Like most of you, I've been caught up in March Madness over the last few days, and over that time, there's been a lot of news in the land of Da Bears. And I want to make sure that news doesn't get lost in the fold.
So in this post, I'm going to recap the five free agents the Bears have signed in the last five days (and it's six days in a row they've signed a free agent; we already wrote about Turk McBride), and provide my thoughts on the signings.
Bears sign linebacker D.J. Williams
Without question, the most eye-opening move the Bears made over the last five days was signing long-time Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams. And it was particularly eye-opening to me, because Williams lives (or maybe now, lived) within walking distance of me, and is a regular at the same bars (also walking distance) I frequent here in the Denver suburbs. That wouldn't be something I'd care about... if the guy didn't get two DUIs over the last few years. I've heard many stories about Williams around here, and his off the field issues have been well documented. The 30-year-old linebacker was even suspended for nine games in 2012 (six games for violating the league's PED policy, three games for the second DUI arrest).
But, if Williams can stay out of trouble, the Bears have a very nice player on their hands and at a cheap price: $900,000 base salary over one year, with none of the money guaranteed. He can earn up to $1.75 million in incentives, but if he meets those incentives, it means he's staying out of trouble and getting it done on the field. So it would still be a bargain.
I've lived in Colorado for the entire time over Williams' nine-year career, so I've seen most every game he's played. He doesn't have quite the speed he did when he came into the league as a first-round pick out of Miami, but he's still fast enough. And he hits hard. He will rack up tackles.
One of the nicest things about Williams' football play is that he's versatile, capable of playing all three linebacker positions. The Bears intend for him to play middle linebacker, replacing Brian Urlacher there. But this is strictly a short-term move (perhaps he'll be around for a few years, but he's not the long-term answer there), so ignore the talk about Williams being Urlacher's "successor". I still think that guy will be drafted in April, and will get a chance to develop behind a solid veteran in Williams.
Bears sign linebacker James Anderson
It appears the Bears have filled their middle linebacker void with Williams, and it appears they've filled their strong-side linebacker void for 2013 (again, not long-term) with the signing of James Anderson on Sunday.
Anderson, 29, has spent every NFL season with the Carolina Panthers, who selected him in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
The 6'2", 235-pounder played in 12 games in 2012 (missed the final four games due to shoulder and back injuries), and had 73 tackles. In 2011, Anderson finished sixth in the NFL with 145 tackles, and added 1.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and nine pass deflections. In 2010, he had 130 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, one interception, and five pass deflections. Anderson had been a starter for the Panthers since midway through the 2009 season, and in total, started 53 games for the Panthers, with 44 of those starts coming at strong-side linebacker.
Anderson told the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs that he feels he's his in his prime and that his body feels great:
"I am just reaching my peak right now," Anderson said. "I am definitely still in my prime. This is the best I have felt at this point in the offseason in years. I feel like I am on my way up."So, the Bears now have a linebacking corp featuring Lance Briggs at the weak side, Williams in the middle, and Anderson on the strong side. Three veterans that are all 29+, so, again, the Bears' long-term need at linebacker hasn't changed. But, I really, really like these short-term, low-cost fixes at the position.
Bears sign safety Tom Zbikowski
A week or so ago on Twitter, I talked about the Indianapolis Colts releasing safety Tom Zbikowski and how everybody linked him to the Bears leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft. And most of that talk was probably because he went to Buffalo Grove High School in Illinois and played college football at Notre Dame. But, he was instead drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the third round, and after three years there, played in 2012 for the Colts.
Well, he finally found his way to the Bears on Saturday, agreeing to a one-year contract with the team. Major Wright and Chris Conte are locked in as starters at safety for the Bears, but Zbikowski adds some nice depth. And the position overall really has some nice depth now, with Craig Steltz, Brandon Hardin (third round pick last year that was on injured reserve due to a neck injury), Anthony Walters, and recently signed Tom Nelson also in the mix. It should really make for a nice camp battle and get the most out of these players in training camp and the preseason.
