Chicago Bears Free Agency: Keep, Walk or Tag Options for Every Free Agent
There are 23 remaining players facing unrestricted free agency. It's not surprising most are on the defense, which is expected to get a full overhaul. Who should the Bears keep? Walk? Or even tag? Here, we'll look at every player and make the call.
Linebacker James Anderson
James Anderson was brought in to fill the void left by Nick Roach, who signed a lucrative deal in Oakland during last year's free-agency period.
Anderson did an admirable job posting 85 tackles and a career-high four sacks. The defensive woes should not be placed on him. Should the Bears decide to stay in their current defense, then Anderson needs to be brought back. He is a veteran who knows his role and doesn't require a lot of money.
Cornerback Zack Bowman
Since 2008, Zack Bowman has been a versatile defensive back for the Bears. He spent most of this season as a starter after Charles Tillman went down, but that's not the role for him.
Bowman's value comes on special teams and being able to fill in when injuries arise. He plays hard and knows the defense very well. Bowman doesn't cost a lot against the cap but gives the team a ton in depth.
Offensive Lineman Eben Britton
When the Bears brought in Eben Britton from the Jacksonville Jaguars, they were unsure of their offensive line situation. The team found out sooner than later that they had a solid unit, and Britton was resorted to a blocking tight end role.
The problem is Britton is not a tight end. When teams see him on the field, there is no deception to what they are going to run. Expect the Bears to fill his role with an actual tight end who can sneak out every now and then to catch a pass.
Defensive Tackle Landon Cohen
Since 2008, Landon Cohen has been a part of eight NFL teams. He's a journeyman defensive tackle who's perfect for training camp, fills in a roster spot and provides some depth when things get scarce.
Cohen should not be a part of a revamped defensive line going forward for the Bears. They should thank him for his services and move on.
Defensive Tackle Nate Collins
When your team is dead last in the league at stopping the run, the spotlight goes right to the middle of the defensive line. Injuries forced Nate Collins to be on the field more than he should have been until he suffered his own. He was a solid pass rusher but still was exposed often against the run.
Expect the Bears to do a complete overhaul on the defensive line, and Collins will likely not survive the changes.
Linebacker Blake Costanzo
There's high value and respect for a special teams ace who knows his role, accepts it and thrives. Blake Constanzo is certainly one of those guys.
Costanzo brings his lunch pail and hard hat to work every Sunday. He fights hard and gives it his all on special teams. You need that kind of consistency to carry over from season to season, and there is no way he should leave.
Center Roberto Garza
Roberto Garza was the lone starter on the offensive line carried over from the 2012 season, and he held his own. Garza was not heralded enough for his work as the veteran who kept the glue together on a rebuilt line.
Garza is getting long in the tooth, and the Bears have to question how much time he has left. He probably has one more year left in the tank, and it should be in Chicago. It's time to look for his replacement in the draft, though.
Cornerback Kelvin Hayden
Kelvin Hayden was re-signed before the start of last season to be the team's Nickel corner. He then suffered a torn hamstring and missed the entire 2013 season.
Isaiah Frey stepped into the role as Nickel and did a decent job. It doesn't make much sense to bring back Hayden and stunt the growth of Frey. The Bears will likely continue to let the younger Frey develop as the slot corner and let the older Hayden walk.
Returner Devin Hester
This is by far the toughest decision for the Bears to make. Hester is the most prolific return man in league history, but he is quickly becoming an aging one-trick pony.
The Bears will likely make an attempt to bring back a fan favorite who still can change a game. The big question comes down to whether the two sides can agree on the money.
It's tough to see another team go hard after Hester because of his dwindling skills. He will likely remain in Chicago on a team-friendly deal.
Cornerback Derrick Martin
Derrick Martin was brought in late after the injury bug hit the team. He only played in seven games and provides little to no value going forward.
Quarterback Josh McCown
It already seems like ages ago when Chicago and the rest of the league caught McCown fever. The journeyman backup did an outstanding job in relief of Jay Cutler and kept the Bears in the playoff chase.
Cutler got a new deal, but that doesn't mean there's not a need for McCown on this team. He will find out if other NFL teams still consider him nothing more than a backup. He's comfortable in Chicago, and the Bears still need him.
Long Snapper Patrick Mannelly
Patrick Mannelly has spent 16 seasons in a Bears jersey. He's the longest-tenured player in franchise history and has been an anchor on special teams his entire career.
