By Bryan Dietzler
Free agency is just around the corner and so far, there haven’t been too many clear indications of who the Bears may be interested in. There are some obvious players that Bears fans feel the Bears should go after. Kansas City safety Eric Berry is probably the biggest named player being thrown out there as someone the Bears should go after. There are a couple of cornerbacks that keep coming up in conversations including Houston’s A.J. Bouye and Buffalo’s Stephon Gilmore.
But remember that free agency is almost as risky as drafting a player. Some free agents who have played “lights out” football before coming to a new team have arrived and stumbled. And you tend to spend a lot more money on free agents then you do draft picks. So, the cost for any failure is much higher.
It’s really “buyer beware” when it comes to free agency. You must be careful with your money and who you spend it on. The player could have been an all-star on his previous team but may come to yours and fall flat. Every NFL team has experienced this at some point over the storied history of NFL free agency.
The Bears have surely set their sights on a few of the free agents who will be available. We haven’t heard much about who they might be interested in so all we can do is guess at who the might be looking at.
Chicago has several needs at several positions. They need a quarterback, a cornerback, safety help as well as additional depth on the defensive line. They have a lot of money to spend having a reported $60 million. With so many needs coupled with the money they have to spend means that Chicago could be big players in free agency. Chicago could either gather several players at needy positions or make a splash with just a few big-name guys.
This writer has narrowed the top free agents the Bears should think about going after down to five. They are in no order. Each one should fill a need and each player represents the best option, for the Bears, at that position. The best “fit” if you will. Look at these top free agent choices and see whether the Bears have a chance to get them.
Eric Berry-S-Kansas City Chiefs-If ever there was a player the Bears needed in free agency, Berry would be that player. The safety position has been a difficult one for Chicago in recent seasons and he would help shore it up instantly. Berry not only brings Pro Bowl level talent but leadership and experience to the position. The Bears would be very wise to go after him.
But there may be some issues with acquiring Berry. First, he is going to command a high price, perhaps the second highest of any free agent this year (Kirk Cousins would be the first). Second, he has issued some stern threats to the Chiefs about being tagged. Do the Bears want to have that kind of player, someone who could be perpetually dissatisfied, on the team? Could he end up being a distraction? And age is an issue. He’s not going to have too many years left in him.
Berry is too talented to pass up. If the Bears want him then they need to make every effort to do so. He would make the defense instantly better. Hopefully he will be a Bear soon.
A.J. Bouye-CB-Houston Texans-The Bears need some help at the cornerback position as the uncertainty there has grown greatly especially after last season. Bouye was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in 2016 but his track record of success hasn’t been a long one. Therefore, the Bears need to be wary if they choose to sign him as a free agent. If he can prove he can play consistently from last season to the next few seasons, then the Bears should grab him. He would easily be an upgrade over Tracy Porter.
What they should do with the cornerback position if they do end up getting Bouye, or another free agent, is a story for another day.
Stephon Gilmore-CB-Buffalo-Yes, I have two cornerbacks listed here because both would be a good fit for the Bears. But, obviously, the Bears would only be able to afford one of these guys. So why Gilmore? He is talented and brings some good experience to the position. Like Bouye, he would be an upgrade over the aging Porter and would give the Bears some stability.
The issue with Gilmore is that he wasn’t consistent in 2016. While he wasn’t terrible, especially when compared to what the Bears other cornerbacks he has not been overly consistent. He had a strong season in 2015 but was a little up and down last year. Can he regain his 2015 form in Chicago? He most certainly can. If he can prove he’s going to be consistent then the Bears need to think hard about picking him up.
But with a shot at both Bouye and Gilmore, which one would be the best for the Bears? That’s too close to call.
Anthony Fasano-TE-Tennessee Titans-The top free agent tight end in the class is Martellus Bennett and he isn’t coming back to Chicago. So, the Bears should look a little further down the list for a good tight end. With Zach Miler an injury risk, Logan Paulsen one of the worst players in the league and Daniel Brown still learning, Chicago could look at free agency for help. They may want to draft a long-term solution and find someone who could play a couple of seasons to help keep the position manned with experienced talent.
Fasano is 32 years old and hasn’t had significant production in the passing game over the last few seasons. He is, however, an outstanding blocker. If the Bears can have Fasano block (and still catch a pass here and there) while Miller does the receiving, they could find some success. Throw a draft pick in there, to groom, and the tight end position could be set for at least a couple of seasons.
Russell Okung-OT-Denver Broncos-Okung is set to become a free agent and at the age of 29, there are some that feel he doesn’t have great talent or ability any longer. They say that age had creeped up on him. But looking at how he played this past season you can easily see this guy can still play. He would be an instant upgrade over Charles Leno Jr., and he can play at least two or three more seasons. Maybe more.
The question is, can the Bears afford him? How much money will he command? If the Bears can get him at the right price they should try to sign him but if he asks for too much, they should look in other places. They could draft a project player and keep Leno, Jr. Still, Okung would be a nice fit. They need to consider it, at least.
Chicago will be very active in free agency and are sure to be interested in several players. Hopefully they can consider some of the guys on this list to help themselves improve for the seasons to come.
Who do you think the Bears should go after in free agency?