Grading the Bears Free Agent Moves

Marion Barber and Roy Williams share a laugh about the Bears Free Agent Class of 2011. (Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune)

Wednesday was an off day for the Bears, so I thought it would be a good time to catch a breath and evaluate where the Bears are now that everything has settled down a little.   It looks like the moves of any significance are over, so we can hand out hand out some grades for the Bears’ Free Agent Acquisitions so far.

We’ll grade them on the three R’s.  No, not Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmetic.  More like Retreads, Rejects and Reclamation projects. Maybe I’m being harsh.  Or am I?  Let’s take a look at the Free Agent class of 2011 by a different set of R’s – Re-signings, Replacements and Reclamations Projects.

Re-signings:  C-

  • Anthony Adams - will help mentor Paea along in the DT rotation.  Solid keep.
  • Corey Graham – will provide a big boost to Special Teams.
  • Nick Roach – Roach steps into a starting role as the Sam linebacker (unless the Bears choose to go out and get someone else). He’s more than capable.
  • Brian Iwuh – another special teams guy that can also fill in at linebacker.
  • Dez Clark – after they let Manmaleuseless go and traded Olsen, Clark provides some nice depth and veteran leadership.
  • Olin Kreutz – possibly the biggest re-signing is the one that wasn’t made.  This move pulls the grade down significantly.

Replacements: B-

  • Adam Podlesh – everyone loved Brad Maynard, but by all accounts Podlesh should be an upgrade.
  • Sam Hurd – Hurd will spell Rashied Davis as another wide receiver but more importantly on Special Teams.
  • Chris Spencer – I actually feel sorry for Spencer.  He will have a tough time coming out from under the long shadow cast by Kreutz. You can bet that the first fumbled snap or sack up the middle and fans will be ready to stone him.
  • Matt Spaeth – he’ll serve as a replacement for either Olsen or Manumaleuna.  Either way, he should fit what Mike Martz wants to do at the tight end position.

Retreads:  a sarcastic A+

  • Roy Williams – reuniting with Mike Martz, Williams hopes to regain the form that led to a trip to Pro Bowl in 2005
  • Vernon Gholston – a former Top 10 pick never panned out in New York.
  • Amobi Okoye – never reached his potential for the Texans in a 3-4 defense.  He’s young and raw and many believe he could make an impact as a 3-technique in the Cover-2.
  • Marion Barber – Barber could will that short yardage void that the Bears have been missing.  (Bonus points for possibly pushing Chester Taylor out the door.)

Overall, I give the Bears a C for their free agent moves.  Everyone was expecting hoping that the Bears would make a big move, especially since they’re one of a few teams substantially under the salary cap.  Instead, they took a few low risk, potentially high reward moves and kept their own guys that they wanted to keep. I’m convinced that someone – not sure if it’s Tice or Martz if it goes all the way up to Angelo – didn’t want Kreutz back.

I think that Williams and Okoye could contribute and Barber might have a little something left in the tank, but I’m not foolish enough to think he’s going to set the world on fire.

What do you think of the Free Agent moves?  What grade would you give them?  Are there other moves that you’d like to see the Bears make?

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BEAR DOWN!!!

 

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  • Obnxs1

    Gotta agree with your C grade. I think Kreutz being let go drags it down substantially considering the limited time they have to make another nearly new O-line gel. Their saving grace was bringing back Dez and I read somewhere that their really big moves are actually pretty low risk. Not much guaranteed money, something like $1 mil each, for the potential of a huge payback. Now if they keep Dez inactive for 13 games like last season and Spaeth develops his own gravitational field like Maniatetoomuchtuna did then you can drop them down to a D easily.

    Can’t say I’ll miss Olsen since he blocked like a 3 week old kitten, dropped at first contact, and had a good chance of fumbling when he didn’t go down.

    I’m also waiting to see if they pay Forte and give him his carries or they decide Barber is the second coming of Chester Taylor. Because that worked out so well…

  • Obnxs1

    Gotta agree with your C grade. I think Kreutz being let go drags it down substantially considering the limited time they have to make another nearly new O-line gel. Their saving grace was bringing back Dez and I read somewhere that their really big moves are actually pretty low risk. Not much guaranteed money, something like $1 mil each, for the potential of a huge payback. Now if they keep Dez inactive for 13 games like last season and Spaeth develops his own gravitational field like Maniatetoomuchtuna did then you can drop them down to a D easily.

