By Bryan Dietzler
The Bears are going into the offseason with 23 free agents on their roster and they have a lot of work to do. They have decisions to make as to whether or not to re-sign the player or let him walk in free agency and depending on how this goes for the Bears this offseason, they may have a lot of turnover on their roster. Chicago may choose to bring back some of the free agents that played well last season and on the flip side, they will probably let some of the 23 free agents walk and bring in new talent.
The following is a look at 11 of the free agents that the Bears will have coming out of a contract this offseason. There is a look at how they played in 2015 and a few thoughts on what the Bears should do with them this offseason. Should they re-sign them or let them walk? Let’s take a look.
Alan Ball-CB-The Bears brought Ball in last season thinking that he would be the answer to the cornerback position opposite Kyle Fuller. He played early on in the season and was very inconsistent and struggled. The Bears eventually replaced him with Tracy Porter, the position was solidified, and Ball played very sparingly after that. The Bears have a decision to make with him. Do they keep him around another year for depth or do they let him walk and find someone else to fill the small gap that would be left by his departure. Ball isn’t as good as the Bears thought he was going to be so it would probably be wise that they allow him to leave in free agency and find someone else. Look for the Bears to not re-sign Ball this offseason.
Shea McClellin-LB-McClellin had an up and down season playing at one of the two inside linebacker positions. He was the defensive signal caller while he was in the lineup but he struggled with his play at times and had some injuries. The Bears decided not to pick up his fifth-year option last season, which most likely is a telltale sign that the Bears don’t plan to keep him around. McClellin isn’t the ideal inside linebacker the Bears were hoping for and should bring in some additional talent at the position. If they feel that they can find other talent at the position, the Bears most likely (and should) allow McClellin to leave during the free agent period. It’s doubtful that Chicago will bring him back for another season.
Ryan Mundy-S-Mundy spent all of last year on injured reserve so there isn’t much to talk about in terms of his play. If he is fully healthy, the Bears may decide to bring him into training camp and give him a shot as a starter or a quality backup. Or they could chose not to bring him back and bring in other talent at the position. It would be good if the Bears gave him a chance at making the roster next season but that depends on how they feel about their depth at the safety position. Look for Mundy to get another shot in training camp this year.
Alshon Jeffery-WR-Jeffery is one of two big free agents for the Bears this offseason (the other being Matt Forte). Jeffery is the Bear’s best receiver as well as one of their best players and the Bears would be remiss if they didn’t sign him. But what is he worth? His 2015 season was spent on the sidelines with injuries and the Bears really didn’t get to utilize him that much. His play in 2015 is going to factor in to what the Bears decide to do with him in terms, resigning him, or letting him walk. The Bears really need to have Jeffery on the team because he provides them a great option at the receiver position. It is suspected that they are going to bring him back and either sign him to a long-term deal or apply one of the tags to him and bring him on for another season while they work out a long-term contract with him. Don’t look for Jeffery to be going anywhere next year as the Bears will work hard to bring him back.
Jarvis Jenkins-DT-Jenkins was brought to the Bears on a one-year contract and his contract has now ended. Jenkins played steadily and consistently for the Bears this season so they may want to bring him back and have him play another season. The Bears lack depth on their defensive line and Jenkins was good enough that he should stick around. Look for the Bears to resign him next season and have him in the lineup.
Sherrick McManis-CB-McManis’s year with the Bears was a difficult one, as he didn’t have a very good season. He saw spotty playing time and when he was in the lineup he didn’t perform that well. The Bears may be done with McManis at the end of this season and will probably not decide to bring him back next season.
Will Montgomery-C-Montgomery was the Bears starting center for the start of the season but was injured (broken leg) and missed the rest of season with that injury. Rookie Hroniss Grasu stepped in and played pretty well but the Bears had no backup at center and had to rely on Matt Slauson to play the position when Grasu was hurt. The Bears may decide to bring Montgomery back and have him be a backup to Grasu as the Bears really could use two centers on the team because of the injury risk. If Montgomery is healed and the Bears feel that he can fit their needs then look for him to return, quite possibly on another one-year deal, to be the backup to Grasu and play if necessary. Chicago should definitely bring him back.
Vladimir Ducasse-OG-Ducasse had an up and down season, mostly down, and the Bears may have been a little bit disappointed in his play. Ducasse is a much better run blocker than he is a pass blocker and the Bears will need someone with a complete set of skills to play at the guard position and be effective. It may just be one and done for Ducasse. Look for the Bears to take a long look at him this offseason and see if they want to resign him but most likely they will not bring him back.
Marc Mariani-WR-Mariani was both the Bears punt and kick returner for a while this season but was replaced on kickoffs by Deonte Thompson. Mariani still returned punts but he is not an “all-out” spectacular returner as some others might be. Where Mariani shined this year was as a backup wide receiver. Mariani saw some playing time this year with all of the injuries at the wide receiver position and he was very reliable catching passes for the Bears when he was in the lineup and he actually became one of the Bears most reliable receivers. Chicago may decide to bring him back for another season and have him return punts (if they cannot find a replacement for him) and be a backup wide receiver. Look for Mariani to be back with the Bears at least in training camp with a good shot at making the roster in 2016.
Josh Bellamy-WR-Bellamy, a backup wide receiver, was forced into action at times during the season due to injuries to the Bears starting receivers. Bellamy played well for the most part but he’s not the receiver that Jeffery or Eddie Royal is but he is a decent backup receiver and can play on special teams. The Bears may choose to bring him back next season because he knows the system and has proven that he can play when called upon. Like Mariani, look for the Bears to bring Bellamy back on a short-term deal with an invitation to training camp to try to make the roster.
Zach Miller-TE-Miller had somewhat of a breakout season in 2015 and played very well for the Bears. With the status of his counterpart Martellus Bennett up in the air the Bears may want to bring Miller back and have him available for next season. As long as he can remain injury free (he did have some minor injuries towards the end of the season) he could be very productive for the Bears. Chicago will almost assuredly bring Miller back for another season (they might even sign him to a multi-year deal) and look for him to be an important part of the Bear’s offense in 2016.
In our next posting, we will review the remaining free agents for the Bears and see where they stand heading into free agency and the rest of the offseason.