The Chicago Bears Brace For A Free-Agent Exodus
By Adam Benovic
As always, free agency is right around the corner, and the Bears are in somewhat of a desperate situation. Seven of the team’s starters are set to hit the market with notable names like Henry Melton and Roberto Garza.
Melton will be an interesting free agent to follow the offseason. After being unable to come to an agreement with the Bears on a long-term contract, the Bears were chose to franchise tag the tackle. He was paid $8,450,000 on a one year deal. Refusing to sign the tag until a ways into training camp, Melton looked noticeably out of shape compared to previous years. Because of this, it can be assumed that his holding out played a significant role in his injuries this year, as his body was not in football shape.
Nevertheless, Melton is an impact player for the Chicago defense, one which struggled without his presence. It will be interesting to see whether the Bears attempt to retain him or seek help elsewhere, either through the free agent pool or a draft with some high talent tackles. Either way, Melton should be offered a reasonable contract. Seeing as he is coming off of a season-ending injury and has relatively little experience playing under Marc Trestman, the Bears may be able to convince him to stay for a lower cost. He is enough of a difference maker that the Bears should at least attempt to keep him around, but if anything like the 2013 offseason happens again, then the Bears should clearly move on to a player more dedicated to the team.
Garza, the free agent center, has been with the Bears since 2005. With a reshaping line, it may be of the Bears’ opinion to keep what consistency they can, especially with second-year players Kyle Long and Jordan Mills still learning to be cohesive with the group, but at this point, it may be time for the Bears to move on. Garza has been critiqued for years about not having the strength to finish blocks once defenders push inside, meaning that his abilities as both a pass and run defender are severely hampered by a power rush. While he looked better last year than he has in previous seasons, the point still stands that he is becoming the weak point on what could potentially be a mauling Chicago line.
This year could see Garza replaced with a number of different players. The Bears could opt for the proven talent in a player like Alex Mack or look to the draft where Travis Swanson, Weston Richburg and Bryan Stork are all considered to be strong talents. The Bears may want to wait until the draft, although it is rumored that one of their division rivals, Detroit, is in the market for a new center.
One of the more controversial players hitting the market this offseason is Major Wright. Obviously the Bears have had issues at safety for years, and Wright has been a key perpetrator. Yet do the Bears have the ability to move on from Wright just yet?
While almost assuredly focusing on defense throughout a good portion of free agency and the draft, Chicago’s philosophy has never emphasized spectacular safety play and may opt to upgrade the various other positions of need. Wright may cause some problems, but there are weak units on nearly every team. For Chicago, it is their safeties. Both Wright and Chris Conte need to be replaced sooner than later, but the Bears should focus more on shaping up their defensive line, corners and linebackers first, something that can easily be done this year.
I’ll make sure to keep you all updated as we move through this offseason. This is Trestman’s second year, so we may just see the Bears starting to make some bold new moves.