Flurry of Activity to Hurt Free Agency5:29 p.m.
Thursday was the deadline for teams to place the franchise tag on players, and with so many teams having all kinds of money under the salary cap right now, a big group of potential free agents has essentially been taken off the shelf.
The Bears are in desperate need of a playmaking safety since Mike Brown won't be back, but Oshiomogho Atogwe isn't going to be his replacement since he was tagged by the Rams. Chicago could also use a right tackle to be the bookend for Chris Willliams on the other side of the line of scrimmage, although it's not going to be Jordan Gross since he got the tag in Carolina. Even some players far from Pro Bowl-caliber have been designated as franchise players because it makes fiscal sense for their respective clubs: Tennessee tight end Bo Scaife, Seattle linebacker Leroy Hill, and Houston cornerback Dunta Robinson are on that list.
Atogwe has been a takeaway machine for the Rams' D. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
So what does it mean for the free agent market when teams like the Falcons are franchising their punter (Michael Koenen) and the Bengals are franchising their kicker (Shayne Graham)? Naturally, there is going to be fewer and fewer starter-quality players available once free agency officially opens Feb. 27. The odds of the Bears finding that game-breaking wide receiver or sack-specialist defensive end they need so badly are growing longer by the day.
This week's Scouting Combine in Indianapolis just took on added importance, as the Midway Monsters may be forced to plug all their holes through the NFL Draft.
Elite Tackle Could Fall in Bears' Lap2:31 p.m.
Chris Steuber, the NFL Draft analyst for Scout.com, believes Michael Oher of Ole Miss is the best pure blocker available this April, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that he's still on the board when Chicago picks at 18th overall.
Even though Steuber currently has Oher going No. 2 to St. Louis, don't be surprised if Eugene Monroe of Virginia, Andre Smith of Alabama, and Jason Smith of Baylor – all of them are elite tackle prospects with top-10 potential – get selected ahead of Oher when it's said and done. The 6-5, 309-pounder was pretty much homeless as a child before being taken in by a foster family at age 13, plus he has a learning disability. Despite his myriad talents, some scouts wonder if he'll be able to fully comprehend the depth of an NFL playbook.
Steuber believes Oher to be the best blocker in the draft. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP Images)
The Bears have a need to fill at offensive tackle, especially if John Tait – last year's starter on the right side – decides to hang up his spikes after 10 seasons as he's indicated. 2008 first-round draft pick Chris Williams is penciled in as the starter at left tackle, but right tackle is a mystery right now. John St. Clair is an unrestricted free agent and could test the open waters, and Cody Balogh was nothing but a practice-squader as a rookie.
While the Bears would love to have a playmaking wide receiver or a pass-rushing defensive end in Round 1, Oher may be too tempting to pass up and worth the risk at that position.
Wisconsin Lineman Grew Up a Bears Fan1:21 p.m.
Even though he grew up in the heart of Packer country in Hudson, Wisconsin guard Kraig Urbik was always a Bears fan and odolized Walter Payton.
Urbik might look good in a Chicago uniform, as the 6-5, 323-pounder got a lot of starts at both guard and tackle in Madison. But he probably projects best at guard in the NFL, especially since his run blocking is much more advanced than his pass blocking at this point in his development. Unlike a lot of college teams these days that are throwing the ball all over the place with spread offenses, Wisconsin prefers to concentrate on the ground game and didn't start to become more balanced until Urbik's senior year.
Urbik played both guard and tackle but projects best at guard. (Doug Benc/Getty Images)
According to Urbik, he's had contact with all 32 teams in the league at some point between the Senior Bowl and the Scouting Combine. But the Bears appear to be atop his list of potential suitors, as left guard Josh Beekman has limited upside and Roberto Garza seems to have maxed out his limited ability. Urbik is widely considered NFL-ready right now and could contribute as a rookie, even though he probably won't hear his name called in the draft until Round 3.
And the fact that he's always wanted to be a Monster of the Midway has to look good in the eyes of general manager Jerry Angelo.
Ready to Rumble from Lucas Oil Stadium10:59 a.m.
It took a little more time than usual to get set up this morning because I've come to know the RCA Dome pretty well the last few years, but the move over to Lucas Oil Stadium will ultimately be an improvement for the NFL Scouting Combine.
First of all, there's a bunch of windows that let in some sunlight, so it's not nearly as dreary in the media room as it used to be. I'm somewhat skeptical, however, that there's now three podiums instead of two, meaning there could be more going on at once than there used to be – that might make it tougher for us to do our jobs. One thing's for sure: This event is engineered for television more than ever, and the NFL Network is sure to take full advantage.
Thursday is offensive linemen, tight ends, and specialists, so I'll be focusing on the big uglies all day since the Bears are set at tight end, kicker, and punter.
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.