    Can’t say I’ll miss Olsen since he blocked like a 3 week old kitten, dropped at first contact, and had a good chance of fumbling when he didn’t go down.

    I’m also waiting to see if they pay Forte and give him his carries or they decide Barber is the second coming of Chester Taylor. Because that worked out so well…

  • Mr.Pickles

    As usual Boom I agree with pretty much everything you said. The only thing I think I slightly disagree with is that I don’t think you’re being harsh enough. Granted the Bears were in the championship game last year but they had to fight pretty hard to get there and could have used some help in free agency to get back and maybe over the hump into the Super Bowl. I look at most of these moves and mostly my response is “well, I don’t hate it”, and I don’t think that’s gonna get it done. At any rate I think the moves that will have the biggest impact are the ones they didn’t make, bringing back Kreutz and bringing in anyone to help on the line. They may have pursued Colon but from what I understand all indications from the get-go pointed to him staying in Pittsburgh, theories proven by the fact he left $3 mil on the table. You’re totally right that there must be more than anyone knows to the Kreutz decision. The only remotely cogent explanation I’ve heard was that the Bears had to move quick when Spencer came available. What I still don’t understand is why wouldn’t you take them both? There appears to be enough cap room to give Kreutz the money he was looking for for one year (I’ve read that the next couple years cap space looks to be tight for the Bears so maybe that explains part of why everyone seems to be getting one and two year deals) and Spencer played guard last year (I believe). Get them both and you have consistency at center and an upgrade at guard and (gasp!) you’d actually have a plan for the following season when you have to replace someone who been a fixture on the team for the last decade. I’ve typed too much and sadly have way too much left to vent.

  • Mr.Pickles

    As usual Boom I agree with pretty much everything you said. The only thing I think I slightly disagree with is that I don’t think you’re being harsh enough. Granted the Bears were in the championship game last year but they had to fight pretty hard to get there and could have used some help in free agency to get back and maybe over the hump into the Super Bowl. I look at most of these moves and mostly my response is “well, I don’t hate it”, and I don’t think that’s gonna get it done. At any rate I think the moves that will have the biggest impact are the ones they didn’t make, bringing back Kreutz and bringing in anyone to help on the line. They may have pursued Colon but from what I understand all indications from the get-go pointed to him staying in Pittsburgh, theories proven by the fact he left $3 mil on the table. You’re totally right that there must be more than anyone knows to the Kreutz decision. The only remotely cogent explanation I’ve heard was that the Bears had to move quick when Spencer came available. What I still don’t understand is why wouldn’t you take them both? There appears to be enough cap room to give Kreutz the money he was looking for for one year (I’ve read that the next couple years cap space looks to be tight for the Bears so maybe that explains part of why everyone seems to be getting one and two year deals) and Spencer played guard last year (I believe). Get them both and you have consistency at center and an upgrade at guard and (gasp!) you’d actually have a plan for the following season when you have to replace someone who been a fixture on the team for the last decade. I’ve typed too much and sadly have way too much left to vent.

  • dkbergen

    I have mentioned this about 1000x this offseason, but it always bears repeating. ESPN’s own advanced statistics organization, Football Outsiders, are very clear in pointing out that the #2 offense in the NFL last season from 4/5 WR sets were the Chicago Bears. (Accompanied by New England, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh – excellent company) Martz understands misdirection as good or better than anyone. Just like a basketball player needs to assume a “triple threat” position to keep a defender honest, a good NFL team has to be able to keep defenders on their toes. Every move that we have made this offseason was to improve the singular part of our offense that struggled last season – short yardage power sets with 2 WRs or less. Sending an overrated TE who can’t block, and replacing him with one that we can trust to seal the edge is huge upgrade #1. Sending an aging veteran center who had already lost several steps and replacing him with a much younger high potential veteran in his prime is huge upgrade #2. Adding a short yardage back who can fight for the first down or end zone on x-and-1 if he can stay healthy is huge upgrade #3. And signing a couple of taller WRs that excel at run blocking is huge upgrade #4.

