One thing is for sure: The Chicago Bears still have plenty of roster holes yet to be filled. With only five draft picks, and one spent on a third-string quarterback, the team will need to be active in free agency in order to compete in 2011.
Another thing is becoming more probable by the day: The upcoming season will operate under the 2010 rules. This means players who have accrued four to five seasons in the league will no longer qualify for unrestricted free agent status. Instead they will become restricted, severely diminishing their odds of securing a long-term, life-changing contract. As far as said players are concerned, my condolences.
As far as the Bears are concerned, these guidelines would both help and hinder the team. On the positive side, S Danieal Manning, CB Corey Graham and LB Nick Roach would no longer be unrestricted. All three are significant contributors to the team and would be welcomed back, at a discounted rate, with open arms.
On the negative side, the total size of the free agent pool from which Chicago could pull from would diminish substantially. The Bears most assuredly will be looking to bolster its roster through free agency at the cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and defensive tackle positions. Here are just a few of the players who would make great additions to the team's roster, yet may not be as readily available.
WR Santonio Holmes
WR Santonio Holmes, New York Jets
The Jets placed a high-level tender on Holmes, granting them first right of refusal and compensation in the form of two draft picks – so Holmes won't be going anywhere. His playoff experience, as well as a top-tier all-around game, would have been an outstanding addition to the Bears' receiving corps.
WR Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers
Floyd has the size (6-5, 225) that Chicago, and Jay Cutler, desperately needs. As a jump-ball target, he would have been ideal. He's also very good at catching the over-the-middle passes in traffic. His has an injury history, but that looks to be San Diego's problem for at least one more year.
WR Sidney Rice, Minnesota Vikings
Rice is coming off a serious hip injury that kept him out for most of last season. Yet in 2009, he posted eye-popping numbers – 83 catches, 1,312 yards and 8 TDs. He's the big-bodied receiver (6-4, 202) the offense needs. Questions remain about the health of his hip but it doesn't look like the Bears will have to answer those any time soon.
OT Willie Colon, Pittsburgh Steelers
Colon missed all of 2010 after tearing his Achilles tendon, which has made him somewhat expendable in Pittsburgh. He has experience at tackle but most feel he's better suited to play guard. He's only 28 and would have brought experience and versatility to Chicago's front five. The Steelers placed a first-round tender on him, meaning he's staying in The Steel City.
OT Jared Gaither, Baltimore Ravens
Gaither is one of the few tackles on the open market with significant left-side experience. He would have been a huge upgrade over Frank Omiyale. With him manning the left side and Gabe Carimi on the right, Chicago's offensive line would have immediately jumped out of the basement.
G Justin Blalock & G Harvey Dahl, Atlanta Falcons
Plugging either one of these players in at guard would have boosted the run game immensely. Both are coming off outstanding 2010 seasons. The duo has paved the way for Michael Turner the past few seasons and could have done the same for Matt Forte.
G/T Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens
Yanda has NFL experience at both guard and tackle, which would have provided Chicago needed versatility in the trenches. He's a good run blocker, sound in pass protection and is only 26 years old. Maybe next year.
DT Brandon Mebane, Seattle Seahawks
Mebane would be a perfect fit as a 3-technique tackle in Chicago's defense. Tim Ruskell, director of player personnel, drafted the 26-year-old. His past three seasons have been very good. His presence on the inside would be a big boost to the Bears' defensive line. Interestingly, Seattle only applied a third-round tender, which should be manageable for most other NFL teams. Considering the recent third-round selections of Jarron Gilbert and Marcus Harrison, Chicago should seriously consider giving up the pick for Mebane's services.
CB Josh Wilson, Baltimore Ravens
The 26-year-old had his best season as a professional last year and is only getting better. He is emerging as one of the top cover corners in the league. He would have made a solid addition to Chicago's secondary.
CB Johnathan Joseph, Cincinnati Bengals
As a former first-round pick, Joseph wants a big payday. The Bears have the money to spend and would have considered doling it out to a top-tier corner. His speed and tackling ability would have fit well in the Cover 2.
OLB James Anderson, Carolina Panthers
Anderson is a pure 4-3 OLB, which is exactly what Chicago needs. He's a playmaker who is solid against both the pass and run. Placing him next to Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher would have been deadly.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport com To read him every day, visit BearReport com and become a Chicago Bears insider