The Chicago Bears are in sticky situation regarding the team's offensive tackles. J'Marcus Webb was horrible last season, giving up the most sacks in the league amongst players at his position. On the other side, Gabe Carimi is coming off a dislocated kneecap that has required three surgeries since Week 2 last year. Coach Lovie Smith said the team has no timetable for his return.
It's possible Carimi may not be ready to go at the start of training camp. The worst-case scenario is that he misses all of 2012, a situation for which the Bears must be prepared.
When looking at options to upgrade the tackle position this offseason, new GM Phil Emery must keep his eyes open for tackles on both sides of the line. If Carimi can't play this year, next in line would be Frank "Turnstile" Omiyale. That won't be good for anyone.
Here are three veteran free agents Chicago's front office needs to strongly consider signing to upgrade a position of serious need.
Jared Gaither, SD (6-9, 340) Age: 26
Gaither has been an oft-injured disappointment for most of his career. Yet last season, filling in at left tackle for the Chargers in the club's final five games, Gaither was an absolute beast. He may finally be reaching his potential and is easily the top free agent tackle on the market. Back injuries are always a concern, as well as mental breakdowns, but he showed last year that, when healthy and focused, there are few better. San Diego will try to retain him but may not be willing to give him the premiere contract other teams will surely offer. He's a risk but Gaither would provide an instant, significant upgrade on the left edge for the Bears.
Demetrius Bell, BUF (6-5, 311) Age: 28
Bills coach Chan Gailey said the team has been in talks with Bell's agent regarding a new contract since the end of last season. Yet Buffalo believes 2011 fourth-round pick Chris Hairston is their left tackle of the future. As such, Bell might command a price tag too high for the Bills. Bell has dealt with knee injuries throughout his four-year career. Yet when he's on the field, he's very good. In six starts last season, he gave up just one sack, which is light years ahead of Webb.
T Anthony Collins
Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
Anthony Collins, CIN (6-5, 315) Age: 26
Collins has spent most of his four years in the NFL as a backup, most recently to Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith. The Bengals will go forward with that same duo on the edges, meaning Collins is likely to hit the open market. When Collins is on the field though, he plays very well. He has experience on the right and left side, giving him even more value as a potential swing tackle. Last year, he played 177 snaps and gave up just one QB pressure and no sacks. He doesn't have a ton of experience but he has the skill set to be a quality long-term tackle on either side of the line. His lack of playing time in Cincinnati also means he'll likely come at a discount.
There are plenty more left tackles on the open market but none are attractive enough to warrant much attention: Max Starks is coming off ACL surgery, Jeff Backus is 34 and struggles in pass protection, and 33-year-old Kareem McKenzie was downright awful last year.
If the Bears are going to seriously pursue a veteran tackle in free agency, it needs to be one of the three aforementioned players. Bell and Gaither are talented but risky, and will command large paychecks. Which is why Collins is worth pursuing. He won't cost as much and can play right or left tackle. He's a quality performer that doesn't have a lot of mileage on his tires. It would be an under-the-radar move by Chicago but signing Collins would pay dividends down the line.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.