    Keep in mind that every team is in the business of maximizing value. You do this with sly free agent transactions by stealing other teams backups who are ready to start and picking up other teams “scheme casualties” who might have untapped potential. An NFL roster requires 53 players (unless something in new CBA has changed that I haven’t caught yet) – a team needs at least 45 of these to be heavy contributors in all three phases of the game. Our defense and special teams units are the heart of this football team, and we will invest there accordingly. Every team is limited to the same cap level, so the teams that get the most out of every dollar spent is going to gravitate towards the upper echelon of the league, and the teams that overpay during free agency (especially in guaranteed money) will tend to fall to the league cellar. If we “invest” over $40M in a WR like Sidney Rice, there is a chance that he could end up being the Pro Bowl caliber player we’ve needed for Cutler. But if there is an even chance that he could have continued hip problems, we should tread very carefully. I am no Roy Williams fan, but the limited investment in him is much more attractive to me than any of the other WR contracts out there in this free agent cycle. I think we have been very wise with our resources to this point. We had a couple of issues that needed to be addressed right away – short-yardage offense, QB protection, defensive line depth, and you could also throw in finding a replacement for Maynard (since his net average dropped below 35 last year). To this point, we have addressed each of these. I think it is wise to go to camp and see how the current offensive lineman hold up before investing a significant amount of our cap space in a guy who might end up being on the bench all season (barring injuries). I think Spencer and Garza will be mainstays on the interior line. Carimi is the real deal. I think Chris Williams could be a great guard for Tice, as he fits the profile of the large bodied guards Tice employed in Jacksonville and Minnesota. Webb will be a question mark, but maybe he’s ready to grow into a good starter? And I am sure Angelo and Tice are discussing these things daily. If we need to add a player, I am sure we will. But if we have the guys we need in house, it would be wise to sign some of our upcoming free agents (Forte especially) to front-loaded deals that give us even more flexibility next season. (Similar to Peppers contract last season)

  • dkbergen

    I have mentioned this about 1000x this offseason, but it always bears repeating. ESPN’s own advanced statistics organization, Football Outsiders, are very clear in pointing out that the #2 offense in the NFL last season from 4/5 WR sets were the Chicago Bears. (Accompanied by New England, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh – excellent company) Martz understands misdirection as good or better than anyone. Just like a basketball player needs to assume a “triple threat” position to keep a defender honest, a good NFL team has to be able to keep defenders on their toes. Every move that we have made this offseason was to improve the singular part of our offense that struggled last season – short yardage power sets with 2 WRs or less. Sending an overrated TE who can’t block, and replacing him with one that we can trust to seal the edge is huge upgrade #1. Sending an aging veteran center who had already lost several steps and replacing him with a much younger high potential veteran in his prime is huge upgrade #2. Adding a short yardage back who can fight for the first down or end zone on x-and-1 if he can stay healthy is huge upgrade #3. And signing a couple of taller WRs that excel at run blocking is huge upgrade #4.

    Keep in mind that every team is in the business of maximizing value. You do this with sly free agent transactions by stealing other teams backups who are ready to start and picking up other teams “scheme casualties” who might have untapped potential. An NFL roster requires 53 players (unless something in new CBA has changed that I haven’t caught yet) – a team needs at least 45 of these to be heavy contributors in all three phases of the game. Our defense and special teams units are the heart of this football team, and we will invest there accordingly. Every team is limited to the same cap level, so the teams that get the most out of every dollar spent is going to gravitate towards the upper echelon of the league, and the teams that overpay during free agency (especially in guaranteed money) will tend to fall to the league cellar. If we “invest” over $40M in a WR like Sidney Rice, there is a chance that he could end up being the Pro Bowl caliber player we’ve needed for Cutler. But if there is an even chance that he could have continued hip problems, we should tread very carefully. I am no Roy Williams fan, but the limited investment in him is much more attractive to me than any of the other WR contracts out there in this free agent cycle. I think we have been very wise with our resources to this point. We had a couple of issues that needed to be addressed right away – short-yardage offense, QB protection, defensive line depth, and you could also throw in finding a replacement for Maynard (since his net average dropped below 35 last year). To this point, we have addressed each of these. I think it is wise to go to camp and see how the current offensive lineman hold up before investing a significant amount of our cap space in a guy who might end up being on the bench all season (barring injuries). I think Spencer and Garza will be mainstays on the interior line. Carimi is the real deal. I think Chris Williams could be a great guard for Tice, as he fits the profile of the large bodied guards Tice employed in Jacksonville and Minnesota. Webb will be a question mark, but maybe he’s ready to grow into a good starter? And I am sure Angelo and Tice are discussing these things daily. If we need to add a player, I am sure we will. But if we have the guys we need in house, it would be wise to sign some of our upcoming free agents (Forte especially) to front-loaded deals that give us even more flexibility next season. (Similar to Peppers contract last season)

