Keeping Young Talent is Off-season Priority

The Bears have several free-agent decisions to make this off-season. Chicago will not be active in the free-agent market in terms of going after players from other teams.

The Bears primary responsibility will be to keep their young talent. The team has already re-signed cornerback R.W. McQuarters (5 years $21 million) and defensive end Bryan Robinson (5 years 20 million). Jerry Azumah signed a five year deal worth over $2 million per season.

With the deals McQuarters and Azumah signed it's unlikely Angelo would pay another cornerback big money, so Walt Harris will not be back with the Bears next season.

Harris said he doubts he'll be back next year, but has enjoyed his six seasons in Chicago.

"Of course you would like to be back with the guys again," Harris said. "I don't think any guy here would like to be somewhere else, but you've got to take care of business and you just got to go about it like that."

The emergence of safety Mike Green could spell the end of Tony Parrish's time with the Bears. Parrish is amongst the hardest hitters on the team, but in today's salary cap minded league if you have two players of similar talent the deciding factor comes down to money.

Dick Jauron has confidence that Azumah and Green can step into a starting role.

"There's no telling how much further they can go," Jauron said. "They're good and they're going to get better."

Chicago would like to have all of their players' back, but the most likely player they will focus on is Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz. The top paid centers in the league make between three and four million dollars. Kreutz asking price will be somewhere in that range. The deciding factor will be if the Bears think Bernard Robertson, who was the Bears fifth round draft choice in 2001 is ready to step in and start. However, Robertson wasn't on the game day roster the entire season.

It's unlikely the Bears will acquire a high priced quarterback in the off-season. There are various reasons Jerry Angelo will hesitate to bring in a Drew Bledsoe. The Patriots are not going to give him away. New England would likely want a first round pick and possibly two. After further examination Bledsoe's $100 million contract is more tradable because the next three years he will be paid $16.5 million then the club has the option to pick up the rest of the deal. $5.5 million is not a tremendous amount to spend on a starting QB, but when the Bears have several free agents they want to re-sign Jim Miller's $3 million asking price seems reasonable.

The likely solution to Chicago's quarterback problems is to re-sign Miller and draft a young quarterback. Miller's value on the free-agent market could dip due to the separated shoulder he suffered against the Eagles. Despite having an 11-3 record as a starter including the playoffs Miller had unimpressive numbers. His 74.9 passer rating was the 3rd lowest in the NFC.

In 2000 James Allen rushed for 1100 yards, but with Anthony Thomas' Rookie of the Year campaign he was the forgotten man. He became an after thought and even fell behind Leon Johnson on the depth chart. The only way Allen returns is if he takes a cut in pay from his current $1.1 million contract.

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