Devin Hester pumping up the crowd at Soldier Field
The Chicago Bears addressed their three biggest needs, in terms of in house free agent signings, with new contracts for Jay Cutler, Tim Jennings and Matt Slauson. That still leaves roughly 20 Chicago Bears as free agents going into the off season.
Of those 20(ish), nine of them are either on the offense or special teams (or at least primarily special teams).
What follows are the players that GM Phil Emery should: a) Pursue vigorously, assuming the price is right. b) Pursue cautiously, assuming the price is right. And c) Ignore with extreme prejudice.
A) Pursue with vigor:
- Josh McCown (QB). The second string quarterback should not be a major priority for a team that has so many free agents, but this is a special circumstance. McCown's play has more than warranted a contract from the Bears and has proven himself in the Marc Trestman system.
Jay Cutler has been the starting QB for the past five seasons. Of those five seasons, he has played in all 16 games ONCE. So the need for a competent back up is very important, especially if one considers just how bad Caleb Hanie was in Jay's absense.
- Roberto Garza (C). Garza is one of the longest tenured Bears on roster, and unfortunately, it showed at times this year as Garza was the least effective of the offensive lineman the Bears had starting.
That said, the Bears do not have a center being groomed and Garza does bring experience and much needed leadership to what was arguably the most improved offensive lines in the NFL.
- Eben Britton (OT). If you watched any Chicago Bear game on TV, then you no doubt at somepoint heard the phrase "Number 62 has reported eligible." That of course would be Eben Britton, the Chicago Bears sixth offensive lineman.
At minimum of five times a game, Britton would come in to provide insurance. Just that extra blocker to either open up run lanes for Matt Forte or to pick up the blitzers and protect Cutler.
He also stepped in during the season finale against the Green Bay Packers when rookie RT Jordan Mills went down with a foot injury. The Bears only yielded one sack that game.
Did I mention his salary last year was $715,000? Because if the Bears can get him back for close to that money, they need to pull the trigger.
B: Pursue with caution:
- Devin Hester (KR/PR). Devin Hester.... the greatest kick returner of all time. 19 total returns for touchdowns (13 punt returns, 5 kick off returns and 1 missed field goal return). Tied with "Primetime" Deion Sanders for the most returns for touchdowns of all time. The most electric kick returner the NFL has ever seen.
From a personal standpoint, I want Hester to return to the Bears. I want to see him break that record with the Bears. I want to see him continue to worry opposing special team coordinators week in and week out with the Bears. I want to see him retire as a Bear.
But that said, at what cost? Hester received $2.9 mil for the 2013 season and he had one lone touchdown and five fumbles. He is also 31 years old and entering his ninth season. A player just does not get faster once he gets past 30.
I know that he had less opportunities to return kicks since they moved the kick off point up. He did have five kick off returns f 40 yards or more. And I know he had four punt returns of 20+ yards and two punt returns of 40+ yards.
But nearly THREE MILLION for the year????
If Hester is willing, and I do not know if he will be, but if he is, the Bears should be looking at no more than two or three years with maybe three million guaranteed. I am totally behind the Bears offering escalators, like they did in their last contract (4 years - $22 million, of which only $5 mil was guaranteed, the remaining was all based upon performance).
$1 mil to $1.5 mil per year guaranteed should be the highest the Bears are willing to offer, and if they can get away with a two year deal, that would be ideal.
- Blake Costanzo (LB/ST). Costanzo could be put in the defensive post, which follows tomorrow, but he was brought in due to his special teams contributions.
In 2013, he recorded a total of 9 tackles and one forced fumble. He was payed just over $1 mil for the season. Seems excessive? Well maybe but lets review the salaries of the two Pro Bowl special teamers from this year, Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel.
Slater (WR for New England Patriots - 11 tackles) made roughly $2.27 mil for the 2013 season while Bethel (CB for Arizona Cardinals - 21 tackles) made just $688,556.
So if he is going to cost somewhere around the million marker, then I say bring him back. If he is looking for more money, or more playing time as a linebacker, let him walk and bring in youth.
- Patrick Mannelly (LS). Mannelly just completed his 16th season, all with the Chicago Bears. He has been a rock. He has been everything you want in a long snapper, which means you never hear about him.
However, this is not really up to the Bears. It is up to Mannelly as the Sun Times reported that he was mulling retirement.
If he wants to come back, the Bears should do so because as the saying goes, "If it aint broke, dont fix it."
- Sherrick McManis (CB/ST). Again, another that could drop into the defensive discussion, but being that his primary purpose was special teams, he lands in this post.
McManis was paid $630,000 for the 2013 season but he had signed originally for just under $200,00 in guaranteed money. He recorded 10 tackles.
If McManis is willing to stay for $200,000 guaranteed and play for pay escalators, then the Bears should consider it. If they draft another CB who can do the same things for less money, then let him go.
- Jonathan Scott (OT). Scott is an interesting one. His salary for 2013 was under $700,000 for the year and while he was inactive most of the season he did start seven games in 2012 and is an eight year veteran.
That said, with the signing of rookie Joe Long (no relation to Kyle), if the Bears think Long can step in to back up Jermon Bushrod, then the Bears will probably let Scott pursue work elsewhere.
C) Ignore (although maybe not with extreme prejudice)
- Dante Rosario (TE). Rosario falls here for really no other reason than he did nothing to impress. He backed up Martellus Bennett and was in on some special teams action, but you really lose nothing by not resigning him (Rosario recorded one reception for 13 yards this season).
There will be other players out there with more upside, whether in the draft, which is very deep, or via free agency.
- Anthony Walters (S/ST). Walters is another player who "technically" is a defensive player. Listed as a safety, Walters did not see the field much, despite playing behind the worst safety duo in the league in Chris Conte and Major Wright.
He recorded five tackles on special teams and earned just about $555,000 for his effort.
The draft will (hopefully) yield the Bears another safety and with a glaring need at that position, look for the Bears to explore other possible free agents so they can cut ties with the three year veteran.