the Jets next season, there is no guarantee the team will want him after they fired Ryan along with general manager John Idzik.
If Harris does hit the market, he should be a top priority for a Bears team that struggled mightily the last two seasons against the run. He would not solve all the team's woes defensively but would help solidify the middle of the field while guys like Bostic and Jones develop on the outside.
Wide Receiver Cecil Shorts
Even though the Bears have one of the league's best wide receiver duos in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, the team still lacks depth behind them.
Jeffery finished the season with 85 catches for 1,133 yards with 10 touchdowns, while Marshall struggled with injuries all season and finished with 61 catches for 721 yards with eight touchdowns. Backup receivers Marquess Wilson, Josh Morgan, Santonio Holmes and Micheal Spurlock combined for just 285 yards on 35 catches with two touchdowns.
There is nothing wrong with relying on Jeffery and Marshall in the passing game, but 2014 proved the team would benefit from having another viable receiving option behind them.
The team was high on Wilson before an injury in training camp forced him to miss 10 games. He still could develop into a solid option for the offense, but the Bears could look to free agency to fill the void at the No. 3 wide receiver spot.
After a breakout sophomore campaign for the Jacksonville Jaguars in which he hauled in 55 catches for 979 yards with seven touchdowns in 2012, Cecil Shorts struggled with injuries and inconsistent play the past two seasons.
He has done some good things for the Jaguars in his four seasons, but with the emergence of guys likes Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns, Shorts will likely not be re-signed.
When the media asked general manager Dave Caldwell about re-signing Shorts, he suggested that the fourth-year receiver likely will not be back, via Hays Carlyon of the Florida-Times Union:
When asked about Shorts, Dave says he has to talk to coaches. Bye, bye. #Jaguars— Hays Carlyon (@HaysCarlyon) December 30, 2014
Even though his numbers have dropped since 2012, Shorts is the type of player who could fit perfectly alongside Jeffery and Marshall in Chicago.
When he was healthy in 2012, Shorts made a living off big plays. He averaged 17.8 yards per catch, second-most that season to Vincent Jackson's 19.2. His yards per catch dropped dramatically from 11.8 in 2013 to 10.5 in 2014, but he is the type of player who could benefit from playing alongside two dominate pass-catchers.
He is not the fastest wide receiver in the NFL but has good quickness and is able to create separation with polished route running. His drop in play will likely make him a cheap commodity this offseason.
If the Bears were to sign him, he would instantly add depth and a deep-threat option to a team that lacks much punch behind Jeffery and Marshall.
Cornerback Brice McCain
The Bears have been lucky over the years to have a guy like Charles Tillman lining up at the cornerback position on a weekly basis, but after a couple of injury-riddled seasons, it seems unlikely that the 12-year veteran will return in 2015.
The team will likely go into the 2015 season with Tim Jennings and Kyle Fuller as starters, but the cornerback group as a whole needs improvement.
Youngsters Demontre Hurst and Al Louis-Jean showed flashes last season, but it is unlikely either will be expected to play a major role next season. Hurst did show some promise at nickelback in limited duty, but the team would be wise to bring in a veteran who can battle with him for the job.
Cast aside by the Houston Texans after the 2013 season, cornerback Brice McCain signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh this past offseason. He started nine games for the Steelers and saw time both in the slot and on the outside.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), quarterbacks finished with a 70.5 quarterback rating when throwing in his direction in the slot. In 284 snaps at nickelback, McCain allowed 22 catches on 35 targets for 235 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
His snap totals increased in the final weeks of the regular season due to the poor play of starter Cortez Allen, and he helped slow down Cincinnati's A.J. Green in Week 17. According to PFF, McCain was thrown at four times while covering Green that night. He gave up just one catch for 10 yards and picked off quarterback Andy Dalton twice.
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was impressed with the strides McCain made in 2014.
“You can see it on the field,” LeBeau said, via Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He's getting better—a lot better—every week.”
McCain initially signed a three-year, $5.25 million deal with the Texans in March of 2013 and will likely be looking for something similar this offseason.
He is not a franchise player or a game-changer, but McCain could help bring some stability to a nickelback position that has been a revolving door of sorts over the last couple of seasons. While he does not always make the big-splash plays, McCain is the type of player who is fearless in the slot and can come away with the occasion interception.
He could be a steal at the right price this offseason.
