The NFL free agency period officially begins next Tuesday, Mar. 11. All teams have been able to sign their own free agents before they hit the market next week. Other teams have to wait until the period begins to officially sign any unrestricted free agents, although they have been able to contact the player and their representation since around the time that the NFL Combine began.
As of today, the Chicago Bears have signed ten players to new contracts. The prominent players on this list include: quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerback Tim Jennings, center Roberto Garza, guard Matt Slauson and cornerback Kelvin Hayden.
Today marked the first of the Bears’ offseason cuts as punter Adam Podlesh was released from his contract with the team. For the majority of the season, Podlesh visibly struggled to get much lift on the ball. This prompted the Bears to seek out different options for the future by working out other punters during the course of the season. Statistically, Podlesh was the worst punter in the league among qualified punters for average yards per punt and near the bottom in net punting average.
The Bears’ current cap situation will make it tricky to re-sign lot of their core players from this past season due to the cap hit that many of these free agents will command to re-sign them. Among the scenarios is the team’s effort to re-sign KR/PR Devin Hester. Although his struggles prompted the team to relegate him from wide receiver to full-time return man, he was able to set a new career high in kick return yardage this past season.
The Bears certainly can’t afford to pay him what he made in 2013, so the talk is that Hester may have returned his last ball in a Bear uniform unless he is willing to accept significantly less money than he probably would like. Many fans would be fine with the team letting him walk, but many more would love to see him break the total return touchdowns record and make a run at the Hall of Fame in the Bears blue and orange.
The team also has a dilemma of how to go about bringing back defensive lineman Henry Melton and Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman. Tillman is one of the last remaining symbols of the hard-nosed Lovie Smith defenses in Chicago. Although he has given no real indication that he is looking to finish his career in another uniform for financial purposes, the Bears really can’t afford to overpay an aging defensive back on one of the league’s worst total defenses.
Melton is also tasked with finding out how much he really wants to remain in Chicago. Coming off of a torn ACL, he is still certain to command some high attention on the free agency market if not locked up by the Bears within the next week. One team that is stated to be interested in adding Melton is the Dallas Cowboys. Former Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is the current defensive coordinator for the Cowboys. Melton’s best years as a Bear came under Marinelli.