Free Agency Fix: The Price of Poker

No one knows exactly what it's going to cost to ink Julius Peppers, but he will not sign cheap. Can the Chicago Bears afford to break the bank when they have so many other holes to fill? We decide.

More than anything else this offseason, the Monsters of the Midway need to find a dominating pass rusher off the edge for their version of the 4-3, and one of the best in the game is available via free agency.

A five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, Julius Peppers has 81 sacks in eight seasons for the Panthers and surpassed double digits in six of those eight campaigns. Not only does the former No. 2-overall selection put the enemy quarterback on the turf, but he is also a turnover artist: 30 forced fumbles, seven interceptions and three defensive touchdowns in his career. With Adewale Ogunleye not expected back as a free agent and Gaines Adams prematurely passing away this offseason, coupled with Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton contributing nothing as rookies this year, Peppers could line up at either D-end position in the Windy City and instantly make the entire unit better by his mere presence.

But since Peppers may end up costing in excess of $15 million per year, and with the Bears also needing help at other spots, maybe general manager Jerry Angelo might be better served spreading that money around to a handful of veterans instead:

Aaron Kampman

The player: Not a fit in Green Bay anymore once defensive coordinator Dom Capers was hired to install his 3-4 scheme, Kampman struggled as an outside linebacker and eventually ended up on injured reserve with a torn ACL. The three years prior, while playing in a 4-3, Kampman made two Pro Bowls and racked up 37 total sacks.

The need: Arguably the biggest hole on the team right now, the Bears can't expect Mark Anderson to start opposite Alex Brown, even after placing a second-round tender on him Wednesday. With so few playmakers in the secondary, the lack of a pass rush is the primary reason why Chicago isn't forcing turnovers like it did in the division-title seasons of 2005-06.

The price: Kampman is 30 years old and coming off a knee injury, so it's difficult to gauge what kind of interest he might command on the open market. Assuming it's a short-term deal loaded with incentives, a two-year, $10 million contract may work.

RB Chester Taylor
Getty Images: Sam Greenwood

Chester Taylor

The player: After racking up 1,216 yards as a free-agent signee in 2006, Taylor was relegated to backup duty once the Vikings spent a first-round pick on All-Pro Adrian Peterson. But the veteran didn't sulk and still proved to be a productive player, averaging 4.3 yards per carry in Minnesota and catching the ball out of the backfield quite well.

The need: With Matt Forte suffering through a sprained knee most of 2009 and none of his backups offering much sizzle, a secondary ball carrier is a must in order for Mike Martz's offense to run at maximum capacity. While the Bears did extend a tender offer to Kahlil Bell on Wednesday, he was an undrafted free agent last year for a reason.

The price: Taylor will be 31 years old a few weeks into the 2010 season, and the Chargers have already shown us that tailbacks over the age of 30 aren't desirable since they let go of future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson. But Taylor's odometer is low since only once has he been given more than 160 attempts in a season, so a three-year, $12 million deal sounds fair.

Darren Sharper

The player: After a tour of the NFC North that started in Green Bay and led him to Minnesota, Sharper's first season in New Orleans was memorable since the Saints won their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Sharper was an integral part of a flawed yet aggressive defense, as he made most every conversation for Defensive Player of the Year for a while there.

The need: Coach Lovie Smith was adamant speaking to reporters at the Scouting Combine that his defense has to get better at both safety positions. With rumors swirling that Danieal Manning could be moved to strong safety, free safety continues to be a black hole.

The price: At 34 years old, Sharper would be lucky to sign for two years, despite coming off a sensational 2009. If the Bears overpaid to make sure they got him, a two-year, $11 million contract might change Sharper's mind about not wanting to play in another version of the Cover 2.

No question about it, signing the premier free agent on the market would be a major statement to the rest of the league that the Bears mean business and aren't taking their three-year playoff drought lightly.

Nevertheless, Peppers is not without concerns, as his effort has been questioned from down to down and he wondered aloud about playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 last offseason. Kampman is limited athletically and may not be 100 percent by training camp, but he is a maximum-effort guy and would feel right at home back in a 4-3. And if signing Peppers means there is no money left over for another running back or a potential starter at free safety, there may not be enough draft picks to fill in the blanks – especially with no first- or second-round choice.

If Kampman is healthy, Taylor doesn't mind playing second fiddle again and Sharper keeps getting better with age, that trio might help the Bears more than Peppers alone, plus they can likely have all three for half of what Peppers would cost by himself.

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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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