Chicago Bears: Latest Free Agency News and Rumors
Most of last week for the Chicago Bears was spent evaluating the 2015 draft class at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in preparation for the draft, but the team will now turn its focus toward free agency.
Between now and the start of free agency, rumors and reports will begin to swirl linking the Bears to various players.
According to CBSSports.com, NFL teams are permitted to contact free agents between March 7 and March 10 and begin contract negotiations, but no formal contracts can be signed prior to 4 p.m. ET on March 10.
Neither general manager Ryan Pace nor head coach John Fox laid out many specifics about how they want to build their team this offseason, but Pace did state at the combine the Bears have enough cap space to make some moves in free agency.
"We're healthy with our (salary) cap right now," Pace said, via Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald. "So, if we want to be (aggressive), we can. It's just measuring what positions are strong in free agency vs. what positions are strong in the draft."
He did note that in a perfect world, the Bears will be able to address a lot of their needs in free agency.
"We'll look in free agency, and I'll know the positions that are strong, areas that we can attack," Pace said. "We'll be calculated. In a perfect world, you address a lot of your needs in free agency to open up the draft for best player available."
Here are the latest news and rumors surrounding the Chicago Bears as they head into free agency.
Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs Likely Will Not Return in 2015
Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman entered the NFL together as rookies back in 2003, but it appears that neither will be returning to the organization in 2015.
Fox was asked last week in Indianapolis about both players returning next season, but he gave no indication either would be back next season. He did go out of his way to praise their contributions to the team over the years.
“They’ve done a lot for our organization, our football team, as well as our city,” Fox said, via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “And so going forward, I think, you know—sometimes you just evaluate—but I would like to preface it by saying they’ve been great Bears.”
Briggs was selected to seven Pro Bowls between 2005 and 2011 and was named an All-Pro three times. After missing just four games in his first 10 seasons, Briggs missed 15 games between 2013 and 2014. In his 12 seasons in Chicago he registered 1,173 tackles, 15 sacks and 16 interceptions, scored five defensive touchdowns and forced 19 fumbles.
After suffering a season-ending groin injury versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in late November, Briggs made it sound like his time in Chicago was up.
"This whole year has been a bittersweet year because coming into the year I knew that this was going to be it, and I just really, more than anything, I wanted to not let anything take the smile away," Briggs said on The Lance Briggs Show on Comcast SportsNet Chicago last December, via the Chicago Tribune.
After the team fired head coach Marc Trestman in January and hired Fox, Briggs expressed interest in returning to the team and said he would be open to playing for new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
While Briggs has expressed an interest in returning to the Bears next season, Tillman has made it clear he wants to win a championship.
"I love the game. I'm not going to stop 'til I'm dead," Tillman said, via Tom Pelissero of USA Today. "I just have unfinished business. I want a championship. I think that's my main reason (to keep playing): I'm hungry for a championship."
If Tillman wants to play for a championship in the immediate future, it is unlikely the Bears will be his best option.
Both Briggs and Tillman have done terrific things for the organization since their arrival in 2003, but it looks like it may be the end of the road for both in Chicago in 2015.
Team Will Have Interest in Jets Linebacker David Harris
Making the move from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense will not be easy for the Bears under Fox and Fangio, but they could benefit from bringing in some veterans who have experience playing in a 3-4 scheme.
While the most noteworthy area of need for the Bears this offseason is along the defensive line, the inside linebacker position is just as important.
The team could move forward with third-year man Jon Bostic at one of the inside linebacker positions, but they still have a need at the other inside linebacker spot. Chicago could look in the draft at guys like Miami's Denzel Perryman or Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney, but ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure believes the Bears will have interest in former New York Jets linebacker David Harris:
Falcons definitely will have an interest in LB David Harris if he reaches free agency, I'm told. So will the Chicago Bears.— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) February 20, 2015
Harris has been a tackling machine since entering the league in 2007 as a second-round pick, registering 885 tackles, 30 sacks, six interceptions and nine forced fumbles in 123 career games. He has struggled against the pass in his career, but he has been one of the league's best against the run.
“David Harris is the most underrated player in the league,” Ryan said last summer, via Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. “It ain't close! It ain’t close!"
If the Bears feel they need a stopgap at the position until a draft pick can develop, Harris could end up being a solid option.
Bears Could Be Looking to Add Two Cornerbacks in Free Agency
Tony Pauline of WalterFootball.com is hearing the Bears will be in the market for a pair of cornerbacks this offseason, writing:
The other big story brewing during the opening days of the Combine centers around free agent cornerbacks. The belief is available corners will be overpaid in free agency as the demand at the position will far outstrip the supply. Sources tell me a number of teams (New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears) may look to sign a pair of corners in free agency; the need is so great. They also point to the New England Patriots as a team who won the Super Bowl with the help of two free agent corners, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.
