The Chicago Bears, like every other NFL team, will be involved in a chaotic scramble to fill roster spots once free agency begins. The team currently has 26 open slots. For our purposes, we'll assume the organization is able to re-sign Olin Kreutz and Anthony Adams.
Many of the remaining positions will be filled with undrafted prospects and camp invites that show enough in the preseason to make the team. That still leaves plenty of open roster positions, most of which will be filled with veteran free agents, of which there are more than 400 waiting to be signed.
Last season, the Bears made a big splash on the first day of free agency, signing Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna. Just before the lockout, Peppers restructured his contract to open up cap space this season. So it wouldn't be all that surprising if the team again goes big in free agency.
Whether the 2011 season will operate with a salary cap is yet to be decided. Recent negotiations have many believing a new collective bargaining agreement will be signed by mid-July. We'll operate under that assumption and take into account a salary cap, which is likely to be somewhere between $140 million and $150 million.
As such, the Bears will need to pluck at least five, and up to 10, players from the free agent heap, yet still stay under the cap. In our first scenario, we look at five players the Bears could sign to help fill out the roster.
THE BIG CATCH
G Carl Nicks
Geoff Burke/US Presswire
G Carl Nicks, 26 (6-5, 343)
The Saints will surely try to re-sign Nicks to a long-term deal but he is in high demand and could see more money in free agency. The team also spent a pretty penny on right guard Jahri Evans – about $7 million per season – so they may not have the luxury of keeping both.
Nicks engulfs opponents with his size and uses his hands well to control and steer opponents past the pocket. He played tackle in college, and is still learning the guard position, so his best years are surely ahead of him.
Nicks would be a stalwart along the Bears' offensive line for many years if the team is able to pry him away from New Orleans. He's young, talented and has the size to be a dominating road grader. Many NFL clubs are in need of his services, so he won't come cheap, but if the team is serious about improving the front five, Nicks would be money well spent.
WR Malcom Floyd, 29 (6-6, 225)
Floyd is a good receiver who can be dominant at times. He has good speed and outstanding size. He never developed into an elite receiver even after seven years playing with Phillip Rivers, and he's far too fragile, but he would give Cutler the big target he needs near the end zone. With Earl Bennett dominating on underneath routes and Johnny Knox stretching the defense, Floyd could put up No. 1-type numbers. When you throw Devin Hester's abilities in the mix, suddenly the receiving corps becomes highly formidable.
LB Clint Session, 26 (6-0, 235)
Session is undersized but very quick and hits hard. He has played in the Cover 2 system in Indianapolis his whole career, so there would be no learning curve for him to overcome in Chicago. He missed all but five games last season due to a fractured forearm, but recorded 103 tackles, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble in 2009. His speed and athleticism, along with his experience in the Cover 2, would make him a great fit as the Bears' starting SAM linebacker.
LB Justin Durant, 25 (6-1, 240)
Durant is another talented player whose career has been marred by injury. He has excellent speed, athleticism and quickness. He is well suited to play the strong side but his coverage game needs work. If he can stay healthy, he'd be a cheap, solid addition to the Bears' defense who could serve as a primary backup and special teams player.
CB Brandon Carr, 25 (6-0, 207)
Carr has the right size to play corner in the Cover 2. He has played in the shadow of Brandon Flowers his whole career, and is underrated because of it. He's a physical cornerback who is strong against both the pass and run. He amassed 135 tackles and 3 interceptions during his three years in Kansas City. Carr would be able to challenge right away for the starting cornerback job opposite Charles Tillman.
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