Bears Prepared to Make Offer

The Bears slow approach in free agency appears to be heating up as the draft approaches. CB Ricky Manning Jr., a restricted free agent from the Carolina Panthers, visited Chicago on Wednesday and the Bears are prepared to sign him to an offer sheet.

The Panthers would have seven days to match any offer Manning signed or receive a third round draft choice as compensation. Carolina gave him a one-year tender at $712,000, which is the lowest level for a restricted free agent.

Manning, 25, would upgrade the depth at cornerback and would allow the Bears to address other needs in the first round. He has never missed a game in three years and has started 26 contests with nine career interceptions.

Manning became a starter at the end of his rookie season. He also had a stellar postseason, including picking off Donovan McNabb three times in the NFC Title game. He started all 16 games in 2004, but was demoted to nickel back last season when the Panthers signed Ken Lucas in free agency.

At five-foot-8, 185-pounds Manning is not known for his run support and can get beat by bigger defenders. However, the Bears are looking for a nickel back to replace the retired Jerry Azumah.

Carolina re-signed CB Reggie Howard, who the Panthers think is ready to take over the nickel role, which means they're less likely to match a potential offer sheet.

The Bears are taking nothing for granted, as at least three cornerbacks have visited or are scheduled to come through Halas Hall in the coming week.

The deadline to make an offer for a restricted free agent is April 21st. LB Hunter Hillenmeyer, who was also given a one-year tender at $712,000, has yet to garner a lot of interest on the open market. The Bears are likely to match any offer he may receive before the deadline.

Off the Market There is one less option available in free agency to improve the return game. The Arizona Cardinals have reached a contract agreement with unrestricted free agent WR Az-Zahir Hakim, who will challenge for the No. 3 receiver job and also may return punts for the Cardinals.

The Bears had brief interest in Hakim, but are likely to address the need for a returner sometime during the draft.

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