The Bears signed veteran Tim Jennings to an extension last offseason and drafted Kyle Fuller in the first round, but the team lacks much depth behind them. The team re-signed former undrafted cornerbacks Demontre Hurst and Al Louis-Jean earlier this offseason, but both only showed minor flashes last season.
If the Bears do want to address the position in free agency, there should be a bevy of options available.
Byron Maxwell and Brandon Flowers will likely be the two best cornerbacks on the market and will demand the biggest money, but the Bears may be able to find some value in guys like Kareem Jackson, Perrish Cox or Davon House.
Cox would make the most sense because of his history with Fangio. He played for Fangio in San Francisco from 2012 to 2014 and received a plus-1.2 grade from Pro Football Focus for the 2014 season. He finished last year with 53 tackles and five interceptions.
He could immediately step in and push both Jennings and Fuller as a starter, or he could compete to be the team's nickel corner on passing downs.
Even though the team has a big need for depth and youth at the position, it is unlikely that they will give out any big contracts at the position for guys like Maxwell or Flowers after spending money and a first-round pick on the position last offseason.
Chicago May Not Have a Chance to Pursue Ndamukong Suh
Back in early January, ESPN's Adam Schefter listed the Bears as one of three potential suitors for Detroit's Ndamukong Suh in free agency.
Even before the offseason began, two Bears pitched Suh on the idea of playing in Chicago.
"I can't speak enough, well I could talk all day about Suh," Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long said during a conference call with Detroit reporters in late December, via Justin Rogers of MLive.com. "Obviously, shoot Suh, come on down and play with us, man. We'll take him."
In addition to Long, Suh's former teammate, Willie Young, also pleaded his case.
"He could come and join me," Young said on the Carmen & Jurko Show on ESPN 1000 in October, via Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com. "He could come and join what we're about to build over here in Chicago. We would appreciate it. We would like to have him."
Even if the Bears try to sign him this offseason, many believe the Lions will do whatever they can to bring him back, even if they have to use the franchise tag.
"In terms of the franchise tag, we're still talking about it," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said, via Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com.
According to Prisco, using the franchise tag on Suh would cost the Lions $27 million next season, but he thinks it would be worth it.
"I don't know if any defensive tackle is worth one-sixth of a team's cap—which is what the franchise tag would be if the Lions did tag him—but Suh's value is far greater than his numbers," Prisco wrote.
The Bears have said very little about which positions they want to address in free agency, but defensive tackle is likely near the top of their list. Suh would be a great addition and could play either the 0-technique nose tackle or the 5-technique defensive end position, but it is starting to sound like the Lions are going to do whatever they can to keep Suh in Detroit.
Josh McCown Could Return to the Windy City
Josh McCown became a cult hero in Chicago when he threw for 1,829 yards with 13 touchdowns and one interception in relief of Jay Cutler in eight games in 2013.
His strong showing under then-head coach Marc Trestman helped the 11-year veteran receive a two-year, $10 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last offseason.
He made 11 starts for the Buccaneers in 2014 but struggled all season long. He finished with 2,206 yards passing with 11 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 70.5 and was released by Tampa Bay earlier this month.
Despite his lackluster season in Tampa Bay, McCown was the talk of the combine after it was reported he met with the Bears last Wednesday, via NFL.com's Ian Rapoport:
Free agent QB Josh McCown is having breakfast with #Bears staff this morning, which is one of his visits. Eight teams have shown interest— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 18, 2015
When asked about the meeting later that day, Fox confirmed the team has interest in McCown.
“There’s obviously interest or we probably wouldn’t have met with him,” Fox said, via Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times. “But he’s, again, a guy that’s had opportunities as a starter in this league. He’s served as a backup. He’s the right kinda guy, I know from my perspective, that you want on your football team."
McCown thought the meeting went very well with Fox and Pace.
“It was a great meeting,” McCown said, via the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs. “It was good to sit and talk with them and be able to evaluate what they have to offer. It was very positive.”
Not only does McCown have familiarity with Cutler, he also played for Fox in Carolina in 2008 and 2009 and was with the Detroit Lions in 2006 when new offensive coordinator Adam Gase was an assistant.
There is no way of knowing whether or not the Bears see McCown as a stopgap at the position if they decide to move on from Cutler, or if they want him in the building as Cutler's backup and mentor, but he proved in his limited time in Chicago to be a solid locker room presence, which is something the team currently lacks.
Statistical information courtesy of NFL.com.
Matt Eurich is a Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.