With 15 unrestricted free agents, including several of whom are considered key re-signings, the Chicago Bears will be busy in the coming days.
With just 47 players currently under contract, the Bears will also be interested in signing undrafted rookies and other teams' free agents in what will be the most frenzied period of personnel transactions in the history of the NFL.
Of the Bears' unrestricted free agents, many are players who have started for them in the past, including center Olin Kreutz, defensive tackle Anthony Adams, linebackers Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa and safety Danieal Manning.Several others have been vital role players.
Kreutz is easily the most essential of the starters, considering the unsettled state of the offensive line, which was the most glaring team weakness last season, when it allowed a league-worst 56 sacks. With the possibility that J'Marcus Webb will move to left tackle from right tackle, where he started last season as a rookie, and that this year's first-round pick, Gabe Carimi, will be plugged in at right tackle, there is a serious need for the continuity and stability that Kreutz provides, even in the twilight of his career.
Next on the Bears' to-do list should be defensive tackle Anthony Adams, a reliable if unspectacular presence who can play on the nose and at the 3-technique if necessary. He started all 16 games last season at nose tackle.
Because the Bears have just two linebackers currently under contract - Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher - re-signing Nick Roach and/or oft-injured Pisa Tinoisamoa is a logical move. Rashied Davis provides reliable depth at wide receiver and is an outstanding special teams player, as are defensive back Corey Graham, running back Garrett Wolfe and linebackers Brian Iwuh and Rod Wilson, all of whom are also unrestricted free agents.
Graham was clearly the best of the special-teams bunch. His 25 solo tackles on special teams were more than twice as many as the next Bear, and he has started 10 games at cornerback and can play safety and nickel back.
Manning has also been a productive special-teams performer, especially on kickoff returns, and he started 16 games last season. But the Bears are hoping 2010 third-round pick Major Wright plays well enough to claim the starting strong safety next to free safety Chris Harris. If not for the four-month work stoppage, coaches might already know if Wright is Mr. Right. Given the uncertainty, Manning could return.
As for other teams' free agents, the Bears won't be looking to land another big fish like Julius Peppers. But they should be in the market for a big wide receiver, an offensive lineman to upgrade their starting lineup or at least challenge for playing time, and a proven backup running back. Chester Taylor was supposed to be that guy last year, but at age 31, his production dropped precipitously, and there is no other proven producer on the roster behind starter Matt Forte.
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