The NFL free agency signing period doesn’t officially open for business until Tuesday afternoon, but the Chicago Bears are frantically trying to adjust some player salaries to free up additional space under the salary cap. In a twist this year, the league has allowed clubs to begin conversations with players and their agents starting this weekend.
The move is designed to take the backroom dealing that precipitated many free agent signings over the last several years away and give more equal footing to all clubs as the annual talent hunt for established veterans begins.
It appears the club is first and foremost intent on keeping some of its own. Chicago applied the franchise tag on DT Henry Melton while the two parties attempt to reach a long-term deal. The Bears also tendered running back Armando Allen and are negotiating to bring back veteran MLB Brian Urlacher, something that should be announced by the beginning of free agency.
Beyond that, offensive line has been neglected for several years. Trestman will surely want to upgrade the tight end position as well, where Kellen Davis was painful to watch in 2012. A speedy slot receiver to offset the size of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery would also be nice.
Defensively, the Bears must begin to infuse the LB corps with younger legs and more talent. The secondary contains two veteran corners who are nearing the end of their careers, and there’s always a need for another pass rusher or interior lineman.
With those needs in mind, here’s a capsule look at five players who could be on the Bears radar when the bell officially rings for free agency on Tuesday. Note, these aren’t necessarily the “best overall” players, but players who fit a need for Chicago.
1. Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee…Cook surprisingly wasn’t given the franchise tag by the Titans. He’s a young player who possesses all the tools but has never fully put it together in his four year career. Should be entering his prime. Stats were ok in 2012, 44 receptions for 523 yards and four touchdowns, but keep in mind the Titans QB play was inconsistent. Flashes a nice blend of size and the speed to get down the seam.
2. Brandon Moore, G, New York Jets…Moore was a Pro Bowler in 2011 and hasn’t missed a game since 2003. He’s 33 years old however, and could be a short-term fix. If the Bears believe they are ready to win now, could be a solid additon, much like ex-Bill Rueben Brown proved to be in the Bears Super Bowl season. Good technician and a team-first veteran with strength and savvy.
3. Jake Long, OT, Miami…No doubt the Bears would love to land Long, who may never live up to his former top overall draft pick status but is still a very good player when healthy. Long will command a top price and several clubs are bidding for his services. Do the Bears came out of the gate and swing for the fences, essentially chewing up their remaining cap space by signing Long, or do they make several lower-profile moves and look to the draft to solve their tackle woes?
4. Andy Levitre, G, Buffalo…Bills have shown little effort in re-signing him. Levitre, 6-2 305, is unheralded, but fundamentally sound technician who has strung together impressive work in the last two seasons. The former Oregon State Beaver is headed for the prime of his career at age 26 and a big payday. He would look nice in navy blue and orange.
5. Jermon Bushrod, OT, New Orleans…Bushrod developed under former Saints o-line coach and current Bears offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer. The Saints’ fourth-round draft pick in 2007, Bushrod played in only three games prior to the 2009 season. However, after an injury to Saints’ starting left tackle Jammal Brown, Bushrod became a starter for the Saints in 2009, helping the Saints to their first and only Super Bowl Championship. Bushrod led the NFL in snaps played in the 2011 season with 1,177. He was also a Pro Bowler in 2012 season with the Saints.
Bears Tracks: The Bears announced their offseason schedule. Dates are listed below:
March 12 (3 pm CT) New League Year and free agency begins
April 2 Chicago Bears offseason workouts begin (non-field activities)
April 16-18 Veteran Voluntary Minicamp
April 25-27 NFL Draft
May 10-12 Rookie Minicamp
May 13 OTA Practices begin
May 18 Bears Care Gala
June 6 OTA Practices end
June 11-13 Veteran Mandatory Minicamp