Mannelly missed a couple games this past season, as he's likely starting to slow down. If the Bears can squeeze a season or two out of him, it would still be worth it.
Cornerback Sherrick McManis
Sherrick McManis is a high-energy player who provides a ton of value on special teams. He's not a bad corner but shouldn't be looked upon as a guy who will give you valuable snaps on defense.
Even still, there's a role for McManis on this roster. The Bears may or may not draft a corner, but McManis should be brought back for his special-teams play alone.
Defensive Tackle Henry Melton
What to do with Henry Melton? Last year's franchise tag was playing for a lucrative long-term deal before he tore his ACL early in the season.
The Bears will not franchise Melton again, but they will look to bring him back. The problem lurking is if another team decides to take a chance and overpay for Melton. The Bears will not get into a bidding war with him and another team. A desperate team looking to make a splash will swoop in and overpay Melton.
Quarterback Jordan Palmer
Jordan Palmer was brought back when Jay Cutler went down with his groin injury. Palmer had a nice preseason and camp with the Bears and would have been the backup for the season if not for McCown.
As long as McCown comes back, Palmer doesn't have a spot on this team. He will likely seek out another team that needs a backup. The Bears will look to draft a quarterback late or bring in an undrafted free agent for training camp.
Defensive Tackle Jeremiah Ratliff
Jeremiah Ratliff is in a similar situation to Henry Melton. He's a highly productive player looking to come full circle after a gruesome injury.
The biggest difference in the two is Ratliff's age. Teams will be willing to take a chance on Melton, whereas Ratliff might fall by the waste side due to the miles on his body. There's more value in Melton than Ratliff long term. This plays into the Bears' advantage, who could bring him back on the cheap side for one more season.
Tight End Dante Rosario
Dante Rosario was brought in to provide some depth at tight end and special teams. He once caught 32 receptions in a season with the Carolina Panthers but is far removed from those days.
Rosario had only one reception for the Bears. They need to get younger and meaner at tight end to complement Martellus Bennett. An athletic blocking tight end who comes via the draft should replace Rosario.
Offensive Tackle Jonathan Scott
One season can make all the difference in the world. When the Bears had their troubles on the offensive line in 2012, Jonathan Scott played in 12 games and started seven. Last season, he didn't play at all.
The Bears stayed healthy for the majority of the season on the line. Right tackle Jordan Mills went down with a foot injury in Week 17, but that was the only injury the line had. Scott is still a solid veteran who might be worth a backup role. You never know what could happen going forward, and the injury bug could bite next season.
Safety Craig Steltz
Craig Steltz has always been a productive backup safety and special teams player for the Bears over the years. This season, he struggled at safety and provided average, at best, play on special teams.
The Bears will likely move on from Steltz and other safeties on the roster. The whole group needs an overhaul.
Cornerback Charles Tillman
Before Charles Tillman was slowed by injuries this past year, people were wondering if he found the fountain of youth. The 11-year veteran played in only eight games this season. It was the most games he's missed since his second year in the NFL.
Tillman can still be a very good player in this league, but if the Brian Urlacher situation taught us anything, it's that the Bears will not budge, no matter who the player is. Both sides will still likely come to some sort of agreement to keep the franchise's best corner around for at least two years.
Linebacker D.J. Williams
It can't be said enough that the Bears really began to spiral down on defense when D.J. Williams went out for the season. The delicate front seven took a knockout blow after the game against the New York Giants.
Rookie Jon Bostic was thrown into a starting role he was not prepared for. Now, Bostic has had an entire season to learn and develop, and it's likely he will remain the starter. Williams was brought in to bridge the gap to Bostic, but that happened a lot sooner than anybody wanted.
Defensive End Corey Wootton
Corey Wootton was really starting to develop into the pass-rusher the Bears always thought he would be. His growth, however, was stunted when he was forced to play defensive tackle for most of the year due to injuries.
Wootton needs to be back at his natural defensive end spot. A likely release of Julius Peppers means a big hole off the edge, and the Bears will have to keep Wootton to maintain consistency.
Safety Major Wright
Everybody attacked Chris Conte for his poor play all season, but Major Wright needs to be right there with him. After a good 2012, Wright had about as bad a season in 2013 a strong safety can have.
Wright was equally bad against the run and pass. He has never been the guy the Bears thought he could be when they drafted him back in 2010. There's no way Wright returns to this team in any role.