Shopping Spree?

The Bears are in position to be aggressive in the free agent market for the first time under Jerry Angelo's reign with the Bears.

"I see us being more active probably than since I've been here, for the obvious reason, too, that we've got a new coaching staff so our schemes are going to be different," said GM Jerry Angelo. "We have a few square pegs in round holes, we have some cap room. We'll be aggressive at certain positions and we'll just see for sure who's coming out.

"I look at free-agency as filling needs. When you go out in the market as what we did last year. We needed a quarterback, we felt we needed a tight end so we went out and did what we did. Because of the change of schemes they'll be some positions, yes we'll have to change the profile at that position and free agency is obviously going to be the first place we'll look."

With plans to play defensive linemen in a rotation, which is not expected to include end Phillip Daniels or tackle Keith Traylor, the Bears look to fill holes in the front four through free agency, which begins March 3.

And the Bears will have plenty of money to do so, especially if they go through with plans to cut Daniels and linebacker Warrick Holdman, which would save about $6 million and leave them roughly $16 million under the salary cap, which is expected to be between $79 million and $80 million for the 2004 season. Daniels' cap number is $5.8 million for the coming season, while Holdman's is $4 million.

Traylor, who will be an unrestricted free agent, will not be back. Both head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Ron Rivera prefer more mobile players than the 340-pound Traylor, whose forte is controlling the run in a limited area and occupying blockers.

Angelo said there is virtually no chance of trading Daniels or Holdman because of their inflated cap numbers. Holdman missed three games with injuries and had just 79 tackles last season at weak-side linebacker, a position that should provide more opportunities to make plays. Daniels has always been a solid run defender but never became the pass rusher the Bears hoped for when they signed him to a five-year, $24 million deal in 2000.

"Their roles will most likely diminish given what we do scheme-wise," Angelo said. "So you have to look at their (salary-cap) number. We're still in the decision-making process, but you can read between the lines."

Angelo said there is a possibility both players could be back if they agree to restructured contracts for much lower cap numbers, and the Bears are discussing that possibility with their agents. Without Daniels, the Bears would be left with Alex Brown, who led the linemen last season with 79 tackles, and 2003 first-round draft pick Michael Haynes as their starters. The only other end on the team with any NFL experience is career backup and special-teams player Joe Tafoya.

"We'll want to have four ends, so we'll be looking at defensive line possibilities," Angelo said. "If we don't have Phillip with us, we'd certainly have to do something in free agency or the draft, or both."

Among this year's crop of free-agent defensive ends, the Titans' Jevon Kearse would be the impact pas rusher the Bears have lacked for many years. The Rams' Grant Wistrom, a big fan of Lovie Smith's, is an overachieving playmaker who also has put up big sack numbers in the past, including a combined 20 in 2000 and 2001.

If most of the premier free agents get tagged then Angelo is weary of overpaying for a marginal player at a need position.

"I don't see us setting the bar with anybody. I don't know that there's anybody out there that we consider a need position that we would consider special. I don't see that happening. Will we be aggressive? Yeah, we'll be very aggressive. If we like the player and we feel that we're projecting what the marketplace will be."

Orlando Pace and Champ Bailey were franchised tagged over the weekend by the St. Louis Rams and Washington Redskins prospectively. The rest of teams have to decide whether or not to do the same by Tuesday.

The Insiders contributed to this report.


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