Guard was one of the main positional needs for the Bears coming into the 2013 offseason, and the need really came into focus in the last few days when Lance Louis chose to sign with the Dolphins in free agency.

I really expected Louis to re-sign the Bears, as I didn't think he'd get much interest (or at least a decent offer) as he's coming off a torn ACL. And the Bears were known to want their most consistent offensive lineman from last season back. But, Louis indeed felt he got a better offer/opportunity than he'd get with the Bears (who don't have much cap space to work with), and chose to take his talents to South Beach.

Well, it didn't take Phil Emery long to find a replacement for Louis. The Bears and free agent guard Matt Slauson agreed to terms on a one-year deal on Friday:
Slauson, 27, was the Jets' starting left guard for each of the last three seasons. The 2009 sixth round pick out of Nebraska got a +2.5  from Pro Football Focus in 2013, and they ranked him their ninth-best guard on the free agent market. They liked Slauson much more in pass blocking than run blocking, and that's something I can live with given the Bears' awful pass protection over the last few years.

The 6'5", 315-pound guard turned down offers from the Jets and Raiders according to Brad Biggs.

Here's more on Slauson, including quotes from Emery:

He did not allow a sack in 2012 and helped the Jets rush for 2,374, 1,692 and 1,896 yards in his three years as a starter.
"We are excited that Matt will be a Bear," said general manager Phil Emery. "He brings physical play and smarts to the offensive guard position and to the offensive line as an overall unit. His size, strength and power will allow him to challenge for either of the starting guard positions."
Source: ChicagoBears.Com

If the season were to start today, the Bears' starting offensive line would likely look like this:

Left tackle- Jermon Bushrod
Left guard- Matt Slauson
Center- Roberto Garza
Right guard- Gabe Carimi
Right tackle - J'Marcus Webb

Backups include tackle Jonathan Scott (although I think he will challenge for the starting right tackle job in camp) and promising second-year guard James Brown.

Carimi looked solid at right guard late in 2012, but I think there's a very good chance the Bears' first or second round pick could still be a guard and challenge Carimi for the job. If Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper is sitting there at No. 20, I'd have to think Emery would have a difficult time passing them up.

But, with the Slauson signing, the D.J. Williams and James Anderson signings at linebacker, and the Kelvin Hayden signing at cornerback/nickel back, Emery now has the flexibility he was hoping for entering the draft.   Emery can feel pretty comfortable taking the best player on the Bears' draft board at No. 20.

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The Bears have agreed to terms with veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden on a one-year contract:

ESPN Chicago's Michael Wright reports that Hayden will officially sign the contract on Wednesday, and that Hayden was also in talks with the Philadelphia Eagles:

Earlier Tuesday on our Facebook page and Twitter account, we shared the information that the Bears were expected to re-sign Hayden (as first reported by the Chicago Tribune's Vaughn McClure). So, this news that Hayden has officially agreed to terms is not at all a surprise.

Hayden, who turns 30 in July, will serve as the Bears' nickel back, but is fully capable of starting on the outside if 2012 Pro Bowl cornerbacks Charles Tillman or Tim Jennings were to get hurt. Hayden hoped to land a starting job in free agency, but didn't get much interest in an extremely deep cornerback market (players like Antoine Winfield getting cut only made the cornerback market deeper).

The Bears have wanted Hayden back all along to be their nickel back and to add some nice depth at cornerback, so they were fortunate with how everything played out. There's no details on the financial numbers in this contract, but I'd imagine the Bears will end up paying Hayden a little bit less than they anticipated they'd have to coming into free agency.

In 2012, Hayden took over the nickel job from D.J. Moore midway through the season, and finished the year with 37 tackles, one interception, four fumble recoveries, and five pass deflections.

Hayden spent the first six years of his career with the Indianapolis Colts, and was a starter at cornerback for them from 2007-2010, intercepting nine passes and scoring three touchdowns over that time. In 2011, he played eight games for the Atlanta Falcons and had two interceptions.

The former Illinois college football player is a physical corner at 6'0", 195, that is solid both against the pass and the run. Additionally, he was a contributor on special teams in 2012. So, with his ability to play the nickel, replace Tillman or Jennings in the event of injury, and play special teams, the veteran really brings a lot to the table.

This marks the seventh free-agent signing (well, "agreement", anyway) Phil Emery and the Bears have made in the last seven days.

