Bears have Few Free Agent Decisions

With 21 of 22 starters already locked up for next season, most of the Bears decisions about retaining their own free agents have already been made. Here's a rundown of the unrestricted and restricted players on the roster.

Jerry Azumah saw his role diminished to nickel back in 2005 and still the seven-year veteran struggled to stay healthy. He failed to come up with an interception after picking off 4 balls in each of the past two seasons. His impact as a kick returner is also on the decline. Whether it's a hip problem that plagued him throughout the season or he's lost a step, the Bears are likely to part ways with Azumah.

Terrence Metcalf started the first 12 games of the season at right guard before a shoulder injury sidelined him for three weeks. He returned in the season finale, but a knee injury forced him to leave the game and miss the playoff matchup.

The fact that the Bears gave reserve Roberto Garza a six-year extension is a clear signal he will be the starter if Metcalf goes elsewhere. It also gives the organization bargaining power in trying to make Metcalf accept a lesser deal. Metcalf would likely be inexpensive to re-sign because he's only been a fulltime player for one season and has yet to prove he can stay healthy. With Ruben Brown only a year away from his contract being up, it might be wise to retain a player the team has invested four seasons in developing.

Hunter Hillenmeyer became a fixture at strong-side linebacker. His play was often overlooked considering he lines up with two All-Pro linebackers. Hillenmeyer is a good fit for the scheme and as a restricted free agent the Bears have the right to match any offer he might receive on the open market.

"Yeah, definitely, I want to be a Bear," Hillenmeyer said. "I don't see any reason why I wouldn't be."

When evaluating their own personnel, the Bears will also consider getting rid of players that no longer fit.

DE Michael Haynes has seen the writing on the wall for months. He was inactive five times during the regular season. The ultimate low came when DE Jamaal Green was on the game day roster for the playoff game only days after being activated from the practice squad, while Haynes was in civilian clothes.

"I have no idea what is going to happen in this off-season," Haynes said. "Obviously, I want more plays than this. There is not any surprise, so I will do what is necessary to get more plays whether it is here or anywhere else."

The Bears will look to shop the 2003 first round pick. Leaving him on the bench for much of the season lowered his trade value, which will be no better than a second day draft pick.

Mike Green is a versatile member of the secondary, but he's not mastered one craft. He was replaced at free safety in favor of rookie Chris Harris one game into the regular season. When injuries hit the safety position again the team passed over Green for an unproven player. This time undrafted free agent Brandon McGowan got the nod.

Green's base salaries are $1.385 million this coming season, $1.615 million in 2007 and $1.45 million in 2008. An expensive sum for a backup and special teams player, which will likely lead to his release before the start of free agency.

Unrestricted
CB Jerry Azumah
QB Jeff Blake
G Terrence Metcalf
TE John Gilmore
T John St. Clair

Restricted
SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer
DL Israel Idonije
LB Joe Odom
LB Marcus Reese
TE Gabe Reid
S Cameron Worrell

Likely to be traded/cut
Mike Green
Michael Haynes


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