Right Tackle Doug Free
The Bears boasted one of the league's better offensive lines in 2013 before injuries decimated the group in 2014, so they could be looking for an upgrade at right tackle this offseason.
Guard Matt Slauson and backup center/guard Brian de la Puente were both placed on injured reserve early in the season, while center Roberto Garza, guard Kyle Long and tackles Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills all missed at least one game last season.
Slauson and Long will return next season as the team's starting guards, while Garza will likely return at center after signing a one-year extension in late December. Even though Bushrod struggled at times in 2014, it is likely he will return as the team's left tackle considering he is owed $5.75 million in guaranteed money, according to Over the Cap.
With those four seemingly locked into their positions for next season, the Bears could look for an upgrade on Mills at right tackle. A fifth-round pick of the Bears back in 2013, Mills started all 16 games in his rookie season before an injury to his foot forced him to leave the season finale against the Packers.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Mills allowed the most quarterback hurries in the league with 62 in 2013. He also gave up 13 quarterback hits and three sacks in 1,022 snaps. He missed three games in 2014 and gave up 31 quarterback hurries, six quarterback hits and six sacks in 839 snaps.
Mills has the ability to be a solid backup and swing tackle in the NFL but has proved he cannot be a reliable every-down player.
If the Bears decide to upgrade the position in free agency, Dallas' Doug Free could be a perfect fit.
A former second-round pick of the Cowboys in 2007 out of Northern Illinois University, Free has started 82 games over the past eight seasons. Once viewed as Dallas' future left tackle, Free struggled on the left side before he settled in on the right. He struggled in 2012 and took a pay cut to remain with the Cowboys in 2013.
According to PFF, he finished the 2013 season with a plus-13.1 grade in 1,025 snaps. Injuries forced him to play just 11 regular-season games in 2014, but he still finished with a plus-8.5 grade and allowed 17 quarterback hurries, two quarterback hits and three sacks in 716 snaps.
While the Cowboys would probably like to have Free back at the right price, the play of Jermey Parnell over the last two seasons in place of Free will likely make the eight-year veteran expendable.
If the Bears could sign Free to a deal that pays him around $4 million a year, he could help anchor an offensive line that desperately needs help at right tackle.
Free Safety Will Hill
If the Bears want to once again be known as a defensive team, they will need to find a playmaker at free safety this offseason.
Not since Mike Brown was patrolling center field have the Bears had a viable playmaker at either safety position.
After countless injuries to Brown during his tenure in Chicago, the Bears moved on from him with the hopes that guys like Danieal Manning and Al Afalava could become the team's next great safeties. The Bears used Chris Conte, Brock Vereen and Danny McCray at free safety this season, but none of those three did anything to suggest they could be the future at the position.
The team could certainly look to the draft to find a new starter, but Baltimore's Will Hill could end up being a steal in free agency.
Undrafted out of Florida in 2012, Hill spent two seasons with the New York Giants before multiple substance abuse issues and an arrest forced the team to waive him last June.
He was suspended for the first six games of the 2014 season for violations of the league's substance abuse policy, but the Baltimore Ravens opted to sign Hill to a one-year deal last July.
He debuted for the Ravens against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7 and finished the season with 41 tackles and one interception.
Despite his checkered past, Hill appears to have cleaned up his act.
"My living habits, I don't go out on the town much," Hill said, via Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. "I sit in the house with my family. I used to be a nightclub guy, especially coming out of college. I've just been watching a lot of movies. I'm a homebody. I took a long look in the mirror and decided to change a lot of things."
In addition to making strides off the field, Hill has also gotten better on the field.
"Will's getting better every game," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said, via Wilson. "He's new to the system, but you can tell things are coming easier for him. He understands it more. He's always been great in the classroom, even when he wasn't playing. I'm real pleased with where he is."
According to Pro Football Focus, Hill finished the regular season with a plus-9.3 grade, tied for 14th among all safeties. He allowed just eight catches on 19 passes thrown his direction, and quarterbacks registered just a 68.5 passer rating when throwing at him.
He has the ability to come up in the box and stop the run but is at his best when he is free to roam in the secondary and be a playmaker.
There will always be concerns about Hill due to his past, but if he can continue to be a model citizen, he could be a mainstay at the free safety position for the Bears in 2015 and beyond.
Statistical information courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
Matt Eurich is an NFL/Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.