Related DBN posts: 

While you've been watching March Madness, the Bears have been making moves

Bears sign free-agent defensive end Turk McBride

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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.

"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]."
Source: Adam Jahns on Sulia

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.

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Goodbye, No. 54: Bears, Brian Urlacher part ways

Posted by Matt Clapp | 3/20/2013 06:50:00 PM |

In news that is hardly surprising, but is still just sad to think of as a Chicago Bears fan, the Bears announced on Wednesday that they were not able to reach agreement on a contract with free-agent middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, and that the two sides will part ways, ending Urlacher's career as a Bear:

This news broke just minutes after I wrote a post about head coach Marc Trestman saying the Bears would still like Urlacher back, as a first and second down linebacker. And Urlacher has confirmed that the Bears made a contract offer to him, of 1-year, $2 million. But he added, "It was an ultimatum, not a negotiation":

I've made it known on the blog and Twitter that I'd be just fine with Urlacher returning, but at a price similar to what the Bears apparently offered him. Certainly no more than $2.5 million or so. It's upsetting to hear that he's clearly unhappy by the Bears' "ultimatum" offer. I know he doesn't want to hear it, but the Bears' offer was quite fair and it's quite unlikely he gets an offer similar to that from another team. In fact, I'm not sure if he'll get another offer at all and that there's a very good chance he retires before the 2013 season begins.

But you would definitely like the Bears and their face of the franchise over the last dozen-ish years to end things on good terms as he heads into his post-Bears (and potentially football) career. Because what a football career he's had.

Urlacher was drafted by the Bears with the ninth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, and when drafted, people weren't sure if he could play linebacker at the NFL level. In college at New Mexico, Urlacher played safety, some tight end, and even was the team's kick returner. He was considered an athletic, physical freak, but potentially without a pure position (a hybrid type) entering the NFL. The Bears started Urlacher at strong-side linebacker to begin his rookie season, but eventually moved him to the middle linebacker position when veteran Barry Minter went down with an injury. Urlacher would stay at the middle linebacker position, and dominate there over the next decade for the Bears.

Here's some of the most notable things Urlacher has accomplished in his career:
  • 2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. 
  • 2005 NFL Defensive Player of the Year
  • 5-time All-Pro (2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2010)
  • 8-time Pro Bowler (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011)
  • NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
  • Bears single-season tackles record (153 in 2002)
  • Bears career tackles record (1,192)
And he of course was the heart and soul of the 2006 Bears defense that went to the Super Bowl.

In 2011, Brian Urlacher was still playing at a high level and appeared to have three or four more quality NFL seasons left. That was until week 17 came along against the Vikings in Minnesota, and Urlacher suffered an MCL injury. Urlacher was able to play to begin the 2012 season, but never looked anything like the stud 4-3 middle linebacker that we were so used to see running down players all over the field. He was probably running at 70% of what he was running at before the knee injury, and even revealed that the knee would never quite be the same.

With Urlacher's knee unlikely to get any better, and father time getting up with the soon-to-be 35-year-old's body overall, the Bears understandably weren't going to offer Urlacher very much money to return. But man, it's still going to tough to imagine a Bears defense without Urlacher roaming the middle.

Urlacher will go down as one of the most iconic players in Bears history, and that's saying something when you consider the Bears have more Hall of Fame enshrinees than any franchise in the NFL.

Always a class act, consummate pro, and an incredible, revolutionary middle linebacker. Thanks for everything you've done as a Chicago Bear, No. 54.

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Joe Person (real name, not just speaking in regards to the average person) of The Charlotte Observer reports that the Bears have made a one-year offer to free-agent cornerback Captain Munnerlyn:

Munnerlyn, who turns 25 in April, served as the Carolina Panthers' nickel back and would likely play the same position for the Bears. What's funny is the Panthers signed former Bears nickel back D.J. Moore to replace Munnerlyn after the Bears said they were not interested in bringing Moore back. It's believed that the Bears would like to bring back free-agent cornerback Kelvin Hayden, who replaced Moore at nickel back for the Bears shortly into the 2012 season. However, Hayden has plenty of experience starting, and may be looking for a starting opportunity or at least more money than the Bears are willing to offer.

