There has been plenty of talk regarding the low talent level of the current veteran free-agent class. There are some big name players who are not currently under contract – Peyton Manning and Michael Vick to name a few – but there is almost no chance they'll be changing uniforms.
The work stoppage makes the situation even more difficult for NFL teams. The franchise tags teams placed on players may not mean anything under a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Then there is the growing feeling the 2011 season will exist under the 2010 rules – the second straight season conducted without a CBA in place. If that is the case, then a number of potential free agents would no longer be considered unrestricted, instead falling in the restricted category. As a result, those players become much more likely to stay with their current teams.
The Chicago Bears have many roster holes to fill and are surely going to be active in the free agent market. Julius Peppers restructured his contract a few months back – basically back-loading his payment schedule – to allow the team to maneuver on the open market.
One area the team would be wise to address is wide receiver. Without a current No. 1, Chicago should be looking hard to bring in a big-bodied player who can go after those jump balls Jay Cutler is wont to throw.
Yet, what originally seemed like a deep group of free-agent pass catchers may quickly become kiddie-pool deep if the season is governed by 2010 rules. Quality players like Sidney Rice and Santonio Holmes would no longer be as readily available to other teams. That leaves a group headlined by Braylon Edwards, Santana Moss and Terrell Owens – not exactly what the Bears are looking for. Those players will also demand big contracts that may not necessarily match their future production.
That may force the Bears to spend the big money elsewhere and look for a more unconventional option at receiver. This could involve signing a player who has spent the last two seasons in prison, or a player with immense talent but seemingly no desire, or trading for a receiver that once broke the jaw of his teammate during practice. Let's consider all three.
WR Plaxico Burress
Physically, Burress is the perfect medicine for what ails the Bears' offense. He has the size (6-5, 232), speed, hands and experience to play the No. 1 role. He has four 1,000-yard seasons in his nine-year career, and between 2006-2007, he caught 22 touchdowns from Eli Manning.
Burress is a beast getting after jump balls. There are few cornerbacks in the league that can matchup up with his size and strength. He works the sidelines well and would instantly become Cutler's favorite end zone target. With Johnny Knox stretching defenses deep and Earl Bennett handling the possession duties, Plax could focus solely on making the big catches on third down and in the red zone. Yet for all his talent, fewer players in the league carry as much baggage. He was incarcerated for making one of the dumbest mistakes in recent history – shooting himself in the leg – and was forced out of football for two years. Rust could definitely be a problem.
He didn't fare much better with his former team either. During his tenure in New York, Burress was fined internally on almost a weekly basis for violating team rules, and incurred multiple suspensions. Chalk some of that up to Tom "Shwarzkopf" Coughlin's coaching style, but it's obvious Plax plays by his own rules. He's also had a litany of injuries throughout his career.
That said, if the money is right, the Bears would be wise to give him a one-year contract. If he's anywhere near the player he was a few years ago, he'd easily be worth any accompanying headaches. When healthy and productive on the field, Burress would be exactly the piece Chicago's offense is missing.
Moss' 2010 season was as ugly as anyone has seen in years. He started off playing poorly for the Patriots, was subsequently traded to the Vikings and then released a month later, and then signed with the Titans and did absolutely nothing on the field. He showed no interest for the game and wasn't willing to put forth any effort for his teammates. Even with two of the greatest all-time quarterbacks heaving passes his way – Brady and Favre – Moss still couldn't muster up any effort.
Yet it didn't seem as if the 34-year-old had lost too much of a step. His speed has dropped off but he still showed, at times, the burst necessary to beat defenders deep. And we all know he still has great hands.
With Moss though, it's about his willingness to perform. Last season, all he wanted to do was run in a straight line and never made any plays over the middle of the field. At this point in his career, it's hard to see him flipping back on the switch. Apparently, the Jets are very interested in his services. I say let him flounder in New York.
WR Steve Smith
Steve Smith (Carolina)
Quick story: In one of my first interviews with an NFL player, I asked Smith if he felt his fiery attitude helped or hindered his team. He lashed out, insisting he was a good teammate and basically told me it was a dumb question. Two years later, he knocked out his fellow teammate in practice. I quickly learned to take most of what players say with a grain of salt.
So it's hard to tell whether or not Smith really wants out of Carolina. The team is definitely in a rebuilding phase and won't be competing for a championship any time soon. The 32-year-old most likely sees his window closing and would like one more shot at a Super Bowl ring. Then again, he may be intrigued by Cam Newton's potential.
Yet if the Panthers are looking to make a fresh start without him, Chicago would make a good trade partner. Smith, despite his size, is a big-play receiver whose individual performances can carry an offense. He's still young enough to perform at that high level for a few more years and would fit well in the Bears' offense.
The problem comes when trying to figure out his market value. The Panthers would most likely want a first- or second-round pick for him. It's not likely Chicago would pony up that much for a player past his prime. Yet if the Bears could offer up a third-rounder and a young player in exchange, they might be able to make it work. Smith could definitely help take the passing game to the next level.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport com To read him every day, visit BearReport com and become a Chicago Bears insider