Then why, pray tell, are the Chicago Bears seemingly content to lose so many players while not making any attempt to find new ones?
The free agency period began on March 2, and although GM Jerry Angelo was wise to avoid the initial bull rush that saw cornerback Nate Clements get $80 million from San Francisco and guard Eric Steinbach get $49 million from Cleveland, it's time to start pulling the trigger. The Bears were fortunate to have a pretty short list of free agency-eligible players this offseason, and most of them weren't in the team's future plans anyway. Nevertheless, they need to be replaced at some point.
Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs was slapped with the franchise tag and will mostly likely be back in Chicago for 2007. He's threatening to sit out the entire season if the Bears don't trade him or lift his franchise designation, but he has very little leverage right now. Briggs sees the kind of money being thrown at the likes of fellows LBs Adalius Thomas and London Fletcher-Baker, so it's certainly understandable that he wants the long-term security they now have.
Angelo has no intention of giving in to Briggs' demands, but the front office is being dragged through the mud in the process.
On the other side of the ball, Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown is the only free agent of consequence. He's 35 years old and desperately wants to win a Super Bowl, so it would make sense for him to re-sign with the Bears for a fairly reasonable price and make another run at a championship. There might be a bigger payday out there for an offensive lineman of his considerable ability and locker room presence, but Brown has already made plenty of money in his career and is a good fit between center Olin Kreutz and tackle John Tait.
Nevertheless, Brown remains unsigned and floating in free agent purgatory at this point.
Angelo did, however, make one gigantic move so far this offseason. Thomas Jones, the fifth-leading rusher in Bears history, was traded to the Jets for a flip-flop of second round picks from 63rd up to 37th overall. 2005 first-rounder Cedric Benson now finally has the chance to be the featured tailback, and New York rewarded Jones with the contract extension that Angelo simply was not going to give him.
That being said, special-teams ace Adrian Peterson is the only other halfback on the roster right now.
Gabe Reid was a resticted free agent after the season but not tendered a contract, so there is a void at tight end. Unrestricted free agents Todd Johnson and Cameron Worrell signed with St. Louis and Miami, respectively, leaving a gaping hole on the depth chart at safety - both were solid special-teamers, too. Alfonso Boone and Ian Scott are on the verge of inking new deals, so defensive tackle is also a concern.
The Bears do have eight picks in next month's NFL Draft, but shouldn't they be signing a free agent or two, as well?
Angelo broke out the checkbook in 2005 for receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who has been the team's leading receiver both of his two seasons as a Midway Monster. Cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. signed a big-money deal last year, and he played very well in the nickel package this past season. Now the Bears are coming off a Super Bowl appearance and only need minor touchups as opposed to an entire paint job, yet Angelo has been awfully quiet.
Most of the big names are gone, but there are still some quality free agents on the market that could help plug a few holes.
If Angelo is content to let Boone and Scott walk, maybe he should take a look at Michael Myers. Last year for the Broncos, he totaled 57 tackles and 2 sacks and is the No. 7 free agent defensive tackle available this offseason according to Scout.com. Dusty Dvoracek and Antonio Garay are still largely inexperienced, plus Tank Johnson's legal battles are far from over.
Johnson and Worrell are now gone and Mike Brown has been hurt three years in a row, so perhaps Colin Branch could provide some depth. In reserve duty for the Panthers in 2006, he racked up 19 tackles and 1 interception and is the No. 6 free agent safety available this offseason according to Scout.com. Danieal Manning hit the rookie wall and Chris Harris has been an incredibly sloppy tackler at times, although the Bears will no doubt draft a young safety with either their first- or second-rounder in April.
Bringing back Brown is of paramount concern, but maybe Angelo should get aggressive and sign Cooper Carlisle instead. Denver has had arguably the most consistent offensive line in the NFL the last decade or so, and Carlisle, who started all 32 regular season games the last two years for the Broncos, is the No. 5 free agent guard available this offseason according to Scout.com. One way or another, the Bears have to start getting younger up front.
No one is suggesting that Angelo has to spend money for the sake of spending money, like Minnesota did when they gave $15 million to receiver and former Bear Bobby Wade (Bobby Wade?).
Just do something. Anything. Please.
|John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.|