Bears Free Agency: The Final Eight

In the final installment of our Bear Report Free Agency series, we evaluate the pros and cons of re-signing the remaining eight current Bears that will hit the open market this Tuesday.

The time draws nigh my friends. In just a few days, the chaos of NFL free agency will be upon us like the December flu. We'll sweat, shiver and lurch our way through the next few weeks, as the open-market action promises to be intense. A new $133 million salary cap, up $10 million from last season, has put nearly every team in a bidding position.

The Chicago Bears are no different. If the team waives Julius Peppers and designates him a June 1 cut, which is almost a formality at this point, the club could end up with nearly $22 million in spending money. Other teams also have more to cash on hand but at the very least, the Bears will be in a position to compete for talent.

GM Phil Emery has been filling roster gaps the last few months, re-signing 11 players since Week 17 last year (Robbie Gould, Tony Fiammetta, Jay Cutler, Matt Slauson, Tim Jennings, Roberto Garza, Kelvin Hayden, Dante Rosario, Jeremiah Ratliff, Taylor Boggs and Derrick Martin) yet a number of decisions on current players have yet to be made.

In our Bear Report Free Agency series, we've weighed the pros and cons of re-signing each of the team's priority free agents. Let's finish the series by analyzing the return potential of the club's final eight players.

LS Patrick Mannelly
This one is a no-brainer. Mannelly has been the most reliable Bears player in each of the past 16 seasons. He plays a small role as the team's long snapper but it's a critical role. One bad snap on special teams could ultimately be the deciding factor in any NFL contest and, as the Bears are painfully aware of, one loss could mean the difference between making the playoffs and sitting at home in January. Mannelly will cost the veteran minimum next season, $955,000, and it will be money well spent.
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em: Hold ‘em

LB Blake Costanzo
Costanzo has been the team's special teams leader the past two years and is valuable in the third phase. His 18 special teams tackles were most on the club last season. Yet he hasn't made a lot of impact plays, has little value as a linebacker and heading into his ninth NFL season, Costanzo will likely cost north of $1 million. The Bears might be able to find a cheaper, younger special-teams option in the back half of this year's draft.
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em: Fold ‘em

Craig Steltz
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

S Craig Steltz
Steltz is another of the team's standout special teams players. He's been a core member of the club's kick units since the Bears selected him in the fourth round of the 2008 draft. He's not a front-line safety and is very limited in coverage but he's tough in the box and has value as a backup. Steltz is also very well liked in the locker room. At the veteran minimum, he'd cost $855,000 next year.
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em: Hold ‘em

OT Jonathan Scott
Scott was injured for most of training camp last year yet still held a roster spot all season as the club's fourth offensive tackle. That said, he was not active for a single contest and was little more than veteran depth. He's replaceable.
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em: Fold ‘em

CB Sherrick McManis
The Bears traded FB Tyler Clutts for McManis before the start of the 2012 campaign. McManis has been a decent special teams player since but he's not a returner and he has little value as a corner.
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em: Fold ‘em

S Anthony Walters
In 2012, Walters was an up-and-coming safety who even started the final contest of the year. Yet last season he couldn't find his way onto the field despite the poor play of starters Major Wright and Chris Conte. If that wasn't Walters' opportunity to earn playing time, then it may never happen under coordinator Mel Tucker.
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em: Fold ‘em

DT Landon Cohen
Cohen was signed in Week 4 following Henry Melton's season-ending ACL injury. He played in 13 contests, starting three, yet he lacked production. He created occasional pressure but he failed to pick up a sack (despite playing 348 snaps, the second most of any defensive tackle on the team) and was a turnstile against the run.
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em: Fold ‘em

QB Jordan Palmer
Palmer started Chicago's final preseason game last year and looked very good against third-string competition. Looking back, it was the first sign of Marc Trestman's ability to get the most out of his quarterbacks. Josh McCown will soon hit free agency and could be coaxed into signing a richer deal elsewhere. If he bolts, the Bears will almost certainly turn to Palmer as the club's veteran backup to Cutler.
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em: Hold ‘em (if McCown doesn't return)

Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is entering his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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