Analyzing the Off-season

The free agent signing period is in full swing. Although the quarterback question has been answered, some remain with regards to who will be receiving the passes from the new signal-caller.

Restricted free agent Dez White was given a tender offer, all but assuring he'll remain with the team for at least another season. His progress has been slow but steady, and he appears to be a coach's favorite for his practice habits and performance. White is as physically gifted as any receiver in the league, but struggles to gain separation and has some concentration lapses. He's worth the risk to see him for another year, even though he may not be able to hold off David Terrell.

Terrell's foot injury should be completely healed for camp. He was just beginning to emerge as a red zone weapon early last season when he got injured. Based on where he was drafted and projected, if he is anything less than the starting receiver opposite Marty Booker next year, it will be a disappointment.

Marty Booker returns as one starting wide receiver, coming off two spectacular seasons. Booker is an excellent possession receiver who uses his strength to haul in short passes, which he then breaks off for big gains.

Marcus Robinson remains under contract for the time being, but his status is shaky at best, and likely will hinge on the healthy return of David Terrell. Robinson is still not fully recovered from major knee surgery during the 2001 season, and his performance last season suffered as a consequence. If he returns to his old form, he's a big-play receiver that can quickly impact games.

Ahmad Merritt had a disappointing season, and although he saw a lot of action, had a propensity to drop passes and fumble. He's a solid kickoff returner, and may keep a roster spot because of it. Regardless, he'll need to step up if he wants to make the team.

Thinking of receivers as including tight ends is a novel thought, which the Bears actually pursued to some end last year. Unfortunately, they were down to the 4th string by the end of the season. Fred Baxter was cut, John Davis was hurt, and so was Dustin Lyman.

Unrestricted free agent John Davis was re-signed, even though he spent a lot of time injured in the last 3 seasons. Prior to his rib injury last season, he was coming into his own.

Lyman was signed to a multiple year deal, but is a huge question mark going into next season coming off knee surgery.

All of this left John Gilmore as the lone man to work at the position at the end of the season, even though he hadn't taken a snap with the Bears until the second half of the season. Gilmore was a sixth-round pick by New Orleans in last year's draft. Gilmore showed surprisingly good hands and has promise. His reputation was as a good blocker, but he struggled when he drew pass protection assignments. It's expected that he'll continue to develop as he becomes more experienced.

Stanley Pritchett was forced into the #2 role at tight end, and he did a decent job. Pritchett was one of the more valuable players in a dismal offense, stepping in for Shelton at fullback on numerous occasions. Pritchett was also signed to a contract, despite being an unrestricted free agent.

The Bears made their first big splash of the free agent signing period by adding Desmond Clark. Clark hauled in over 50 passes for 6 touchdowns just two seasons ago at Denver, despite splitting some reps with Dwayne Carswell. He was released early last season when he broke his forearm in camp, and was picked up by the Miami Dolphins. The addition of Clark makes the tight end position reasonably strong, and evens out an unbalanced receiver corps after Marty Booker.



INJURY IMPACT: Medium (6): David Terrell needs to return to full strength so he can be properly evaluated. Dustin Lyman is coming off major knee surgery and might start the season on injured reserve. John Davis is expected to be at full strength despite missing most of the last month of the season. Clark's arm injury is no longer an issue.

CONTRACT IMPACT: High (8): Booker and Terrell have relatively high salary numbers, so big money will not likely be sunk into this position in free agency. Terrell's money will assure he gets every chance to unseat White at the spot opposite Booker. Robinson's contract is too rich for his recent production and propensity for injury, so he's likely going to get released sooner or later.

SUMMARY OF NEED: Medium (5): The addition of Clark helps round out the group. Terrell's return will help, and White should continue to slowly improve. A field-stretching threat needs to either emerge or be added at some point, and that's a hole until addressed in some fashion.

RESOURCES: Because of the dollars invested at the position in Booker and Terrell, it's likely the addition will be either an inexpensive free agent or a late draft pick. The free agent class is not very attractive.

SUSPECTS: From a free agency standpoint, the Bears would need to look at someone who is inexpensive, versatile, and if at all possible, a deep threat. Andre Dyson of Tennessee is near the top of a list of free agents that isn't very exciting now that Peerless Price and David Boston have found new homes. Others who might be interesting include Brandon Stokley, Willie Jackson, and Isaac Byrd. Someone like Byrd could help with depth at receiver as well as return teams.

Since the Bears opted to keep Dez White for at least another year, there's a reasonable chance they will be more likely to invest in a rookie than a free agent. While there will be attractive receivers there for the picking in the early rounds, it's unlikely they will spend a pick there, since they invested a 1st round pick in Terrell just two years ago. Players who may be on their radar in the middle rounds might include Tyrone Calico of Middle Tennessee State and Doug Gabriel of Central Florida.

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