New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is set to hit restricted free agency this offseason. The two sides are negotiating a new contract but are reportedly very far apart. Teams must declare franchise tags by Monday. If the Saints and Brees cannot come to an agreement, the organization will tag him – there's no chance the club will let its franchise quarterback hit the open market.
The Saints are in a tough situation. WR Marques Colston and CB Tracy Porter will also become unrestricted free agents on March 13. To address these fiscal problems, the club is working on restructuring the contract of defensive end Will Smith to clear up $5 million-$6 million in cap space. That surely won't be enough to keep the team's roster intact but it's a start.
The Chicago Bears are in need of both a wide receiver and a cornerback. Colston would be a great fit for the offense. He would provide a big-bodied deep threat the team desperately needs. Porter, in my opinion, is a bit overrated but the Bears have three cornerbacks set to hit free agency. Porter could fill one of those holes.
Yet the big news regarding the Saints and Brees has to do with guard Carl Nicks. New Orleans would love to franchise Nicks, arguably the best interior blocker in the NFL, yet likely won't be able to because of Brees.
This is huge for the Bears, a team that, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), had the worst offensive line in the league last year. Nicks is an absolute beast on the interior. He can road grade in the run game and is outstanding in pass protection. PFF gave him the second highest grade of any guard in the league last season.
If the Saints tag Brees, then Nicks hits the open market. Plenty of teams will be interested in him, so he'll cost a pretty penny. Yet the Bears have plenty of cap space with which to work, reportedly around $20 million. Making Nicks one of the highest paid guards in the league wouldn't compromise the roster. His presence inside would provide an almost immeasurable upgrade to Chicago's weakest unit.
On the other end of the country, the Oakland Raiders also have their backs against the cap wall. The team is reportedly somewhere between $11 million and $22 million over the 2012 salary cap. It's time to slash and burn in Oakland.
As such, the club has asked OLB Kamerion Wimbley to take a pay cut, something he's not willing to do. It's being reported that, if the two sides can't find a way to restructure his deal – which seems very unlikely at this point – he will be waived.
Wimbley is an outstanding pass rusher. He thrived rushing off the edge as an outside linebacker in Oakland's system, earning 16.0 sacks the past two years combined. Yet the tape shows a player that would have no problem transitioning to defensive end a 4-3 system. In fact, it would allow Wimbley to focus solely on rushing the passer, without the coverage duties inherent for any OLB.
Another position of need for the Bears is defensive end. Wimbley could easily fill that need. The 28-year-old is younger and more productive than Israel Idonije, who struggled as a pass rusher last season despite the constant double teams applied to Julius Peppers. A combination of Peppers and Wimbley coming off the edges would give the club the pass rush it needs for the Cover 2 to flourish.
Teams must apply franchise tags by March 5, with free agency officially beginning on March 13 at 4 p.m. If both Nicks and Wimbley hit the open market, the Bears need to be aggressive in pursuing a pair of players that would provide huge upgrades at positions of serious need.
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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.