The Wish List

With the start of free agency here, take a look at the Bears list of needs. Some will be covered through the draft, while others are more likely to be taken care of on the open market.

The Bears NEED a complete tight end, especially one who can contribute more to the passing game. They also NEED a proven wide receiver to complement Muhsin Muhammad and another cornerback who can stay within the vicinity of receivers like the Panthers' Steve Smith, especially since they won't re-sign unrestricted free agent Jerry Azumah.

They WANT more depth at linebacker and will need a replacement for Lance Briggs after this season if they fail to sign him to a new deal before he becomes a free agent a year from now. The Bears also WANT an infusion of youth in an aging offensive line, and they would like another pass rusher for the defense and a backup quarterback who could challenge Kyle Orton and keep them competitive if forced to fill in as a starter.

Some of those needs and wants will be addressed in free agency, since the Bears have more than $20 million to work with, but they might choose to use a large chunk of that money to work on an extension for Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, who will become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Last season, the Bears used three tight ends: starter Desmond Clark and backups John Gilmore and Gabe Reid. Even with Clark contributing 24 catches and 229 yards, the Bears' trio combined for just 28 catches and 250 yards. Twenty-one tight ends in the NFL had better numbers, including three from the Titans.

A popular choice in many early mock drafts had the Bears going for a tight end, either UCLA's Marcedes Lewis or Georgia's Leonard Pope, since Maryland's Vernon Davis will be long gone. But the tight end draft class is deep enough this season that the Bears should be able to get a good one in the second round, possibly even Lewis or Pope.

While rookie wide receiver Mark Bradley and second-year player Bernard Berrian both showed flashes of greatness last season, they are far from sure things for 2006. Bradley (18 receptions, 230 yards on 6 1/2 games) is coming off a torn ACL in his right knee, and the fragile Berrian had just three catches for 24 yards in the first 11 games last season, four of which he missed with a thumb injury. He finished with 13 catches for 246 yards, plus five receptions and 68 yards in the playoff loss to the Panthers. Justin Gage (31 catches, 346 yards) again showed occasional glimpses of talent but was far from a consistent threat.

The Bears have been frequently linked to unrestricted free agent wide receiver Antwaan Randle El. But the Eagles and Redskins, two teams with deep pockets, are also very interested.

There aren't a lot of other interesting free-agent possibilities at wide receiver, though, and the Bears would still be more inclined to look in that direction rather than toward a draft class which is considered very weak in terms of wide receivers.

Even with the 26th pock in the first round, the Bears could come away with a corner who can at least start in the nickel spot vacated by the loss of Azumah. The Bears might address corner in free agency and the draft since many questions cropped up late last season about Charles Tillman's ability to match up with speed receivers on the corner.

Although the Bears continue to dismiss the notion, there is a school of thought that says Tillman would be a much better safety than corner, which is not a far-fetched idea. If they're even considering the idea, they'll need two corners soon, since the backups remaining from last season did not impress.


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