Every day this week, BearReport.com will take a closer look at the free agent market and highlight some possible targets for the Bears in the offseason. Today we focus on Pittsburgh offensive guard Alan Faneca ...
The skinny: Perhaps the No. 1 non-skill position player available in free agency this offseason, Alan Faneca is an elite left guard and potentially a Hall-of-Fame enshrinee. Much has been made about Rex Grossman's struggles under center and Cedric Benson's lackluster performance replacing Thomas Jones in the backfield, but neither one of them had a chance in 2007 behind an offensive line that got old in a hurry. Nine-time Pro Bowler Ruben Brown will most likely not be back with the club and could retire, Terrence Metcalf failed miserably after Brown went down with a shoulder injury, and career tackle John St. Clair was nothing more than an emergency fill-in while starting the last three games.
The numbers: The Steelers always have been and always will be a running football team, and that proved to be true again this year as Pittsburgh was third in the NFL at 135.5 rushing yards per game. Faneca helped lead the way for a smashmouth offense that averaged 31.9 rushes per contest (also third), 4.2 yards per carry (sixth), and picked up 108 first downs on the ground (10th). Before he got hurt and was lost for the season after one carry in Week 16 at St. Louis, Willie Parker was leading the league in rushing and still finished the campaign fourth with 1,316 yards.
OG Alan Faneca
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
The pros: A seven-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro selection fives times. Incredibly durable, starting no fewer than 14 games in every season since 1999. A member of Pittsburgh's 75th anniversary team, which includes the likes of Hall-of-Famers Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, and Mike Webster on offense. Light on his feet for a man of his size (6-5, 307) and can pull from his position as well as any guard in the business. Used to playing in bad weather and on a poor playing surface in the Steel City at Heinz Field.
The cons: Already 31 years old and will be looking for a hefty contract that carries him possibly into his late-30s. Turned down two substantial offers from the Steelers during the season in order to test his true value on the free agent market, and the bidding will be intense. Diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 15 but has been able to control his condition with medication during his playing career.
The odds: Decent. As he did with starters Brown, John Tait, Fred Miller, and Roberto Garza, GM Jerry Angelo doesn't mind spending free-agent dollars on offensive linemen so he can focus on sexier picks in the draft. It's going to take a contract similar to the one Steve Hutchinson signed when he left Seattle for Minnesota, which was seven years and $49 million with $16 million in guaranteed money. But if the Bears lose out on the Faneca sweepstakes, Ryan Lilja of Indianapolis would be a nice consolation prize.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.