By restructuring Julius Peppers' contract and turning his $10.5 million roster bonus for this season into a signing bonus that is spread evenly over the five remaining years on his $91 million contract for salary-cap relief, the Bears have saved roughly $8 million for 2011 assuming there will be a cap.
That extra cap space could allow the Bears to be more active in free agency, which is on hold until the NFL and the players' union agree on a new collective bargaining agreement. The Bears could also use the extra money to re-sign some of their 16 free agents, most of whom are expected to be unrestricted, or to extend deals for key players already under contract. But without a CBA, NFL teams don't yet know what the salary cap will be for 2011.
"We have more unrestricted free agents than what we've had in the past," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "So we've got a full plate. We will be able to do (some) things in free agency regardless of what the scenario of what the cap is."
--The Bears have implied that they're satisfied with their current receiving corps, but they are devoid of a big, physical target with the possible exception of 6-0, 204-pound Earl Bennett, who is mostly a possession receiver.
If they decide to go shopping in free agency, there are several players who would be excellent complements to the extremely fast but somewhat undersized group they have.
The Chargers' Malcom Floyd (6-5, 225) could be just what they're looking for. He has averaged over 17.0 yards per catch in each of the past three seasons.
WR Jacoby Jones
With four years' experience, Houston's Jacoby Jones may or may not be unrestricted, depending on the structure of a new CBA, but he would be the biggest receiver on the Bears' roster at 6-2 and 210 pounds, and he's coming off his best season (51 catches, 562 yards).
The Jaguars' 6-2, 214-pound Mike Sims-Walker was non-tendered, even though he had seven TDs on 43 catches last season. That was a disappointment considering his 2009 season, when he caught 63 passes for 869 yards and seven touchdowns.
Sims-Walker would be a huge upgrade for the Bears over their own non-tendered wide receiver Devin Aromashodu, who flopped last year after coming on strong at the end of 2009. The 6-2, 201-pound four-year veteran had just three catches for 38 yards in the last 10 games of 2011. He caught 22 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns in the final four games of '09.
--As "underwhelming" as the Bears' offense was for much of 2010, coach Lovie Smith has high hopes for next season, whenever that happens.
"I'm excited to get back out there and for all of our guys being in the system a second year," Smith said of the Mike Martz-led crew. "It's just like from the first game to the second game of the season, you see a lot of improvement. We're expecting the same thing and there's no reason not to."
Smith isn't completely delusional, though, when it comes to the offensive side of the ball, which clearly has the most room for improvement.
"There's a couple of areas we need to improve, but I think the core is in place, starting with our quarterback, Jay Cutler, leading us," Smith said. "I wouldn't want any other quarterback except for Jay. I'm excited about him going into that second year with Mike and seeing those improvements on the offensive side."
--Bears running back Harvey Unga can sympathize with BYU's Brandon Davies, who was suspended from the basketball team for violating the school's honor code by having premarital sex with his girlfriend.
RB Harvey Unga
Unga was dismissed from BYU's football team before his senior season for the same reason and was snagged by the Bears in the 2010 supplemental draft but spent his rookie season on injured reserve.
"I don't think young kids like Brandon should be publicized the way they are because of the personal choices they've made," Unga told Chicago Bears.com. "You look around the country and some guys are getting DUIs and committing crimes and hurting other people. But when it comes to this, this kid made a personal choice, and his business is out there for the whole nation to see, and I don't think that's right."
When Unga was suspended, his girlfriend Keilani Moeaki was also removed from BYU's women's basketball team. They were married last July and have a baby boy.
Quote to Note: "There are very few positions that I would say that we're set. There are a lot of different options." -- Bears coach Lovie Smith, when asked if any offensive line positions were set aside from unrestricted free-agent center Olin Kreutz.
Strategy and Personnel
Since Roach and Graham both have four years' experience, they could become unrestricted free agents if the new CBA includes the same parameters as the old one.
1. Offensive line: Center Olin Kreutz will be 34 in June and right guard Roberto Garza will be 32 later this month. Left guard Chris Williams was supposed to be the left tackle of the future. J'Marcus Webb started 12 games as a rookie at right tackle. Left tackle Frank Omiyale showed improvement over the course of the season, but he may not be the long-term answer.
2. Defensive tackle: Nose tackle Anthony Adams is unrestricted, and 3-technique Tommie Harris was terminated after failing to live up to his $40 million extension in 2008. Marcus Harrison has been a career underachiever. Solid, blue-collar worker Matt Toeaina can play nose or 3-technique, where he started 10 games last season, but he might be just a placeholder.
3. Wide receiver: There is some big-play ability here, especially with Johnny Knox and Devin Hester and Earl Bennett is a solid and reliable possession guy. But there is a need for a big, physical player who can win jump balls.
Medical Watch: No updates.
Franchise Player: None.
Transition Player: None.
Players Re-Signed: None.
Players Acquired: None.
--DT Tommie Harris (released).
--LB Hunter Hillenmeyer (released).
--OT Kevin Shaffer (released).
--QB Matt Gutierrez: FA; terms unknown.
--NT Tank Tyler: FA; terms unknown.
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