Here the Chicago Bears go again, heading into yet another offseason with large holes on the roster due to poor overall drafting. Much like last year, the Bears will be going into free agency looking to compensate for a lack of homegrown talent. First-year general manager Ryan Pace will have his hands full once the free-agency period begins on March 10.
The good news? Pace and new head coach John Fox will have their fair-share of cap space with which to work. With a projected salary cap anywhere from $140 million all the way to $145 million, the Bears could be looking at upward of $35 million in spending money.
Obvious needs can mostly be found on the defensive side of the ball but the offensive line and receiving depth are also large areas of concern. The front seven will most likely be the main focus in free agency and the draft but safety, cornerback and offensive line are all positions that should receive upgrades, as well.
The top player on the open market is debatable but Houston fits the Bears’ needs perfectly.
Houston is coming off a monster season of 22 sacks and his third double-digit sack campaign in as many seasons. Houston also totaled four forced fumbles, five passes defended, 69 tackles and the first overall ranking from Pro Football Focus (PFF) as an outside linebacker.
The Chiefs are in cap hell, so there’s a good chance they will not be able to retain him, even through the franchise tag. If Houston does hit the open market, he will be a hot commodity and an expensive one at that. At a very fresh 26-years-old, he may be the most ideal big-money free agent around which new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s can build his defense.
Five years/$70 million ($30 million guaranteed) $14 million average annual value.
Most opposing fans hate him but his talent and production are undeniable. At 28-years-old, Suh is entering the prime of his career and he is ready to cash in. With 36 career sacks, he may be the most well rounded defensive tackle in the game.
Gerald McCoy, who went one pick after Suh, just cashed in a big contract at just under $16 million per year this past offseason and Suh will be looking to eclipse that and become the highest paid defensive tackle in NFL history. His numbers justify a large contract but the attention he brings for his “dirty” play may keep certain teams from breaking the bank. If the Bears miss out on Houston or feel that Suh fits well as a 5-technique, Suh could be worth the big investment.
Gerald McCoy: Six years/ $95.5 million ($51.5 million guaranteed) Signed in 2014.
Seven Years/ $115.5 million ($65 million guaranteed) $16.5 million average annual value.
Following former safety Mike Brown’s departure, the Bears have had quite the revolving door at safety. With a few top options to choose from, McCourty stands out as the best. At 28 years old, McCourty is coming off of his first Super Bowl win and is looking to cash in on a big contract.
Arguably the best free safety in the game, don’t expect his contract to come cheap. The Patriots will have some decisions to make this offseason and cornerback Darrelle Revis will be their top priority. With Revis expected to net a large deal, the team may not be able to afford two top-paid defensive backs.
If McCourty hits the open market, expect to see a large amount of interest from a majority of teams, including the Bears.
Five years/ $42.5 million ($22 million guaranteed) $8.5 million average annual value.
The Bears already have Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery but, as evidenced last year, this unit needs speed. What better player than Randall Cobb? It’s truly a win-win: Take away a division rival’s number two receiving threat and help an already potent offense in the process.
Coming off of a 1,287-yard, 12-touchdown season, Cobb will be a top target, one the Packers would like to retain. Not only does he bring a needed speed dimension but Cobb also possesses the added value of being a dangerous kick returner.
It may not be the most ideal way for the Bears to cut into their budget but with a slight backload in the contract, GM Ryan Pace could land a 24-year-old Cobb and still have sizeable spending cash left over.
Five years/ $45 million ($21 million guaranteed) $9 million average annual value.
This was close between Franklin and Bryan Bulaga, but in the end Franklin provided more consistency in performance and health, not to mention new offensive line Dave Magazu has spent the past four years with him in Denver.
Franklin ranked as PFF’s fifth rated left guard this past year after sliding in from right tackle. New offensive coordinator Adam Gase could look to keep Franklin at guard and swing 2013 first round pick Kyle Long outside to tackle, where he was originally projected.
If that happens, expect to see flexibility at the guard position, with either Matt Slauson or Franklin flipping over to right guard. As always, good offensive lineman don’t come cheap but the familiarity and past success in this offense makes Franklin an ideal option at 26 years old.
Evan Mathis: Five years/ $25.5 million ($6 million guaranteed) Signed in 2012. Josh Sitton: Five years/ $33.75 million ($8.9 million guaranteed) Signed in 2011.
Five years/ $32.5 million ($13 million guaranteed) $6.5 million average annual value.
In his opening press conference, Pace talked about building through the draft. Ultimately, that’s the long-term manner in which he’ll build this team but with the lack of homegrown talent on the current roster, Pace must use free agency as a boost to quickly turn his team into a true contender.
Expect to see the Bears this offseason right in the mix for some of the top free-agent talent, especially with money to spend and more space due to open up the next couple of years.
Aaron Leming has years of salary cap knowledge and has written for Rant Sports, Bears Draft On Tap, and Cover 32. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report.