As I watch coverage of the NFL Combine, I am reminded that all of the predictions, prognostications and general conjecture found on mock draft boards all over the internet can, and will be, reshaped by the upcoming free agency period. A GM will poke, prod, question, interview in order to identify and quantify strengths and weaknesses in the upcoming draft class only to change their plans once March 12th arrives. For football nerds like me, this is great fun and anticipation.
How will free agency turn out for the Bears? Well most Bear fans will agree that offensive line is in need of a major infusion of talent. Tight End is right up there too…perhaps, this year’s 1, 2 punch so-to-speak. The Bears have had difficulty in drafting top talent through the Jerry Angelo era and we are now in the twilight years of core players that have provided much of the fuel for the Bears success. Free agency is an expensive endeavor to be sure but is strategic and necessary in instances where you need to improve now or to fill needs that have been persistently not addressed through the draft.
Let’s start with the Left Tackle position as this is the position that is most symbolic of the offensive mediocrity that has plagued the franchise for what seems like forever. Top names to consider are Brandon Albert, Gosder Cherilus, Jake Long and Jermon Bushrod. Albert sure looks the part and is young. Cherilus is a Detroit Lion and the Lions are sure to want to see Riley Reiff get his shot which makes Cherilus expendable. Long has injury concerns but has had dominant seasons and if healthy would look real good in orange and blue. Bushrod might be a real good value and has some history with our current coaching staff and is my odds-on favorite for acquisition.
Having said that, I think it is entirely plausible for the Bears to not sign a top-notch name at Left Tackle for two reasons… 1) The Bears would have to be creative with salary cap space to make a big splash at this position and 2) The draft is deep in Offensive Linemen. There is no doubt in my mind that the offensive line will be upgraded this off-season though the path to that improvement has many twists and turns.
The Tight End position is another “burr under the saddle” of many Bear fans. Short of engineering a Devin Hester for Greg Olsen trade, I think it is entirely possible that the Bears sign a free agent at this need position. Dustin Keller is a name that immediately comes to my mind and in my opinion is the cream of the free agent crop at this position. The Titan’s Jared Cook is the name to remember, though. I think the Bears will wind up signing a slightly less heralded athlete such as the Jared Cook though this is not to say he will come cheap. I think the Bears will still take a Tight End in the draft.
The last position to examine in this story is the one that I think will figure to be more important in the upcoming season than is apparent at this juncture. Wide Receiver position will surprise no Bear fan as a targeted position though I think WR carries more importance than it has in the past. I believe that we will be pleasantly surprised by the new offensive system and the WR position will need to be upgraded and deepened to provide the motive power.
There are two names that jump out at me immediately; that being Greg Jennings and Danny Amendola. I know there are other names like Wes Welker and Victor Cruz but I don’t see them in Chicago next year. Snatching Jennings from the Pack would be poetic justice for me and Amendola would provide the slot receiver we were looking for in Hester and he is my prediction for signing by the Bears. We will see a West Coast style offense and I think a guy like Amendola combined with Earl Bennett will figure prominently in 2013 Bears game planning.
If you were GM and had a cool $10 million to spend, how would you make it work for you?