The Chicago Bears came into this offseason knowing that if they did one thing, and one thing only before the start of next season, it would be to improve the defense. Nearing the 2014 NFL Free Agency period beginning March 11th, the Bears thought they would have had between $7 and $8 million to spend — and you can bet a lot of that was going to be used on defense.
Thankfully, the NFL raised the cap to roughly $130 million, opening up a little more room. However, Chicago still does not have enough to work with when looking at over 20 guys who hold expiring contracts.
Two of those key players were starters last year: Linebackers James Anderson and D.J. Williams. Of course, Williams spent 10 games on the sideline in 2013 after suffering a torn pectoral muscle. Anderson, meanwhile, started all 16 games for the Bears.
When looking at these guys, it is still unclear what the Bears will do in terms of re-signing either one. However, it is clear that if it came down to one or another, Chicago must prioritize Anderson ahead of Williams.
The biggest reason why is, obviously, health. Williams is a year older and coming off of a pretty tough injury. Anderson, meanwhile, was able to stay healthy and prove to be a vital and consistent part of a rather pathetic unit a year ago. In 2013, Anderson ended with 102 combined tackles and recovered a fumble.
While it wasn’t necessarily a career year, Anderson was a consistently good player overall for the Bears. He displayed some of the better tackling we saw out of Chicago’s defense — a defense that desperately needs to improve tackling going into 2014. Out of all of the problems last season — namely the safety play and the lack of a pass rush — Anderson’s few mistakes throughout the year pale in comparison.
If I’m Chicago, I am not ready to crown second year linebacker Khaseem Greene a starter just yet. Anderson played much better in 2013 than Greene did when on the field. Chicago also has second year linebacker Jon Bostic who could wind up starting at middle linebacker in 2014, just as he did after replacing Williams.
Bostic, to me, has more promise than Greene at this point and Anderson holds more value than Williams. Now, could Chicago bring both of them back? It is definitely possible. After all, Mel Tucker will be retained for this season and enter his second year with the Bears. It would be nice to have some key veterans back for a second year in his system. Williams, when healthy, can still be an effective middle linebacker; not to mention, competition for Bostic would be fantastic.
It is going to be intriguing to see what Chicago does with their free agents going forward. They also have linebacker Blake Costanzo needing a new deal, if they so choose to extend him an offer of course. When it’s all said and done, though, Anderson must be their top priority in the group of free agent linebackers.