Free Agency Not Totally Barren Yet

The Chicago Bears haven't exactly broken the bank in free agency, inking O-lineman Frank Omiyale and safety Josh Bullocks to manageable contracts. But there are still some veteran players out on the open market that could come in and help. Get the Inside Slant from the NFL experts at Scout.com.

Keeping in mind that the Bears aren't going to break the bank for any unrestricted free agents and that they are unlikely to bring in any "big names," there are still some players on the market who could help them.

Khalif Barnes has been an above-average starter at left tackle the past four years for the Jaguars. He and the Raiders seemed to have a relationship, but they have broken things off. He's not going back to Jacksonville since the Jaguars replaced him by signing former Eagle left tackle Tra Thomas.

The Bears don't want to be the team that sets the market value too high, but now that Thomas has signed, some other deals may get done rapidly.

The Bears could get something done very soon with their own unrestricted free agent lineman, John St. Clair. But if he takes another offer, they'll be left having to scramble for someone like the 6-5, 325-pound Barnes.

The Bears' offensive line lacked quality and depth last season, and it's worse off now with right tackle John Tait's retirement and St. Clair entertaining other offers. The only addition so far has been Panthers backup Frank Omiyale, who could play tackle or guard just like St. Clair.

The Bears do not have anything close to a proven NFL quarterback behind Kyle Orton, and some of his critics argue that Orton isn't a proven NFL quarterback.

But in Jeff Garcia the Bears could have one of the best backups in the NFL if Orton plays well, and a more-than-adequate starter if Orton falters. Garcia is an experienced, productive veteran who still has very good mobility at 39. Because there are some durability concerns with Garcia, he may not get many opportunities to compete for a starting job, but he's a great insurance policy and would provide competition for Orton.

Garcia's passer rating has been over 90 in each of the past three seasons, during which he's thrown 35 TD passes and just 12 interceptions.

General manager Jerry Angelo has left open the possibility of adding a veteran quarterback after the draft, but Garcia may be gone by then.

Wide receiver D.J. Hackett was released by the Panthers after a second straight injury-plagued season. But the 6-2, 208-pound veteran has great hands, good size and above-average speed, and he doesn't turn 28 until July 3. If he can stay healthy, he would be an excellent complement to Devin Hester.

If the Rams give wide receiver Torry Holt his release, he's an even better option than Hackett. Holt will be 33 before training camp starts, but he would also be an ideal complement and mentor to Hester. And he's still got something left in the tank, considering he had 64 catches for 796 yards on an awful team.

No one knows this better than head coach Lovie Smith. In Smith's three years as the Rams' defensive coordinator (2001-03), Holt caught 289 passes for 4,361 yards and 23 touchdowns.


Holt has 869 career catches for 12,660 yards and 74 TDs. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

NOTES & QUOTES
Last month at the NFL's annual Scouting Combine, Angelo seemed willing to bet on Craig Steltz as the team's de facto starter at free safety. But on Wednesday, the Bears hedged that bet by signing unrestricted free agent Josh Bullocks to a one-year deal that includes a guaranteed $525,000 signing bonus.

"We have Steltz, so to say [free safety is] a need is premature," Angelo said. "We do have somebody. We like Craig. I thought he did a nice job when he did play last year. He did a very good job on special teams. Players that show [well] on special teams, when their number's called usually play well [on defense], too."

Bullocks, a second-round pick of the Saints (40th overall) in 2005 out of Nebraska, started 43 games in his first three seasons in New Orleans but got just six starts last season, when he had a career-low 41 tackles after averaging 72 in his first three years. The 6-1, 207-pounder has above-average speed but is not considered a ball hawk, as evidenced by only six career interceptions.

Bullocks, who just turned 26 last month, is regarded as an adequate starter by NFL personnel types, and he has also played special teams in the past.

Steltz, a fourth-round pick out of LSU last year, was inactive for the first five games but played in the last 11. He intercepted a pass at the goal line in the fourth quarter against the Lions on Nov. 2 and returned it 44 yards to help the Bears overcome a 23-13 halftime deficit in a 27-23 victory at Soldier Field. Steltz had replaced Mike Brown as the starter after he suffered a calf injury late in the first half. The 6-1, 210-pound Steltz also blocked a punt against the Vikings on Oct. 19 that was returned 17 yards for a touchdown by Garrett Wolfe. Steltz was sixth on the Bears with 13 special-teams tackles. …

Last week on the Bears' Web site, Angelo was asked about upgrading the wide receiver position and indicated he would be relying on the draft.

"Naturally, we're going to look at that real hard, in all likelihood in the draft," Angelo said of the wide receiver position. "We're not looking for backup wide receivers. What we want are potentially-starting wide receivers. What we're looking at is the top of the wide receiver position. Where does that come from? It comes with a premium receiver in free agency, if there's one out there, and/or in the draft."

Other than Hackett and 15-year veteran Marvin Harrison, there aren't any standout unrestricted free agent wide receivers, and the Bears have shown no interest in either of them.

That leaves the draft, which, when it comes to wide receivers, has been a crapshoot in recent years, especially in the early rounds. It's a bad gamble to count on even the best wide receivers to produce decent numbers in Year 1.

Of the top 10 wide receivers taken in each of the past four years, only seven of the 40 put up starter-type numbers as rookies: Eddie Royal, DeSean Jackson and Donnie Avery last year; Calvin Johnson and Dwayne Bowe in 2007; Santonio Holmes and Greg Jennings in '06. In '05, Reggie Brown was close with 43 catches for 571 yards. …

The Bears re-signed backup running back Kevin Jones late Friday afternoon to a two-year, $3.5 million contract.

The Bears and Jones, who became an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 27, hope he can contribute more in the future than last season, when he had just 34 carries for 109 yards and a 3.2-yard average. Jones carried 13 times for 45 yards in the 2008 season opener and four weeks later had 10 carries for 36 yards against his former team, the Detroit Lions. But in the final 11 games, he had just 4 carries for 2 yards and was inactive five times.

Jones' deal calls for $1 million in guaranteed bonus money this season, a $500,000 signing bonus and a $500,000 roster bonus. His base salary is $1 million this season and $1.15 million in 2010. He has a workout bonus worth $350,000 in '10.

Two weeks ago at the NFL's annual Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Smith hinted that Jones would be back and that he might have an increased role in the future as the backup to rookie Matt Forte.

"Do we need a good complement to go along with him?" Smith said of Forte. "Yes, we're always trying to do that. I think as you look at our history since we've been here as a staff, I think we've had our most productive years when we had two running backs that we really felt comfortable playing, and you would like to get back to that situation. Maybe we have that complement there right now."

Jones, who earlier visited the Buffalo Bills, was a first-round pick (30th overall) in 2004 and rushed for 1,133 yards as a rookie. He suffered a torn ACL in December of 2007 and was cut by the Lions the following March. The Bears signed him just before training camp started last year. …

The Bears voluntarily trimmed their already thin offensive line by releasing seven-year veteran backup guard Terrence Metcalf.

Metcalf played in six games as a reserve in 2008 before being suspended for four games by the NFL for violating of the league's substance-abuse policy. The 6-4, 310-pound Metcalf was a third-round draft pick (93rd overall) out of Mississippi in 2002. He appeared in 84 games, including 25 starts in seven seasons with the Bears.


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