5 Underrated Free Agents Chicago Bears Should Target This Offseason
5 Underrated Free Agents The Chicago Bears Should Target This Offseason
The Chicago Bears should have one goal this offseason: improve the defense. The Bears as a franchise have historically prided themselves on having pummeling defensive units, but in 2013, the Bears statistically had the worst defensive unit in franchise history. The run defense especially was so bad it set a record for most rush yards ever allowed by a Bears’ defense, in addition to records set for most points allowed and most total yards allowed. The Bears, who have consistently paired up great defense with anemic offense, finally found success on the offensive side of the ball only to fail miserably in trying to stop opposing offenses.
This offseason, there are many great defensive players to target, such as defensive end Greg Hardy, linebacker Brian Orakpo and safeties Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward. On the offensive side of the ball, center Alex Mack would look great in a Bears uniform to replace the one weak link on the offensive line, Roberto Garza. The Bears, however, do not have much cap room to play with this offseason and instead will have to look for bargain free agents to help rebuild the defense. While defense must be the main focus of the Bears’ offseason, adding a speed receiver who can return kicks as well, would also be helpful in the event that the team does not bring back the greatest return man of all time, Devin Hester.
The following are five free agents who could help the Bears in 2014 without breaking the bank.
5. Jonathan Vilma
Jonathan Vilma was the 12th overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft by the New York Jets and he has been to three Pro Bowls during his 10-year career. The reason he is an underrated free agent this season is due to knee issues that have kept him from playing a full season for the past three years. The middle linebacker played in just one game in 2013 before being placed on season-ending IR after having arthroscopic clean-up surgery on his knee. How well the 31-year-old Vilma can perform in 2014 is uncertain, which should lead to a low cost during free agency. Jon Bostic, who played middle linebacker for the Bears in 2013, is likely better suited to an outside linebacker position, and if the Bears chose not to bring back D.J. Williams to play in the middle, Vilma would be a high-upside play, but one who also comes with a fair share of risk.
4. Dexter McCluster
Dexter McCluster does not show up on any of the top NFL free agent lists despite going to the Pro Bowl this year as a punt returner and making an impact on offense for the Kansas City Chiefs with 53 receptions for 511 yards in 2013. McCluster did most of his damage on short passes from quarterback Alex Smith, using his explosiveness and elusiveness to rack up 28 first downs. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound McCluster could be used as the Bears' slot receiver if the team cuts Earl Bennett and could also take over punt return duties if the team does not bring back Devin Hester.
Despite his size, McCluster was a running back at Ole Miss, averaging 6.4 yards per carry on 304 rushes during his time in the SEC. For the Chiefs, McCluster has averaged 4.4 yards per carry on 152 rushing attempts during his four-year career. Dexter McCluster looks like the type of player Bears head coach Marc Trestman would love to get his hands on, and the Bears' offense could be that much more potent with an explosive threat like McCluster taking handoffs and short passes from Jay Cutler.
3. Ted Ginn, Jr.
Ted Ginn Jr. is the former ninth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins, but his career has not developed the way the Dolphins would have hoped. While Ginn never turned into a top receiver in the NFL, he is another speedy receiver who would fit in nicely as the Bears’ slot receiver and kick returner. The difference between Ginn and McCluster is that Ginn is built more like a wide receiver at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, but he does not have the experience running the ball like McCluster does. Playing with Cam Newton in 2013 on the third team of his seven-year career, Ginn set career highs in touchdowns (five) and average yards per reception (15.4). Ginn would bring a speed element to the Bears’ receiving corps that is currently missing and would be a perfect replacement for Devin Hester if the Bears chose not to re-sign him.
2. DeAngelo Hall
DeAngelo Hall is another former first-round pick, going eighth overall to the Atlanta Falcons in the 2004 draft, but at 30 years old, Hall is no longer seen as the shutdown corner he was early in his career. Hall is not considered one of the top cornerbacks available this offseason despite putting up strong numbers in 2013. This past year, Hall had four interceptions, three forced fumbles and 78 combined tackles for the Washington Redskins. If the Bears do not re-sign longtime cornerback Charles Tillman, Hall could be a worthy replacement who should not cause issues with the salary cap.
1. Taylor Mays
Taylor Mays is vastly different from the rest of the players on this list because he is an inexperienced player who is all about upside. The Chicago Bears had the worst safety tandem in the league in 2013 as safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte were repeatedly out of position, and when they were in place to make a tackle, more times than not they would not even place a hand on the ball carrier.
After the disastrous safety play in 2013, almost any NFL-caliber safety would be an upgrade for Chicago, so why not take a chance on a player dripping with talent like Taylor Mays? Entering the 2010 draft, Mays was seen as a raw player with the tools to potentially become a force in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers took a chance on Mays at the end of the second round, but parted ways with him after just one season. For the past three years, Mays has played intermittently for the Cincinnati Bengals, but has only accumulated 89 combined tackles in 50 career games.
While Mays has done very little in the NFL, safeties who are 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and can run a 4.43 40-yard dash do not come along very often. With some solid coaching, and NFL experience under his belt, Mays still has a chance to turn into a force in an NFL defensive backfield.
He seems like the perfect kind of player to take a chance on as the Bears likely will not be returning either of their safeties in 2014. The Bears will certainly draft a safety or two in the upcoming 2014 NFL draft, so if Mays doesn’t work out, his salary cap number should not be too hard to swallow. However, the potential he provides is something that doesn’t come along very often and Mays should be more than worth the gamble.