Playing the Waiting Game

Even with more than $20 million in cap space and all 22 starters expected to return, the Bears have areas in need of an upgrade. However, it appears general manager Jerry Angelo is willing to wait out the market to see what develops.

Angelo has shown he's willing to use free agency when the right situation presents itself. Last year he struck before the official signing period to land wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad. The year before he signed running back Thomas Jones hours after the beginning of free agency and later dished out a big contract to offensive tackle John Tait.

"We're going to look at some players in free agency, yes, but not with the same ambition that we did maybe in past years," Angelo said.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement means stability for the league, but in the short-term the Bears might have been better off without a new deal. Several teams would have been forced to watch free agency instead of being active participants because of their poor cap status. With the salary cap being moved from $94.5 million to $102 million all 32 teams have an additional $7.5 million to make moves.

With more money available and less players going on the market, bidding wars are likely to occur. Meaning the chances of Antwaan Randle El getting a deal similar to what Reggie Wayne signed with the Colts (six years $40 million) is entirely possible. Paying $6 million annually to a receiver that has never caught more than 47 balls in a season is unlikely to happen in Chicago.

The Eagles, Cardinals and Redskins are all known to have interest in Randle El, not to mention the Steelers have additional funds to re-sign a player who helped them win a Super Bowl.

Publicly the team has backed Mark Bradley and Bernard Berrian as potential No. 2 receivers opposite of Muhammad. Coach Lovie Smith went so far as to name nearly the entire group of wideouts on the roster when asked the question.

"Mark Bradley was playing great ball when he went down," Smith said. "From there we like the progress Justin Gage was able to make. Airese Currie, of course, is a player that will step up for us and hopefully we can get some work out of him. And at the end of the season nobody made as much progress as Bernard Berrian did for us. He played outstanding football, especially in that last playoff game."

Without Randle El, there are still moves the team can make in free agency to help solidify the roster. Going after depth in the secondary would be advantageous.

Angelo has stated he prefers to draft cornerbacks because the open market often leads to overpriced contracts for the position. Safety could then be a target. Mike Brown has missed 18 games the past two seasons and adding insurance would be a wise move. Chris Harris started 13 games as a rookie, but still needs to take a step forward in year two.

Adam Archuleta's name has been linked to the Bears because of his ties to Smith, who was his defensive coordinator for three seasons in St. Louis. Archuleta has also battled injuries during his career, but a chance to reunite with Smith could be appealing to the five-year veteran.

The return game is also in a state of flux. While the team has stated they're happy with Berrian as the punt returner, finding someone to handle both punts and kickoffs would be ideal.

Rashied Davis is currently the favorite on kickoffs with unrestricted Jerry Azumah expected to sign elsewhere or possibly even retire because of a chronic hip problem.

A player like Eddie Drummond makes sense because he can do both roles and went to the Pro Bowl as a return specialist in 2004. He's coming off an injury so he could be had at the right price.

"It's very important for us to do that," Smith said. "That's an area that we would like to improve on. Just like a few others, we feel like we can get a little more production there."


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