Ranking Chicago Bears' Best Remaining Free-Agency Options
The Chicago Bears wasted little time trying to improve their roster once free agency began last week, signing outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, wide receiver Eddie Royal and safety Antrel Rolle all within the first two days of the NFL's new year.
Even though the market has quieted down since last week, there are plenty of free agents still available who could interest the Bears.
With the Bears making the shift from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense, they will need to find pieces who fit into new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's system. He was the defensive coordinator in San Francisco from 2011 to 2014, and a handful of his former players are currently on the free-agent market.
Even with the additions of McPhee and Rolle, the team still has needs at the linebacker position, along the defensive line and in the secondary.
In addition to the Bears likely targeting players who fit Fangio's system, they also need help on the offensive side of the football. While the wide receiver position was addressed with Royal's signing, there are still needs along the offensive line and at tight end.
There are hundreds of players still available in free agency who could interest the Bears, but we took a look at five specific players and ranked them from No. 5 down to No. 1.
Each player's ranking was based on his age, prior performance, potential and how he would fit in Chicago's new offense and defense.
Here is our ranking of the Chicago Bears' best remaining free-agency options.
5. DE Jarvis Jenkins
The 5-technique defensive end position is a key component in a 3-4 defense, but head coach John Fox does not see a player currently on Chicago's roster who fits the position, via Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune:
Fox on who on the roster currently fits as a 3-4 DE: "That's hard for me to answer right now." Says they'll keeping pushing thru FA, Draft— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) March 11, 2015
Both Cornelius Washington and David Bass could get a look at the position in minicamps and training camp, but the team could look at Jarvis Jenkins in free agency.
Drafted 41st overall in the 2011 draft, Jenkins tore his ACL that preseason and missed his entire rookie season. He bounced back and started 14 games the next season and registered 25 tackles. He notched the only two sacks of his career in 2013 and finished last season with 28 tackles in 14 starts.
He was highly touted coming out of Clemson but failed to live up to expectations. After struggling in 2012 and 2013, Jenkins made it a point last offseason to improve his game.
“I’ve got to be the guy that they drafted: that dominant player every play,” he said in training camp last summer, via Mike Jones of The Washington Post. “The sky is the limit for me. I’ve got the body, and I’ve got the speed. I just have to show it.”
He showed flashes at times last season but still had inconsistencies in his game.
He can set the edge versus the run and has lined up at right defensive end, left defensive end and nose tackle in the past, but he has proven he is likely just a depth player.
While signing Jenkins would certainly not be flashy, he would help bring some depth to a position that currently has none, and at just 26 years old, he still may be able to tap into some of the upside that made him a top-50 pick in 2011.
4. TE Rob Housler
Tight end Martellus Bennett was named to the Pro Bowl last season after hauling in 90 catches for 916 yards with six touchdowns, but the team still has a need at the position.
Chicago re-signed backup Zach Miller earlier this offseason, but he is coming off a foot injury that kept him out all of last season. He has shown flashes in the past, but he has been unable to stay healthy since 2011.
Even with Bennett and Miller on the roster, the team could give Rob Housler a look.
He is not much of a blocker, but he has good speed and size and is more of "Move" tight end with the ability to line up at multiple spots on the field.
He hauled in 105 catches for 1,133 yards with one touchdown in four seasons for the Arizona Cardinals after he was selected in the third round of the 2011 draft out of Florida Atlantic.
His size (6'5", 250 lbs) makes him a matchup nightmare for defensive backs, while his speed—he ran a 4.55-second 40-yard dash in 2011, via NFL.com—makes it hard for linebackers to keep up with him down the field.
While his stats are not eye-popping—he only registered nine catches for 129 yards in 2014 after catching 39 passes for a career-high 454 yards in 2013—he struggled to find a role in Arizona's offense and could benefit from a change of scenery.
He will likely come at a relatively low price and could add an extra weapon in the passing game for Jay Cutler if the Bears decide to give him a look.
