Per NFL rules, the Chicago Bears will be able to bring 80 players into training camp. Right now, the roster boasts just 54 players under contract. The lockout has created difficulties for NFL front offices, as much of the offseason programs – used mainly to groom and evaluate younger players, and help them adjust to the system – will either be truncated or dismissed altogether. Already the Bears have missed out on many of their offseason training activities (OTAs), including veteran and rookie minicamps.
As such, the rush to fill the roster spots with veteran players, ideally ones familiar with Chicago's system, will be more intense this year than in those previous. The team will obviously need to bring in a number of undrafted free agents, most of which are used as "bodies" for training camp – yet often one or two sneak on to the 53-man roster.
Then there is the question of restricted free agency. Most assume that, if a CBA can be agreed upon, players with four-years experience, not six, will qualify for unrestricted free agency. This means Danieal Manning, Corey Graham and Nick Roach will be free to sign elsewhere if they so desire.
With all of these curveballs pitched by the work stoppage, teams will need to be more prepared than usual once the free agency period begins. To say it's going to be chaotic is an understatement. If the Bears, who have more open roster positions than most NFL teams, want to stay abreast of the confusion, the team needs to have its ducks in a row once the starting gun sounds.
Bear Report offers below a prioritized list of duties for Angelo to use at his will.
NT Anthony Adams
Sign Olin Kreutz and Anthony Adams
These two veterans are the rocks around which their respective units revolve. Kreutz has clearly lost a step but his leadership will be crucial for an offensive line struggling to gain continuity. Adams, while not as heralded as Kreutz, is just as important to the defensive line. He's a savvy veteran who uses his wide frame and power to eat up blockers from the nose tackle position, allowing Briggs and Urlacher room to roam. Getting these two players back would provide needed trench stability.
Woo Danieal Manning
The Bears offered Manning a three-year contract worth $6 million last season, which he promptly rejected. He's a player that is rapidly improving and is just now entering his prime. Manning ranked fifth in the NFL in Pro Football Focus's safety ratings last year, due in part to missing only three tackles and not giving up a single touchdown. The front office is high on second-year player Major Wright but he's unproven. Instead, the team should pony up the money for Manning and secure the back end of the secondary.
Bring back Roach and Iwuh
Linebacker Nick Roach has played very well when given the opportunity and deserves to be the starter on the strong side. He's comfortable in the Cover 2 and will be only 27 when the season starts. Locking him up solidifies the starting linebacking corps. Brian Iwuh is very valuable on special teams. He was third on the team in coverage tackles (18) last season. Dave Toub's unit will most likely lose its top two tacklers – Corey Graham, who wants an opportunity to start elsewhere, and Garrett Wolfe, who has been made expendable due to his lack of production as a running back – so getting Iwuh back helps take away some of that sting.
Make the big free agent splash
With so many roster holes to fill, it's safe to say the Bears won't be loading up on top-tier free agents like they did with Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna last year. But the money the team saved by cutting Tommie Harris, and the recent restructuring of Peppers' contract, has opened plenty of cap space. The Bears should look to land one big-name free agent who can start immediately and give a boost to the roster. The two most likely positions are at guard or wide receiver. At guard, Carl Nicks, Davin Joseph, Harvey Dahl and Justin Blalock are all players that would provide an immediate upgrade on the interior of the offensive line. At wide receiver, Sidney Rice, Malcom Floyd, Braylan Edwards or Mike Sims-Walker would give the passing game the shot in the arm it needs.
T Gabe Carimi
Sign the rookies
The Bears only had five draft picks this year, so they won't need to break the bank signing all of them. Angelo is a big believer in locking his picks up quickly, so expect all five to be planting their John Hancock's on fresh contracts very early on in this process. Getting these players in early gives them more time with the coaches, which is crucial at this point, especially for Gabe Carimi and Stephen Paea, who will be called upon to produce as rookies.
Grab second-tier veterans
This is the point where the front office really needs to be thorough. Like we said before, veterans will be given priority over undrafted rookies in most cases. The team has needs at defensive tackle, cornerback, linebacker, wide receiver and the offensive line. With more than 400 veterans currently unemployed, there's plenty out talent out there. Angelo needs to have a set of well-defined targets he can pursue once the lockout lifts. These are the players that can come in and fit the system quickly, and be producers this year.
Scoop up UFAs
Undrafted free agents are typically used to fill out the 80-man roster and make sure there are enough bodies to conduct training camp. Rarely does one make the 53-man roster and even more rarely does he see game action. Once the previous tasks have been completed, the team should then scour the UFA pile for potential gems. Here are a few prospects that could surprise:
WR Darvin Adams, Auburn (6-2, 190)
WR Ricardo Lockette, Fort Valley State (6-2, 211)
WR Tori Gurley, South Carolina (6-4, 216)
WR Terrence Toliver, LSU (6-4, 212)
WR Andre Holmes, Hillsdale (6-4, 210)
LB Mark Herzlich, Boston College (6-4, 244)
LB Scott Lutrus, Connecticut (6-2, 241)
LB Alex Wujciak, Maryland (6-2, 247)
OT Willie Smith, East Carolina (6-5, 310)
OT David Mims, Virginia (6-8, 331)
G Zach Hurd, Connecticut (6-6, 316)
G Garrett Chisolm, South Carolina (6-5, 312)
C Kristofer O'Dowd, USC (6-4, 304)
CB Jason Teague, TCU (6-1, 184)
CB Ryan Jones, Northwest Missouri St. (5-11, 198)
CB Antareis Bryan, Baylor (6-1, 190)
CB Darrin Walls, Notre Dame (6-0, 191)
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