Munnerlyn is 5'8", 190, and has played all four of his NFL seasons with the Panthers after being selected by them in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He's only missed three games over that time, and has started 34 games for Carolina. In 2012, Munnerlyn had 61 tackles, two interceptions, two touchdowns, and nine pass deflections.

We'll let you know more on Munnerlyn and what the Bears do for their slot corner position as the information breaks.

UPDATE: Captin Munnerlyn tweets that he is staying with the Panthers. Perhaps the Bears showing interest got the Panthers to give him the offer he was looking for:
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New Bears head coach Marc Trestman is currently at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix, and he provided some notable Bears nuggets to the media on Wednesday. 

The two main things to take away from Trestman's comments on Wednesday were in regards Devin Hester and Brian Urlacher.

Trestman basically said that the Bears will not use Hester as a wide receiver, and instead will let Hester focus on his duties as a kick and punt returner:

"We'll see how that evolves, but he's going to spend more time with [special teams coach] Joe [DeCamillis] and make sure that we're paying attention to that," Trestman said. "He'll come in and compete for that job."

Will he work with receivers?

"I don't know yet. We're going to talk about that next week," Trestman said. "Most of [Hester's] time will be with Joe, meeting with Joe and spending time with Joe." 

What did Trestman see during his evaluations from Hester on film?

"Not enough," Trestman said. "There's some quality plays, but there's not enough. We had this long discussion of just starting with him, making sure that he would be the returner that we need to have. That's the No. 1 thing. That's hopefully what he'll go to the Hall of Fame as. It's making sure we get the most out of him and then see where he goes from there."

How does Hester feel about this?

"I think he feels really good about it," Trestman said. "You'll have to ask him, but the conversation we had was to do it that way to start."
Source: Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times

So Trestman didn't officially say that Hester won't be in the fold at receiver in 2013, but he more or less did. And the "Not enough" response when asked how good Hester looked as a wide receiver on tape was quite telling.

I've thought it's 50/50 that Hester would be on the 2013 roster, but it really sounds like they're intending to have him back. And if it's just as a returner, I'm on board with that, especially if he's on board with that. I wouldn't be surprised to see Hester be a dynamite returner again for a year or two without the receiver duties weighing on his mind and body.

As for Urlacher, 670 The Score's Laurence Holmes caught up with Trestman for an interview (the whole interview is just a few minutes and make sure to give it a listen), and Trestman had this to say about No. 54, who is of course a free agent:

“We evaluated him and simply — I’m not going to go through specifics — we thought, without question, he could play on first and second down for us,” Trestman told Holmes Wednesday.

Of course, that leaves out third and fourth down, so does Trestman think Urlacher provides enough value?

“Absolutely. We’ve established that,” the first-year Bears head coach said. “We wouldn’t be trying to get him back if we didn’t think he could play for us. So that’s what Phil (Emery) and Cliff (Stein) are trying to do and working out with Brian and the people who represent him.”
It's been widely reported that the Bears would indeed like Urlacher back at the right price, and these comments from Trestman certainly confirm that. But it's definitely worth noting the "he could play on first and second down for us" comments. Urlacher had always been a part of the Bears nickel packages, and Nick Roach did a fine job in replacement of Urlacher in nickel packages when Urlacher was injured in 2012. But, Roach is of course gone now (signed with the Raiders), leaving the Bears without a starter at strong-side linebacker as well.

So, even if the Bears bring Urlacher back to be the middle linebacker, they're not only going to also need  a strong-side linebacker, they're going to need an athletic strong-side linebacker that can handle passing downs. Given the Bears' limited cap space, and assuming they have to use $2 million+ to retain Urlacher, getting an athletic, three-down strong-side linebacker in free agency is unlikely to happen. So, addressing linebacker in the first or second round of the draft seems like an even more likely proposition for the Bears. Georgia's Alec Ogletree and Kansas State's Arthur Brown (both expected to be drafted around No. 20) would appear to be perfect fits for this scenario.

Holmes also tweeted some nuggets from the Trestman interview in regards to Martellus Bennet, Jay Cutler, and Matt Forte:

(LOVE this next quote)

It seems a lot of media members talked to/are talking to Trestman at the owners meetings so I'll make sure to share some more notable info on the blog if it becomes available.

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The Bears made a free-agent move on Wednesday afternoon, signing veteran defensive end Turk McBride to a one-year deal:
There's no details yet on the money involved in the deal, but it's likely for the minimum (or not much more than that).

