With NFL free agency right around the corner (March 11th), I wanted to do a quick recap of NFL roster moves over the last week or so in case you missed anything. I’m primarily covering moves and rumors that have an impact on the Bears off-season strategy.
The Carolina Panthers placed the franchise tag on DE Greg Hardy. The Bears probably couldn’t afford Hardy even if he were a free agent, but this takes the top free agent DE off the market and probably raises the price of Seahawks DE Michael Bennett who is now the best DE available.
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Speaking of Michael Bennett, rumors keep swirling about Bears TE Martellus Bennett recruiting his brother to sign with Chicago but I don’t put a lot of stock in family ties trumping money on this one. Even Martellus made a comment about “Franklins” being the deciding factor, as in Benjamin Franklins. I still think the Bears have a shot, but there are teams with more money to offer than the Bears so I think the Bears are a dark horse at best.
The Bears are rumored to be working hard on bringing back DT Jeremiah Ratliff, CB Zach Bowman and DT Henry Melton. I think all three would be good moves. Though bringing back both Melton & Ratliff might shift the Bears target in the draft at #14 from a DT (Donald or Jernigan) to a different position on defensive.
The Dolphins decided not to place the franchise tag on top CB Brent Grimes over the weekend, but were able to re-sign him today. The terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed yet, but that takes one top CB off the market.
UPDATE: Grimes’ deal is for 4 years, $32 M. That sets the market for top corners at $8M per and makes me feel a little better about the Bears getting Tim Jennings for $5.6 M per. Jennings has his flaws, but has made the Pro Bowl the last two seasons.
The Redskins are on the fence about bringing back OLB and top pass rusher Brian Orakpo. He’s another guy who is probably out of the Bears range, but the more talent that is on the market at a position, the better the prices become on mid-tier talent. Orakpo had 10 sacks last season and is a potential fit at both the 3-4 OLB position he played with the Redskins or at DE in a 4-3 scheme.
UPDATE: The Redskins placed the franchise tag on Orakpo this morning taking him off the market.
Ex-Lion SS Louis Delmas visited with the Miami Dolphins on Friday which is the third team he has visited with since the Lions released him two weeks ago. Delmas also visited with the Steelers and the Saints earlier in the week and both teams would be excellent fits for the 26 year old strong safety. So would the Bears, but there have been no rumors of interest so far.
MLB D’Qwell Jackson has now visited with the Titans, Cardinals, and Broncos. I think Jackson would be a decent stop-gap MLB for the Bears. Jackson has struggled since the Browns switched to a 3-4, but he had been a borderline Pro Bowler in the middle of the Browns 4-3 scheme for years before that. Jackson, 30, led the Browns in tackles in 6 of his 8 years with the team and has been a team captain the last few years. He was released due to the $9.43 M cap number he carried this year and the $4.1 M bonus due if he was on the roster on March 15th. It seems like Jackson has been around for ever, but he is actually a year younger than Bears MLB D.J. Williams (31). I think Jackson is an upgrade over Williams and would be a great mentor for Jon Bostic.
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Here is some good news… The Packers were unable to come to terms with CB Sam Shields and he is likely to test the free agent market. Shields was the Packers best corner last year, is only 26 years old, and is just scratching the surface of his potential. He has pro bowl talent and would be a considerable loss for the Packers, who don’t have anything close to a similar talent at the position on their roster. Shields should be a priority target for the Bears as he will be a little less expensive than the top targets on the market (Davis, Talib, DRC, Verner). It would still take a big chunk of the Bears cap money, but it would give them a legit #1 corner for the next few years and make their rival Packers weaker in the process.
Browns DT Ahtyba Rubin, a guy who I thought would be a potential target for the Bears, is supposedly close to resigning with the Browns for the same salary he played at last year, $6.6 M. Rubin, 28, is a quality run-stuffer who occasionally flashes some pass rush up the middle despite his massive size (6’3, 330).
The Bears re-signed C Taylor Boggs, S Derrick Martin, TE Dante Rosario, and CB Kelvin Hayden this week. All solid moves for mostly veteran minimum contracts. Good depth signings.
Another top CB could be hitting the free agent market as rumors continue to pop up about Texans CB Jonathon Joseph being a salary cap casualty. Joseph was a top-25 CB last year according to ProFootballFocus (6.2 overall grade) but carries a $11.25 M cap number in 2014. Joseph is probably out of the Bears price range, but like with Orakpo, his entry into the market should make the mid-tier free agents a little more cost-effective.
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Bills FS Jairus Byrd is reportedly at a stalemate with the Buffalo Bills over a new contract. It’s looking like Byrd will hit the free agent market. New Browns HC, Mike Pettine, coached Bryd in Buffalo and is rumored to be very interested in bringing him to Cleveland. If the Browns sign Byrd, they most likely would let current free agent SS TJ Ward hit the market. The Browns have plenty of room under the salary cap, but signing both safeties would allocate more money to the safety position that any other team in the league and is unlikely. TJ Ward won’t be cheap, but he should be a little less expensive than Byrd and could potentially be a feasible target for the Bears. He’s one of the top strong safeties in the game and would go a long way towards fixing the gaping hole at the position for the Bears.
Chiefs FS Kendrick Lewis is not expected to be re-signed. Lewis was an above average free safety his first two years in the league, but injuries have affected his effectiveness the last two seasons. He’s only 27, so could be an interesting bounce-back candidate on a 1-year make good contract for the Bears. Worst case, Lewis would provide quality depth and possibly (hopefully) push Chris Conte out of the starting lineup. I’m hoping the Bears bring in a better veteran safety or relatively high draft pick at the position, but there is limited cap money available and some positions will have to be filled on the cheap.
Another affordable option at safety is Steve Gregory, who was released by the Patriots over the weekend. The veteran safety, 31, had a solid year in 2013 (2.1 overall grade) and could provide depth at either safety position.
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Steelers DE Ziggy Hood, 27, is unlikely to be re-signed. The former first round pick has been a bust so far in Pittsburgh, but many feel that is due to being a bad fit as a DE in the Steelers 3-4 scheme. On paper he would be a better fit as a DT in a 4-3 scheme like he played in college. Hood is expected to get around a $2.5 – $3 M offer, which should be in the Bears price range.
Saints franchised TE Jimmy Graham. No surprise there and he was never in the cards for the Bears, but he’s one of the best players in the league so I figured it was worth a mention.
Bears have made it clear they are not going to resign SS Major Wright. Yay!
Chargers re-signed ILB Donald Butler to a multi-year contract (7 yrs, $48 M). That’s sad news as Butler is in his prime and just the type of tough MLB the Bears defense needs.
The Panthers are reportedly close to re-signing FS Mike Mitchell, who I thought might be a target for the Bears. Oh well.
I will try to keep providing free agency recaps roughly every week. If I missed anything of note, let me know in the comments. Go Bears!