  • dkbergen

    If you really think that Kreutz leaving should drag our “re-signings” down to C-, then you are completely misguided. When a grumpy old veteran with a penchant for punching players who question him starts to fade, he becomes a horrible teammate and is most certainly uncoachable. Spencer has pro-bowl aspirations – I am excited to see how our offensive line will hold up without the mishandled snaps, false starts, late hit penalties, and horrible interior push that has become a staple of Kreutz’s game the last 2+ seasons is finally out of the lineup.

  • dkbergen

    If you really think that Kreutz leaving should drag our “re-signings” down to C-, then you are completely misguided. When a grumpy old veteran with a penchant for punching players who question him starts to fade, he becomes a horrible teammate and is most certainly uncoachable. Spencer has pro-bowl aspirations – I am excited to see how our offensive line will hold up without the mishandled snaps, false starts, late hit penalties, and horrible interior push that has become a staple of Kreutz’s game the last 2+ seasons is finally out of the lineup.

  • BearGogglesOn

    I’ve said this in previous Olin Kreutz posts but I’ll say it again – I am more concerned with the timing of the Kreutz non-signing. If the Bears had a normal offseason to prepare and transition, I would support the move. To try to get another new piece to integrate into a unit where continuity is highly valued in such a quick turnaround concerns me. If they really wanted Spencer, they could have easily signed him and kept Kreutz, staying well under the cap. What’s wrong with a little competition? @dkbergen

  • BearGogglesOn

    I’ve said this in previous Olin Kreutz posts but I’ll say it again – I am more concerned with the timing of the Kreutz non-signing. If the Bears had a normal offseason to prepare and transition, I would support the move. To try to get another new piece to integrate into a unit where continuity is highly valued in such a quick turnaround concerns me. If they really wanted Spencer, they could have easily signed him and kept Kreutz, staying well under the cap. What’s wrong with a little competition? @dkbergen

  • venomlash

    @dkbergen I have to agree that it’s a bit harsh, but for different reasons. I’d have given Kreutz the extra $500k he was asking for, if only to preserve some amount of order at the Bears’ beleaguered O-line. He may be a cranky sonofagun, and his play may have slipped somewhat, but the other players respect him (look at the praise he got from the other linesmen on the squad!), and he was very much a linchpin of the offense just the way Urlacher is for the defense. Get Spencer in there and make Kreutz compete for his job, sure, but don’t let him get away outright.

    That said, I don’t think that letting Kreutz escape was that big a problem. The other items in the Re-signings section were all solid moves, and I’d have averaged it out to be more like a C+ or B-.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • venomlash

    @dkbergen I have to agree that it’s a bit harsh, but for different reasons. I’d have given Kreutz the extra $500k he was asking for, if only to preserve some amount of order at the Bears’ beleaguered O-line. He may be a cranky sonofagun, and his play may have slipped somewhat, but the other players respect him (look at the praise he got from the other linesmen on the squad!), and he was very much a linchpin of the offense just the way Urlacher is for the defense. Get Spencer in there and make Kreutz compete for his job, sure, but don’t let him get away outright.

    That said, I don’t think that letting Kreutz escape was that big a problem. The other items in the Re-signings section were all solid moves, and I’d have averaged it out to be more like a C+ or B-.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Mr.Pickles

    These are all valid points but I feel “huge” upgrades 1 and 2 are really more wishful thinking than anything else. First of all I think Spaeth being touted as a premiere blocking TE is based more on reputation than actual play. Statistically he wasn’t much better than Manumaleuna last year. As far as the Kreutz/Spencer exchange I would argue that there’s really no way to consider this an upgrade at this point. With Kreutz you may be getting subpar blocking at this point but at least you know that he’s going to be making proper adjustments before the snap and maximizing the potential of the other four guys on the line. With Spencer you really can’t even be sure he’s going to be able to fully learn the offense with such a short off-season. He is supposedly in his prime but he was also jettisoned by a crappy team that drafted him high and expected him to be their center of the future, so this concerns me. Barber’s always been a gritty gutty short yardage back but this isn’t the line he ran behind in Dallas, so I won’t be convinced he isn’t Chester Taylor 2.0 until he actually performs.

