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Fixing the Bears Defense (Part 4: NFL Free Agents)

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Safety:

The Bears need a complete overhaul at safety. Everyone knows that Major Wright and Chris Conte are terrible. Back-up Craig Steltz has been given a few chances to start and has embarrassed himself. Anthony Walters is so bad that the coaches signed a free agent off the street (Derrick Martin) instead of giving Walters a chance to play. I’m predicting the Bears sign one established safety, one back-up who can play special teams, draft one fairly early, and bring back Conte because he obviously has some blackmail material on the coaching staff.

FS:

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Jairus Byrd BUF (27): If the Bills are dumb enough to let Bryd go, the Bears should be on the phone immediately. Byrd missed the first 5 games of the season and still finished with the 8th best overall grade for safeties (PFF). Bryd is one of the top 3 safeties in the game and young enough that a long-term deal makes sense. Safety was a cesspool for the Bears this season and signing Byrd would immediately make it a strength. Bryd is great in coverage and no slouch against the run either. He’s a complete player and would make the Bears defense significantly better.

Mike Mitchell CAR (26): The former 2nd round pick by the Raiders was considered a bust and was a joke among GMs because Al Davis drafted him about 5 rounds before he was projected to go. Davis might get the last laugh (posthumously) because Mitchell still has elite speed and is starting to figure out how to use it. Mitchell finished his fifth season ranked a respectable 35th overall at safety and in the top 20 in pass coverage by PFF.

Rafael Bush NO (26): Hasn’t had a chance to play consistently with only 6 starts over the last two years, but has played well when given the chance with a 9.1 total grade over the last two seasons. Bush has good speed and excels in coverage, but isn’t strong against the run. Should be a solid special teams player who can play productive minutes in dime packages if needed.

SS:

TJ Ward CLE (27): If Bryd is too expensive for the Bears, which he probably will be, TJ Ward is a great consolation prize. Ward is comparable to Bryd in talent, but doesn’t have quite the name recognition or post-season accolades, which should lower his price tag. PFF had Ward graded as the 3rd best safety in 2013, 6th best in 2012, and 13th in 2011. Ward is a beast in the box and was the top rated safety against the run. After watching Major Wright miss tackle after tackle and Conte take abysmal routes to the ball carrier, Ward would be a major upgrade for the Bears.

Donte Whitner SF (28): As I’ve mentioned once or twice, the Bears defense needs to get a mean streak. Whitner is overly aggressive at times and isn’t great in coverage, but he is a big hitter who is feared by receivers when they go over the middle. No one is afraid of Chris Conte. Whitner has been a top-10 safety in 2 of the last 3 seasons according to PFF.

Bernard Pollard TEN (29): I’m getting redundant, but the Bears defense needs somebody who can intimidate opponents. Bernard Pollard can do that. He’s a big hitter and an excellent run-stopper in the box. His pass coverage leaves a lot to be desired, but pairing him with a FS strong in coverage could mask some of his deficiencies in the passing game.

Stevie Brown NYG (28): Missed the 2013 season with a knee injury, but was pretty good in 2012 finishing in the top 25 of the PFF safety rankings. Brown is a well-rounded strong safety. He has good instincts in pass coverage, which make up for a lack of top-end speed, and is a sure tackler. After watching Wright & Conte make so many mistakes, just having someone who is consistently decent would be a significant upgrade. Uncertainty over the health of Brown’s knee should keep the price tag relatively low.

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