Chink in the Armor

With free agency scheduled to start in less than 24 hours, the Bears are expected to make a push for Antwaan Randle El. The versatile player is a threat to score in several phases of the game, but not all aspects of his repertoire have been reliable.

Did you know that Randle El has fumbled 18 times in four years in the league? Considering how many different ways he touches the ball over the course of a game, the total is somewhat understandable. He's never fumbled less than four times in a season and has averaged putting the ball on the ground once every 26.7 touches.

To put the number in perspective, Muhsin Muhammad has 174 more touches over the course of his 10-year career yet has fumbled just 12 times. In six years in the league, Thomas Jones has touched the ball 769 more times and still has one less fumble.

There have been reports that Randle El will seek money close to the six-year $40 million deal Reggie Wayne signed with the Colts, which included a $13 million signing bonus. While the talk is a ploy to drive up the price, any team that gives Randle El anything close to what Wayne got is asking for salary cap trouble. Wayne became the third highest paid receiver in the game behind only his teammate Marvin Harrison and Oakland's Randy Moss.

Granted Wayne played in the wide-open Indianapolis offense, but in just one extra season under his belt he has 142 more receptions and the same amount of fumbles.

Although Randle El could be the Bears No. 2 receiver and punt returner, common sense has to come into play. He's never caught more than 47 balls in a season with 601 yards receiving being his career high.

Randle El appears to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. The Pittsburgh run oriented offense could have limited his develop as a receiver, a position he's only been playing since coming to the NFL in 2002. The development process isn't going to be sped up in Chicago. The Bears ran the ball 53.9 percent of the time compared to 59 percent for the Steelers.

If Chicago worried about holding onto the ball in the punt return game last year, Randle El could bring a similar adventure.

By no means should the Bears pass on making a play for Randle El when free agency starts. In a weak free agent class at the position, he's among the best available. There needs to be a compliment in the passing game to Muhammad, who also needs to pickup his game.

The Bears have young talent at receiver in Mark Bradley and Bernard Berrian, but are either ready to take the next step? Bradley is coming off a torn ACL, while Berrian has struggled to stay on the field with a number of minor injuries.

Drafting another young wideout wouldn't help a team that needs immediate help. Randle El makes sense, but don't break the bank. If the bidding goes beyond $3-4 million per season, general manager Jerry Angelo will not jeopardize the team's good cap status on Randle El. His coming to Chicago will hinge on a team like the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals making a ridiculous offer the Bears aren't willing to match.


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