A Look From Within

The start of free agency is less than two weeks away. The Bears are still trying to hammer out a deal or two with their pending free agents, while others are more certain to head out of town.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

  • CB Jerry Azumah doesn't appear to be part of the Bears' future. He was reduced to the nickel role last season. His chronic arthritic hip has left him a step slower in coverage and as a kickoff returner, where he was a Pro Bowl player in 2003.

  • QB Jeff Blake didn't get to play much, but when he did he showed a live arm and feet. If he is content to be the No. 3 guy, he seems ideal for the position. If the Bears don't re-sign him, Blake has said he will retire.

  • TE John Gilmore is a big enough body to be an effective on-line blocker, but he has never been much of a factor in the passing game.

  • G Terrence Metcalf started 13 games at right guard, but the Bears don't seem interested in paying much to keep him around. If he doesn't receive starters money on the open market the team could try to bring him back at their price.

  • T John St. Clair moved ahead of younger challengers to claim the swing tackle spot and started one game on each side. He is expected to sign a multi-year deal soon.

    RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

  • LB Hunter Hillenmeyer had his best season and started 12 of the first 13 games, including one after suffering a broken thumb. He comes out in passing situations but is clearly better than any of the Bears' backups and is expected to be re-signed.

  • DE Israel Idonije moved ahead of 2003 first-round draft choice Michael Haynes as the No. 3 end partly because he plays special teams and partly because he is also capable of playing inside at tackle.

  • TE Gabe Reid only caught three passes, but is the best pure receiver the Bears have at the position. He'll be inexpensive to bring back just incase the team doesn't address the position in the draft. Toast of the Town During Super Bowl week Antwaan Randle El, who grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, couldn't say too much about all the talk he's been hearing about him coming home to the Bears, since he'll be an unrestricted free agent on March 3. It seems everyone in the Chicago area was talking about it, though.

    "I have an opportunity when the season's over with," Randle El said. "Having them in Chicago talk about it and all the things they hear on the radio, it's flattering in a way.

    "They do care a lot about me. I've heard and talked to a lot of people, a lot of family members, a lot of friends, just about the buzz in the city right now."


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