1) Michael Bennett (UFA) — This one should be an absolute no-brainer for the Bears. Michael Bennett, brother of current Bears tight end Martellus, has racked up 7.5 sacks this season as part of a fantastic Seattle Seahawks defensive unit. He’s emerged as a premier pass rusher during the past two seasons and has age (28) on his side. His $4.8 million cap hit in 2013 will likely climb next season, but hopefully the desire to play with his brother is strong enough for the Bears to get a bargain.
2) Greg Hardy (UFA) — If the Bears want to make a huge splash in free agency this offseason, they’ll target Greg Hardy. The 25-year-old defensive end has been one of the biggest reasons for the immense success of the Carolina Panthers defense this season. However, Hardy will likely command a huge salary that the Bears will have a difficult time affording with Julius Peppers still on the books. If they can find a way to move Peppers, Hardy would be the ideal replacement.
3) Lamarr Houston (UFA) — Houston is a big (6-3, 300) and durable (has started all but four games in his four-year career) defensive end who is best suited for a 3-4 defense, but could be utilized as a three-technique tackle or nose in the Bears system. He has an ability to get after the quarterback while also take up space and stuff the run. He’s stood out on a terrible Raiders defense the last few years, so the Bears would need to be careful in assessing his value to the team.
1) Linval Joseph (UFA) — The Bears desperately need a run-stopper in the middle of their defensive line. Joseph, at 6-4 and 328 pounds, would be the perfect candidate. He’s been part of a struggling New York Giants team this season which could have him looking for a change of scenery. Joseph is only 25 years old and would be a welcome addition of youth to an otherwise aging defense.
2) Jason Hatcher (UFA) — Hatcher has enjoyed a breakout season in Dallas and could be reunited with Jeremiah Ratliff to create a formidable tandem on the Bears’ defensive line. He’s racked up nine sacks this season, but at 31 years old, General Manager Phil Emery would need to work a deal in the team’s favor and not create the age issues that former GM Jerry Angelo did for the team.
3) Terrence Cody (UFA) — Cody has been somewhat of a bust early on in his career. The 6-4, 340 pound defensive tackle garnered the nickname “Mount Cody” as a standout at Alabama and was a second-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens. He was expected to become their nose tackle of the future, but has struggled to win playing time. He could be worth a look for the Bears as added depth with the potential for short-yardage and goal line situations.