Come Up Empty on an Impact Defensive Lineman Elaine Thompson/Associated Press Building a strong defense starts up front, and the Bears have plenty of holes on the defensive line. This unit contributed only 21 sacks last season and was instrumental in the Bears finishing dead last against the run. It will be a huge failure if the Bears come out of this free-agent period without an impact defensive lineman. Michael Bennett from Seattle is the best pass-rusher on the market. Chicago will have stiff competition from the Seahawks, who are releasing players in order to bring him back, but the Bears still have a good shot at landing him. Michael Johnson from Cincinnati had a down sack year last season but is still an impact player. The Bengals have little interest in bringing him back, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Digging farther down the list, you will find Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks and Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston. All four players would be a significant upgrade over what the Bears are currently working with. They need to lock up one of these players and bring back Henry Melton at a favorable price if they want to be competitive on defense again. Allow Josh McCown to Walk Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press The regular season is a tough physical grind that takes a toll on players. It's becoming increasingly rare for a starting quarterback to play an entire season, and the Bears can't afford to give games away because their quarterback has to miss a week. When the Bears paid Jason Campbell $3.5 million a couple of seasons ago, he showed he wasn't ready to be the backup QB. Since then, they have found that guy: Josh McCown. Now that they have him, why would they let him walk? He was the primary reason the Bears were even playing for a playoff berth in the final game of the season. The investment made in Jay Cutler means nothing to the team if he's out for a few weeks. It was smart to re-sign Cutler and is just as smart to bring McCown back. It would be a terrible decision to be frugal about a player who threw for 13 touchdowns and just one interception in five starts. If the Bears don't bring back McCown, three or four teams will be ready to pounce on him in a heartbeat. That's all the more reason to bring back a player who provides a sense of security and peace of mind throughout the year. Those kinds of feelings are worth a few million dollars per year. Neglect to Bring in Healthy Competition at Safety MARCO GARCIA/Associated Press T.J. Ward The safety play was a complete disaster for the Bears last year. Chris Conte and Major Wright would stand in the crosshairs alone if it wasn't for an equally bad defensive line to help shoulder the blame. It shouldn't just stop with one free-agent safety for the Bears. Signing a player like T.J. Ward would be huge, but it would only cover half of the problem. Ward is an in-the-box strong safety who is a tackling machine with improving cover skills. This helps against the run, but there would still be a hole the size of Randall Cobb over the top. Conte will get every opportunity to bounce back and be the starting free safety in 2014, but the Bears better bring in some competition. Last year, it was Craig Steltz behind Conte, which meant the Bears were forced to stay with the Conte roller coaster no matter how bumpy it got. A veteran safety has to be signed in addition to an impact option. It would be wise to spend the big bucks at strong safety. Wright is a free agent with no chance at returning in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune. This scratches a center field-type player like Jairus Byrd. There are solid veteran options at free safety. The Carolina Panthers' Mike Mitchell and New Orleans Saints' Malcolm Jenkins are two intriguing names who won't break the bank. Neglect Their Own Free Agents Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press D.J. Williams Everybody likes to get caught up in outside talent, but it's important to remember that key players on the Bears deserve to come back. Veteran linebacker D.J. Williams missed the majority of last year with a torn pectoral. There's so much uncertainty around Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin that it's a no-brainer to bring back Williams for a year. Zack Bowman, Nate Collins, Sherrick McManis, Patrick Mannelly, Jonathan Scott, Eben Britton and Blake Costanzo are all key backups who deserve to return. With so many roster openings and free agency just a short time away, it's already concerning that some of these guys haven't been re-signed yet. The Bears can't have their eyes on the big prizes and let other teams pluck their key reserves off one by one. Make a Brian Urlacher Type of Move Again Alex Brandon/Associated Press Brian Urlacher might have lost the battle last season, but the Bears ultimately lost the war. He recovered from the low offer that the team gave him, while the defense took a beating without its leader in the middle. It's one year later, and the Bears are virtually in the same position with Charles Tillman. At this point they need Tillman more than he needs them. It's fair to let him test the market, but the Bears need to bring him back. There isn't enough leadership or help on the outside for the Bears to cope with losing him. They still don't know who their middle linebacker is one year later and would have the same issue at corner if Tillman leaves. Urlacher wouldn't have been the savior last year, but the defense wouldn't have played as poorly as they did if he had played. Tillman isn't the savior either, but this defense is much better with him. It will cost the Bears less than $4 million per season to keep Tillman. That's a bargain for what he brings to the table. Ego shouldn't get involved, and general manager Phil Emery needs to learn from the past.