Bears must make contingency plans
http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/...5/61598399.jpgBears GM Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith introduce their first-round draft choice, offensive tackle Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin. (Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune / April 30, 2011)
Whenever labor peace arrives, free agents will be sought to upgrade many positions
Dan PompeiOn the NFL3:05 p.m. CDT, May 14, 2011
The draft is done, but the Bears are not.
They still have some construction projects to undertake — a asphalt patching here, concrete pouring there.
They could bring in as many as four free agents expected to be significant contributors, but it's not like the Bears are planning on a wild spending spree. They do have the wherewithal to make at least one big splash if they desire, however.
It's most likely the Bears will not set their sights on any stars but instead will let the market unfold and players come to them. The team likely will sign some of its own free agents as well.
They can't be certain of anything yet because there won't be any free agent period until the league's labor impasse clears up. And it's unclear who will be available.
If rules from last year are in effect, players will need six years of experience to be an unrestricted free agent. It's also possible players with four or five years of experience will be unrestricted.
Another complicating factor is the Final Eight rules. If 2010 rules are in place, the Bears and the other top seven teams in the league last season would be limited to signing one unrestricted free agent for each one they lose, and they couldn't pay the player a lot more than what the departing player receives.
Here is a depth chart of where the Bears stand, with explanations of the hot spots.
Quarterback: The drafting of Nathan Enderle has ended the Bears' interest in a veteran backup. It is possible the team will sign a camp arm, but if all goes according to plan Caleb Hanie and Enderle will be the backups to Jay Cutler in 2011.
Wide receiver: Signing a free agent wide receiver is a strong possibility. If he's a big one, all the better because the Bears already have some of the small to medium variety they like. Bears fans probably shouldn't get their hearts set on Sidney Rice, though, nor Terrell Owens, Randy Moss or Chad Ochocinco.
The good news is the market could be loaded, depending on the rules. Some who could fit the Bears besides Rice include Mike Sims-Walker, Malcom Floyd and James Jones.
Offensive tackle: The first round selection of Gabe Carimi means the Bears are set. If it all goes smoothly, J'Marcus Webb starts on the left side, Carimi starts on the right and Frank Omiyale is the swing tackle. If either Webb Carimi isn't ready, Omiyale should be.
Guard: It is possible the Bears will bring in a free agent here, but don't be surprised if they don't. The fallout from the selection of Carimi means Chris Williams probably will stay at guard. So both starters from last year, Williams and Roberto Garza, are returning.
And the Bears have a number of young developmental linemen they are high on, particularly Levi Horn. The only problem is the lockout is taking away developmental time from prospects like Horn, Herman Johnson, Lance Louis and Edwin Williams. The longer the lockout goes, the more interested the Bears may become in a veteran free agent.
Center: The hope is free agent Olin Kreutz will return, and it's likely the Bears will be Kreutz's best option. If Kreutz goes elsewhere, however, the Bears probably would give Edwin Williams a shot at the position. He played center in college. Garza also could move to center.
Defensive end: The Bears looked hard at edge rushers in the draft, but didn't end up taking one because of the way the players came off the board. Expect them to look hard at free agents. Two players who could make sense are Jason Babin and Ray Edwards.
Defensive tackle: The drafting of Stephen Paea alleviates the need here and also could result in Anthony Adams leaving as a free agent.
The Bears still appear interested in bringing back Adams, but probably will not pay more than they think he's worth. If they need to replace Adams, raiding the Packers for free agent Cullen Jenkins is an enticing option.
Outside linebacker: Lance Briggs in the only one the Bears have who is sure to be back, so the team will be looking for one or two free agents. One of them could be the starter on the strong side. Keeping Nick Roach and letting him compete for the job makes sense.
Other players who could work for the Bears include Ben Leber, Leroy Hill and Thomas Davis.
Middle linebacker: The quest to find a successor to Brian Urlacher likely will have to wait a year. The draft is the best way to get Urlacher's eventual replacement.
Cornerback: If a free agent corner falls into their laps for the right price, the Bears gladly will take him. But they probably won't push the issue. Between Tim Jennings, Zack Bowman and Josh Moore, someone should be able to man the left cornerback position opposite Charles Tillman. Nnamdi Asomugha is not coming to Chicago, but another good value player like Jennings could be. Ike Taylor, a potential free agent from the Steelers, would be a good fit.
Safety: First, the new kickoff rules diminished the value of Danieal Manning. Then, the acquisition of Chris Conte diminished Manning's value to the Bears further. Manning still could come back to the Bears, and still could end up in the starting lineup. But he might not be making the kind of coin he desires.
Punter: The only punter the Bears have under contract is Richmond McGee. Assuming the team allows free agent Brad Maynard to leave, the Bears will need to bring in another leg for competition. It might be a player with limited or no NFL experience.