Over the next several months, NFL teams will start picking through the pile of released running backs, wide receivers, linebackers and defensive backs. These players have been deemed as ‘past-their-prime’ or too expensive for current teams who feel they have better options already on their roster or can find cheaper replacements via the April 2010 draft. Some of the 30+ year old free agents will get veteran-minimum contracts with teams looking to get 1 or 2 solid years from a former Pro Bowler. A few, who were cut for financial reasons rather than performance issues, may get more lucrative contracts from a team with money to spend. Even though this year is uncapped (teams don’t have to stay under a certain payroll number for the year), it doesn’t appear any teams will go over-the-top on March 5th when free agency begins. That certainly includes the Bears who raised ticket prices and had Ted Phillips confirm that “We’re not going to be one of those handful of teams sometimes that just goes hog wild in free agency,”. Are there any free agents the Bears will pick up to help Lovie and co. keep their jobs beyond 2010?
Considering Angelo and Smith have nothing to lose going into what could be their final year overseeing the Bears, I expect them to pick up at least a couple veterans that could lead to a short term bump in wins. Offensively, both Westbrook and Tomlinson have been let go by the teams that once considered them franchise running backs. Both would have to accept smaller contracts and less playing time on their next teams. Westbrook would be a better fit to split time with Forte. He isn’t Hall of Fame bound so may be willing to accept a split role. He also would be more productive catching footballs out of the backfield which is important in Martz’s offensive system. In 33 fewer games, he averaged about the same number of catches per season as Tomlinson. As a side note, the Jets are about to release Thomas Jones but the Bears have already been down that road with things ending poorly so no chance of a reunion there. At wide receiver, Torry Holt has been cut from the Jaguars and there has been discussion about him joining the Bears due to his connection with Lovie and Martz when he played for the Rams. It couldn’t hurt to have 1 veteran receiver on a team with young and inexperienced wideouts. It seems less likely that the Bears would sign Holt, though, as Angelo continues his stance that wide receiver is one of the deepest positions on the team. That is a sad statement but may not be far from the truth for a team with many holes to fill.
Defensively, there have been rumors that Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle will be released this week. Rolle is a young, improving safety which would fill a need for the Bears who have sent out inexperienced rookie safeties year after year with little success. Knowing Angelo likes filling the safety spots with 5th and 6th round draft picks makes it unlikely that he’d break out the checkbook for someone playing that position. I say this despite Lovie indicating that the team must improve at safety. Lovie has indicated in the past that coaching can improve positional flaws so he will likely rely on his defensive back coach to make the current safeties better. The defensive line is where the Bears need the most help but there are no big names that have been cut yet to help cheaply fill those needs. The biggest name at defensive end is Julius Peppers who leads a not-so-impressive list of free agents. Knowing how poorly the defense performed last year and that Angelo is willing to spend money on the defensive line, there is a chance the Bears will make an offer to him. Even if he becomes another free agency bust, Angelo won’t be around much longer to regret it so he may take the chance.
Though there isn’t much from the ‘cut list’ or free agency to excite Bears fans, knowing they might take a chance on one or two new faces will give us something to look forward to going into next season. One can only hope the Bears will close their eyes, get lucky and find a hidden treasure.