The 5 Biggest Free Agency Rumors Surrounding Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears: 5 Biggest Free Agency Rumors
After re-signing center Roberto Garza, the Chicago Bears will return every starter on offense and can now focus their efforts on defense during free agency and the upcoming NFL Draft. While the Bears may look to add a versatile player who can return kicks and contribute on offense, the next few months will be spent remaking a pitiful excuse for a defense.
Seemingly every position on defense is currently in a state of flux for the Bears. Jon Bostic is moving from middle linebacker to outside linebacker while Shea McClellin will move from defensive end to either outside linebacker or middle linebacker for the 2014 season.
On the defensive line, Julius Peppers is likely gone as a cap casualty while Henry Melton remains unsigned and ready to test the open market. The Bears have shown interest in resigning both Melton and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, though no contracts have been formally offered. Corey Wootton, who played both defensive end and defensive tackle for the Bears in 2013, is also ready to test free agency saying that he expects to “test the market and see what’s out there.”
In the defensive backfield, two time pro bowl cornerback Charles Tillman also remains unsigned and may not return unless he is willing to give the Bears a discount. The Bears re-signed Tim Jennings to an extension in January and recently re-signed nickel back Kelvin Hayden, which gives the team added depth at that position with 2013 starter Isaiah Frey likely moving to the bench. At safety, Major Wright will mercifully exit via free agency, while the Bears have horrifically stated that Chris Conte will compete for a roster spot during training camp.
While the Bears do not currently have much cap space, they can create room under the cap by converting some of Jay Cutler's salary to a signing bonus, in addition to moves such as extending Brandon Marshall or designating Julius Peppers as a post-June 1 cut. One way or another, the Bears will have money to spend during free agency, and their success will be measured by how the team can most efficiently use their limited resources.
5. Corey Wootton Ready to Test Free Agency
Corey Wootton filled multiple roles for the Bears in 2013, sliding over from defensive end to defensive tackle after the Bears lost Henry Melton and Nate Collins to injury early in the year. The versatile Wootton has shown flashes of success at both DE and DT and is likely more valuable to the Bears than he will be to the rest of the league. Due to this fact, the Bears may let Wootton see what is available on the open market before committing to a long term deal. Wootton is rehabbing from hip surgery but expects to be fully healthy by July. Corey Wootton will test the market during free agency but will likely end up back on the Bearsm who can sorely use depth on the defensive line.
4. Bears Have Not Talked With Devin Hester
The Bears are reportedly looking for a kick returner who can contribute at more than just special teams, which may signal the end of Devin Hester's illustrious career in the Windy City. This rumor also adds further speculation that Pro Bowl punt returner Dexter McCluster may be a target of the Bears in free agency. McCluster has played both running back and wide receiver in college and in the NFL and could become a productive part of the new-look Bears offense. Looking to the NFL Draft, Toledo's Dri Archer is a very similar player to McCluster in both size and as a combo running back/kick returner/wide receiver who ran a 4.26 40-yard dash at the combine. The Bears will have many options for replacing Hester in both free agency and during the draft, although no player can ever completely replicate the way Devin Hester can make fans hold their breath with every touch of the ball.
3. Josh McCown Has Multiple Interested Suitors
The Bears will have plenty of competition for backup QB Josh McCown and if he wants to have a chance at starting, he may go elsewhere. The New York Jets have shown a strong interest in acquiring McCown and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to pursue McCown as well with his familiarity to Buccaneers new head coach Lovie Smith. While the Bears have said all along that they would like to bring McCown back, it will have to be on the QB's terms as the Bears cannot offer the same opportunity for playing time as other interested teams.
2. Charles Tillman Set to Test Free Agency
It has been reported that for Charles Tillman to return to the Bears, he’d have to take a discount. Tillman deserves better than that from the Bears, but money under the salary cap is tight and the Bears have more than a few holes to fill on defense. The Bears would love to bring Tillman back -- at a price that's conducive to their overall plan to remake the defense.
1. Bears Will Target Safety Position in Free Agency
As the Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills decided not to place the franchise tag on standout safeties T.J. Ward and Jairus Byrd, both premier safeties will enter the open market and may be pursued by the Bears. The Bears likely prefer T.J. Ward for his ability to play the run at an elite level. Jairus Byrd figures to demand a higher salary than Ward, and has been linked to the Cleveland Browns with new Browns head coach Mike Pettine being his former defensive coordinator in Buffalo. If T.J. Ward has a price tag that doesn't take up too much of the Bears cap room, he may be a legitimate target for the team as they remake an awful defense.