The Bears cut their roster down to the 53-man limit today, but I hear that they are still scanning the waiver wire for potential upgrades. With all 32 teams releasing 20+ players over the last two days, there is a lot of talent available. I think the most likely positions for an upgrade are safety, linebacker, wide receiver, and special teams players that can return or cover kicks.
I’ve scanned the players released over the last two days and broke the list down into veterans who could help immediately and talented rookies who might be worth a spot at the end of the roster or on the practice squad. For the rookies I included my pre-draft scouting report plus anything I saw in the preseason. Here is a list of players that I think could be upgrades over what is currently on the Bears roster.
S C.J. Spillman, 49ers - Special teams ace who is versatile and competent enough on defense to have played defense in almost every game for the Niners over the last two seasons. He’s played corner, free safety and strong safety for the Niners and is an excellent athlete (4.5 40-time, 41.5″ vert). Spillman was scheduled to make $1.22 M this year which may have been the impetus for his release.
S Robert Lester, Panthers - An undrafted free agent out of Alabama in 2013, Lester got snaps in three games with the Panthers last season and didn’t embarrass himself. Lester started for 3 years at Alabama and has excellent size for a safety (6’2, 215). He’s strictly a strong safety which isn’t the Bears biggest need but he is better than Danny McCray and could provide a young backup with upside for Ryan Mundy. The Bears need to get better at tackling in the secondary and that is Lester’s strength.
LS Kevin McDemott, 49ers - Beat out Niners long-time long-snapper Brian Jennings last year, but they weren’t happy with his kick coverage abilities so they let McDermott go during final cuts. I think the Bears will be satisfied with a long-snapper who snaps consistently well which McDermott proved he could do last season. I think the Bears are going to release Hartson for McDermott. I would bet on it, if there was a way to do such things.
WR T.J. Graham, Bills - I was hoping the Bears would send a 6th or 7th round draft pick to Buffalo for Graham when Marquess Wilson got hurt. Graham has elite speed and it’s not fair to label a WR as a bust when his QB’s are E.J. Manuel, Jeff Tuel, and Thad freaking Lewis. If Graham has a QB that could take advantage of his speed, he could be a dangerous weapon. With Graham’s speed he could possibly be an option as a kick returner as well. If I were calling the shots I would take a chance on a former 3rd round pick with 4.38 speed and elite short area quickness (6.77 3-cone) who hasn’t yet been put in a position to succeed. If the Bears are truly trying to get younger and faster than how is Graham not a huge upgrade over 30-year old Michael Spurlock?
S Duke Ihenacho, Broncos – Was the Broncos starting strong safety last year, but after they singed T.J. Ward they didn’t need Ihenacho anymore. He is solid against the run which the Bears clearly need, but a bit of a liability against the pass (-9.4 coverage grade). The Bears had the worst run D in football last year, so replacing a bum like McCray as Mundy’s backup with a solid run stopper like Ihenacho seems like a no-brainer to me.
S Daniel Manning, Bengals - He’s not the same player he was with the Bears back in 2010, but Manning has been a little better than average over the last three years and has the versatility to play either safety spot. He’s 32, so probably on his last legs, but I guarantee he is better than Danny McCray and probably Chris Conte as well.