During the opening two weeks of an expensive free-agent period, Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace signed five players, although just three of those are considered impact players. According to the NFLPA, the Bears have just more than $15 million in cap space. After factoring $6 million of that for the draft class, the front office is running low on funds with a touch more than $9 million in true spending money.
With multiple holes on both sides of the roster, it’s time for the team’s first-year general manager to get creative. Glaring needs at inside linebacker, defensive line, offensive line and defensive back still remain. Here are five more smart buys that can help fill the holes.
LB Mason Foster
The 26-year-old inside linebacker has been the topic of conversation for more than a week following rumors the Bears were close to signing him to a three-year-deal. Foster is coming off of a rough first year in Lovie Smith’s Tampa Two but showed good upside in his prior three years. At 6-1, Foster doesn’t have great size or speed but he possesses good instincts and instills fear over the middle of the field as a prototypical “thumper."
So far the young linebacker has not had much of a market and his rumored asking price of $5 million per year over three years has been too rich for any team to this point. With the secondary market settling in and players like Rolando McClain and Brandon Spikes still up for grabs, Foster may have to settle for a cheaper long-term contract or a shorter “prove-it” deal.
Comparable Deal: Nate Irving (Colts) 3 years/$9.25 million (Guaranteed: TBA)
Projected Deal: 3 years/$10 million ($3.5 million guaranteed)
Barksdale represents one of the better values on the markets as each day passes. Although the 26-year-old is coming off a down year, he is one year removed from being a Top 10 right tackle for the St. Louis Rams in 2013. At 6-5, 325, he may be best suited for a zone blocking scheme, much like what the Bears will run under Adam Gase.
In 2013, the former third-round pick out of LSU had a +9.2 grade in 838 total snaps at right tackle, per Pro Football Focus. Although he is not athletically suited to play left tackle, Barksdale would represent a sizable upgrade over former fifth-rounder Jordan Mills.
With his stock low, a short “prove-it” deal could be in order if his market does not materialize soon. Barksdale may be slightly more expensive than Matt Slauson’s original one-year, $840,000 deal but provides the same type of risk/reward balance.
Comparable Deal: Mike Harris (Vikings) One year/$1.542 million
Projected Deal: 1 year/ $2 million ($500,000 guaranteed)
DE Ray McDonald
McDonald is a name most have forgotten in the madness of free agency, especially after being cut from the 49ers late last season on false sexual assault charges. Even at 30-years-old, the defensive end is still at the top of his game and was a staple on the San Francisco's line for multiple years. At 6-4, the former Florida Gator has ideal size and length, not to mention prior success under Vic Fangio and needed experience in a 3-4 front.
McDonald does have a “troubled past” but has been highly spoken of in the locker room and remains close with Fangio. The PR for this type of move may not be ideal but the results on a short-term contract might be worth the trouble.
Comparable Deal: Ricky Jean Francois (Redskins) Three Years/$9 million ($4 million guaranteed)
Projected Deal: 2 years/ $7 million ($3 million guaranteed)
It’s no secret the Bears are thin at center, as 36-year-old Roberto Garza is not a long-term option. In a market where Stefen Wisniewski (26) is still available, a veteran stop-gap center like Satele could be an ideal plug-and-play option for a year or two, allowing the Bears to draft a late-round prospect or simply put the position on hold. The 31-year-old isn’t an All-pro but could present an upgrade over Garza.
Satele stepped in for an injured Mike Pouncey and did a solid job in his second go-around with the Miami Dolphins lat season. His biggest strength is in the run game, making him a solid fit for what most believe will be a run-heavy offense under Gase in 2015. Satele isn't a long-term solution but, at very worst could, he provide cheap starting-quality depth for a year or two, while Pace builds through the draft.
Comparable Deal: Daniel Kilgore (49ers) 3 years / $5.25 million ($2.15 guaranteed)
Projected Deal: 2 years/ $3 million ($1 million guaranteed)
As Jayson Braddock reported Monday night, the Bears have shown interest in the former second-round pick. Jenkins is the typical low-risk signing with noticeable upside in the right coaching fit. He’s still young (27) but doesn't have much to show for his short career.
Jenkins showed flashes in the pass rush this year with Jason Hatcher but could never truly get it going. Jenkins would be a low-guarantee, prove-it deal with the hope Fangio can reach his untapped potential, much like he did with nose tackle Glenn Dorsey in San Francisco.
Comparable Deal: George Selvie (Giants) 1 year / $1.4 million ($200,000 guaranteed)
Projected Deal: 1 year/ $1 million ($150,000 guaranteed)
With many options still available, Pace has the luxury to scrounge the secondary market for high upside deals but with just 59 players on the 90 man roster, which is the lowest in the league, bodies are needed. With depth concerns along the defensive line, options like McDonald and Jenkins present affordable, starter-worthy choices. Inside linebacker is still deep with Foster, Spikes and McClain, which may provide the best value next to the veteran center market with Satale, Brian De La Puente and Dan Connolly.
With limited funds, the Bears still room to make additions before the draft, as well as after the second wave of veteran cuts following the draft. Look for Pace to become active again very soon.
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 and Bear Report Magazine.