Best Remaining Free Agents
GM Ryan Pace did an admirable job filling many of the Bears roster holes via free agency, the draft, and signing undrafted free agents, but it would be naive to think that there still aren’t plenty of positions that could use more depth or even starting caliber players. Pace has stated his off-season goal of building legitimate competition across every position on both sides of the ball and has done that, but there are still positions that don’t have enough quality talent.
Over the next few months there will be plenty of veteran players released due to salary cap issues or to make room for promising rookies, so there will be more talent available on waivers than there is now but that doesn’t mean there aren’t useful players available today that could help the Bears in 2016 and beyond.
I’ve gone through the list of players available for the Bears on both sides of the ball and broke down the ones I think could have a legitimate shot of making an impact in 2016 or at least adding the competition Pace wants at each position. I’ll cover the offensive free agents today and defensive tomorrow.
Here is my list of players at positions of need, who the Bears may want to take a closer look at before the start of training camp.
Wide Receiver (Tight End?)
WR Anquan Boldin (6’1 | 220 | 4.71)
For the first time in Anquan Boldin’s 13-year NFL career, he is a free agent and he’s taking his time deciding on his next team. I don’t blame him for not wanting to participate in the grueling mini-camps and being selective with what is most likely his last contract.
Despite the fact that Boldin is 35 years old, he’s still a productive NFL receiver with over 1,000 yards receiving in two of his last three seasons and a respectable 69 catch, 789 yard, 4 TD season on a Niners team with an awful QB situation. Pro Football Focus graded Boldin as the 33rd best WR in the NFL last year despite his pedestrian numbers and the bums throwing him the ball.
Boldin has long been one of my favorite non-Bears in the league due to an old-school playing style and unusual toughness for a wide receiver. I’ll never forgot the play where his face was literally broken on a catch over the middle and Boldin was back on the field after missing just two games.
The Bears have some depth at wide receiver after re-signing Alshon Jeffery and Marc Mariani, the return from injury of Kevin White, and the drafting of slot receiver Daniel Braverman. Where the Bears don’t have depth is at tight end.
Would a veteran like Boldin be willing to play an h-back / move-TE role? He’s undersized for the position at 6’1, 220 pounds (at least), but he’s always been one of the best run blockers at the wide receiver position and at his age (35) no longer has the speed to separate from corners consistently. Boldin gets open due to precise route running, the experience to set up defensive backs, and the strength to beat any corner foolish enough to jam him.
Boldin may not be fast enough to separate from corners anymore, but matched up against safeties and linebackers? I don’t see Boldin blocking DEs in the run game, but absolutely think he can be an effective run blocker as a move-TE facing off against OLBs, safeties, and defensive backs.
It’s a long-shot theory to be sure, but the fact that Boldin is still on the market makes me think he isn’t being innundated with offers and perhaps some dual-position versatility could prolong his career a few seasons.
Whatever position Boldin plays, another positive is Boldin’s presence in the locker room. He’s the reigning Walter Payton Man of the Year, has been considered a strong leader wherever he’s played, and could play a mentor role for the Bears young receivers and perhaps transition into a coaching role as his career winds down.
WR Marques Colston (6’4 | 225 | 4.60) – Another big possession receiver nearing the end of his career. Colston is 32 and coming off his worst season with just 45 catches for 540 yards and 4 touchdowns. Like Boldin, he has the size to transition into a hybrid TE/WR role but isn’t as strong of a run blocker as Boldin.
Next: Running Back