Zbikowski started all 11 games he played in for the Colts in 2012, making 38 tackles, getting one sack, one interception, and five pass deflections.
But Zbikowski's biggest impact will likely come on special teams. The 5'11", 200-pounder has 59 career special teams tackles, and he's also returned 20 kicks and 16 punts. So, if the team were to cut or trade Devin Hester (which seems unlikely after Trestman's recent comments), the Bears have capable guys in Eric Weems, Earl Bennett (on punts), and Zbikowski as returners.
Oh, and Zbikowski is also a professional boxer with a 4-0 career record.
Bears sign tight end Steve Maneri
The Bears found their pass-catching tight end on day one of free agency with the signing of Martellus Bennett, and after losing blocking specialist Matt Spaeth in free agency to the Steelers, the team found Spaeth's replacement on Thursday by signing free agent Steve Maneri.
Maneri, 25, played 13 games (starting eight) for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012. He caught five passes for 51 yards. But again, he's a blocking specialist. And not only that, but he didn't even come into the league as a tight end. The Houston Texans signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Temple, to be an offensive lineman. The Chiefs moved him to tight end prior to the 2012 season. He has experience playing tight end though, as he played the position in college for Temple... where Bears second-year tight end/fullback Evan Rodriguez was his teammate.
And, speaking of Rodriguez, you've probably heard by now that he was arrested early Thursday in Miami for resisting an officer without violence and disorderly intoxication. I doubt there's much to worry about with E-Rod in regards to NFL discipline, and he's quite likely to make the Bears' roster, but not a good look for a player that dealt with off-the-field issues in college.
Bears re-sign Jonathan Scott
When Phil Emery made the following comments during Lovie Smith's press conference, I knew the Bears would make an effort to re-sign free agent offensive tackle Jonathan Scott:
[The] UFA market, offensive tackles: How do I look at that objectively? No. 1, did we go after some free agent offensive tackles? Absolutely. The three best didn’t play ball this year [in 2012]. They all retired. Two of them were medical and one decided not to play.Source: Adam Jahns on Sulia
"Was I disappointed in that? Yes, I was disappointed but I wasn't disappointed in who we ended up with, with Jonathan Scott, who started six games for us, who gave zero sacks for the year. I felt very good that, when I looked at the UFA market and I took all the guys that played, had starts, played at least 33 percent of the reps, a third of the reps, out of the UFA market that did not sign back with their original team.
"It’s very difficult for team to give up on an offensive lineman if they’ve got one. And really in this past market, franchise left tackles that were in the market didn’t exist. So I looked at the ones that were out there. Again, we had three that go out of football. Where did Jonathan Scott rate? He was the second best. Zero sacks. Sean Locklear from the Giants, who ended the season on IR, ended up the best in that respect for those stats. He was one; Jonathan was two. So do I feel like Jon added to our team? Yes, I do. That was the UFA market [in 2012]."
And on Monday, the Bears indeed re-signed the 6'6", 318-pound Scott to a one-year deal.
After the Bears signed Jermon Bushrod to be the starting left tackle, many immediately penciled in J'Marcus Webb to the starting right tackle spot, but I really think it will be a battle in camp between Webb and Scott. I especially think that after how glowingly Emery went out of his way to talk up Scott with the above comments. Additionally, competition would be a nice way to push Webb in camp.
If nothing else, the 30-year-old provides the Bears a very nice swing tackle, and some nice depth at offensive tackle, a position the Bears' struggles over recent years have been very well-documented. Coming into the offseason, it was assumed the Bears would be drafting an offensive tackle in the first round, but now I'd honestly be surprised if they did that, unless it was a player that had the versatility to swing inside too. Guard and center are the much bigger areas of need now for the Bears on the offensive line.
Get the latest DBN updates by following us on Facebook & Twitter.