3. CB Tarell Brown
Even with Tim Jennings and Kyle Fuller on the roster, the Bears still have a need at the cornerback position.
If the Bears want to find a cornerback with experience in Fangio's system, Tarell Brown could come at a relatively cheap price.
A former fifth-round pick of San Francisco in 2007, he hauled in 11 interceptions in seven seasons with the 49ers before signing a one-year deal with the Oakland Raiders last offseason.
He registered 55 tackles and four pass deflections in 14 games last season.
According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed 42 catches on 67 passes thrown his direction, and his 11.9 coverage snaps per reception tied him for 19th-best among all cornerbacks in 2014.
He isn't flashy and does not come away with many interceptions, but he is a solid contributor who plays with good technique and is rarely out of position.
He likely won't command a big salary because he is coming off a foot injury and just turned 30 earlier this year, and his connection to Fangio may help the Bears woo him too Chicago.
"I know he's a very aggressive coach, has aggressive play-style calling," Brown said about Fangio last December, via David Fucillo of NinersNation.com. "He's always been a great defensive-minded coach, and always been a great defensive coordinator in my eyes."
Fangio is known for putting his players in spots where they can succeed, and one way he could use Brown is in the team's nickel package.
Fuller and Jennings will likely be the two outside corners in the team's base package, but the Bears could move Jennings into the nickelback spot and put Brown on the outside in passing situations.
Cornerback is not the team's top priority, but signing Brown could help solidify the cornerback position for the next couple of seasons.
2. C Stefen Wisniewski
Even though the Bears gave veteran center Roberto Garza a one-year extension near the end of last season, the team still has a need to get younger at the position.
According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears expressed interest in former Oakland Raiders center Stefen Wisniewski early last week:
Wisniewski was drafted in the second round by the Raiders in 2011 and made 61 starts over the last four seasons.
He struggled at times last year, particularly as a pass-blocker, but according to Pro Football Focus, he's only allowed three sacks in his career.
He's athletic, plays physical and has great footwork.
“He’s a good, young, tough player [who] should be extended and should be a building block,” ESPN scout Matt Williamson said last summer, according to Bill Williamson of ESPN.com. “He’s not an elite center, but he’s well above average.”
Chicago's offensive line struggled last season after a solid showing in 2013, and adding Wisniewski would help shore up some of the issues the team had with protection up the middle.
The biggest issue will be whether the Bears can afford him.
Rodney Hudson set the market for the position this past week when he signed a five-year, $44.5 million deal with Oakland, according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora.
If the Bears can somehow get Wisniewski for a team-friendly amount, he would make Garza expendable and help stabilize the offensive line for years to come.
1. ILB Mason Foster
News broke last Thursday morning that the Bears were trying to finalize a deal for inside linebacker Mason Foster, according to Jen Lada of CSN Chicago:
Since Lada's tweet last Thursday, no new information has come out regarding Foster and the Bears.
Foster was taken in the third round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011 and made 54 starts in four seasons. For his career, he has 343 tackles, six sacks, 12 pass deflections and five interceptions.
He struggled playing in Lovie Smith's Cover 2 defense last season, but former Bucs general manager Mark Dominik thinks Foster can succeed in a 3-4 defense.
"The good thing about Mason is not only can he play in the 4-3 as a 'Mike' (middle) or a 'Sam' (strong side), but he can play in the 3-4 at either middle linebacker spot," he said, per Ross Jones of Fox Sports. "He has versatility to play for just about any defense in the league."
He is athletic and has the ability to roam sideline to sideline, but he is not afraid to step up in the middle and attack versus the run.
He is only 26 years old and could end up developing into a solid linebacker under Fangio. Over the last few seasons, Fangio helped turn Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and even Chris Borland into stars in his system.
Foster looked out of place at times last season in coverage, but if anyone can get the most out of him, it is Fangio.
Statistical information courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
Matt Eurich is a Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.