    I couldn’t agree more that a successful franchise needs to get the best value for their dollar but lets be realistic, the current Bears regime has never been known for scouting or developing untapped talent. Ironically Jarron Gilbert’s YouTube video was posted exactly three years ago today, freakishly athletic but now playing on the practice squad for the Jets. @dkbergen

  • Mr.Pickles

    These are all valid points but I feel “huge” upgrades 1 and 2 are really more wishful thinking than anything else. First of all I think Spaeth being touted as a premiere blocking TE is based more on reputation than actual play. Statistically he wasn’t much better than Manumaleuna last year. As far as the Kreutz/Spencer exchange I would argue that there’s really no way to consider this an upgrade at this point. With Kreutz you may be getting subpar blocking at this point but at least you know that he’s going to be making proper adjustments before the snap and maximizing the potential of the other four guys on the line. With Spencer you really can’t even be sure he’s going to be able to fully learn the offense with such a short off-season. He is supposedly in his prime but he was also jettisoned by a crappy team that drafted him high and expected him to be their center of the future, so this concerns me. Barber’s always been a gritty gutty short yardage back but this isn’t the line he ran behind in Dallas, so I won’t be convinced he isn’t Chester Taylor 2.0 until he actually performs.

    I couldn’t agree more that a successful franchise needs to get the best value for their dollar but lets be realistic, the current Bears regime has never been known for scouting or developing untapped talent. Ironically Jarron Gilbert’s YouTube video was posted exactly three years ago today, freakishly athletic but now playing on the practice squad for the Jets. @dkbergen

  • flowermike

    In my eyes, there was only one glaring hole to fill and we’re supposed to trust Angelo’s first round pick this year? Wasn’t Williams a left tackle of the future first rounder? If nothing else, we needed proven help for Cutler which makes the Kreutz/spencer switch so odd. I don’t think Kreutz was worth the money, but continuity in short trainings has a strength that boomer illustrates well.

    The fascination with blocking TE’s is ridiculous as is Chester still being on the roster. Losing Danielle Manning should be addressed too. The Bears failure to develop athletes in position is a tenure failure and once again, the Kool Aid is being poured that Conte, Steltz, Wright, et al are ready to contribute when we can’t even decide who are starting corners are.

    I give the Bears a D because everything seems so schizophrenic and hypocritical to the company line of get off the bus running on offense and RETREAT! on defense.

    And this is our last grasp with this D unit…. they’re getting really old and have little depth except at unproven safety. If we have a normal injury year, not the blessed campaign of last year, we could be awful.

    This is the most thin team I can remember.

    Please Jerry A, protect #6. That’s all we asked and you seem to have forgotten unless you consider Marion Barber a great blocking back!

  • flowermike

    In my eyes, there was only one glaring hole to fill and we’re supposed to trust Angelo’s first round pick this year? Wasn’t Williams a left tackle of the future first rounder? If nothing else, we needed proven help for Cutler which makes the Kreutz/spencer switch so odd. I don’t think Kreutz was worth the money, but continuity in short trainings has a strength that boomer illustrates well.

    The fascination with blocking TE’s is ridiculous as is Chester still being on the roster. Losing Danielle Manning should be addressed too. The Bears failure to develop athletes in position is a tenure failure and once again, the Kool Aid is being poured that Conte, Steltz, Wright, et al are ready to contribute when we can’t even decide who are starting corners are.

    I give the Bears a D because everything seems so schizophrenic and hypocritical to the company line of get off the bus running on offense and RETREAT! on defense.

    And this is our last grasp with this D unit…. they’re getting really old and have little depth except at unproven safety. If we have a normal injury year, not the blessed campaign of last year, we could be awful.

    This is the most thin team I can remember.

    Please Jerry A, protect #6. That’s all we asked and you seem to have forgotten unless you consider Marion Barber a great blocking back!