The 6'2", 278-pound defensive end was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round of the 2007 draft. He played two seasons for them, before playing with the Detroit Lions in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, and most recently the New Orleans Saints in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. However, he was active for just 15 games (starting two) over those two seasons with the Saints, and had just six tackles with no sacks in 2012. His most productive season was in 201 with the Lions, when he played in 15 games (eight starts), had 33 tackles, five sacks, and three forced fumbles.

McBride, who turns 28 in May, joins Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton, and Shea McClellin as defensive ends on the Bears' roster. McBride would almost certainly be fourth in line among those players in playing time.

Veteran Israel Idonije is still a free agent, and McBride now gives the Bears insurance if Idonije were to sign somewhere else. Additionally, it now gives the Bears some leverage in negotiations with Idonije, as they'll say they're okay to move on without him and can potentially get him to sign on the cheap.

But I don't think the McBride deal really lessens the Bears' interest in Idonije, as Idonije is certainly the better player and offers great versatility; he slides to the inside frequently on passing downs and has been a quality special teams player over the years.

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Zack Bowman (No. 38) celebrates his touchdown vs. the Cardinals in week 17.

The Chicago Sun-Times' Sean Jensen reports that the Bears have agreed to terms with cornerback Zack Bowman on a one-year contract:

Zack Bowman is headed back for a sixth season with the Bears, according to a league source.

Bowman will be signing a one-year deal. 

ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson adds that the deal is for the league minimum:
While I was upset the Bears lost an underrated player in Nick Roach to the Raiders today, I'm happy to see the Bears were at least able to get an underrated player in Zack Bowman to return, and at the league minimum salary.

Bowman, 28, was drafted by the Bears in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft, and has played in 58 games for the Bears, with 16 of those games being starts at cornerback.

In 2009, Bowman started 12 games at cornerback for the Bears, and even intercepted a team-high six passes. With great size at cornerback at 6'1", 196, to go with the playmaking skills he flashed in 2009, the Bears thought Bowman may be starting opposite Charles Tillman at cornerback for years.

But, Bowman struggled early in 2010 and lost his starting job to Tim Jennings (and that's certainly worked out okay for the Bears). Bowman would get another chance to start at the end of the 2011 season against the Packers, but again struggled, and signed with the Vikings as a free agent before the 2012 season. Then the Vikings released him before he even played in a game, and he signed back with the Bears on October 16th.

Bowman would go on to have 11 tackles, two fumble recoveries, two passes defended, and returned one of the fumbles for a touchdown. He was very, very impressive on special teams, and should be one of the Bears key contributors there in 2012. Additionally, he's a fine No. 4 or 5 cornerback capable of playing nickel back, dime back, and playing on the outside if Tillman or Jennings were to get hurt.

Really, for the minimum salary, there's no reason to dislike this move.

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ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson reports that the Oakland Raiders have signed former Bears linebacker Nick Roach:

The Oakland Raiders agreed to terms with Chicago Bears free-agent linebacker Nick Roach, according to an NFL source.

Terms of the deal are unknown but it's believed the Raiders offered a multi-year deal worth between $3 million and $4 million per year.

Reports are that Roach will be the starting middle linebacker for the Raiders:

The Bears did make an effort to keep Roach, but money of course was the issue, especially with the team hoping to re-sign Brian Urlacher as well:

According to the Chicago Sun-Times' Sean Jensen, the Bears have $5.6 million available in cap space. Add in that they'll have to pay their rookie class somewhere in the neighborhood of $3-4 million, and they don't have much money to work with. Keep in mind that, along with Roach and Urlacher, the Bears had hopes of being able to re-sign players such as defensive end Israel Idonije, guard Lance Louis, offensive tackle Jonathan Scott, cornerback Kelvin Hayden (the Bears don't have a nickel back), etc. And then there's the money that will be needed for practice squad contracts.

As we've talked about on here and as Jensen points out in the article, the Bears can create more cap space with extensions and restructures aside from just cuts (the team has already released Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth, and will release Matt Toeaina). Jensen writes about logical extension candidates:

The most obvious and logical, in my opinion, would be to sign cornerback Charles Tillman to an extension. He enters the final year of his deal, which is due to pay him $8 million. With an extension, the Bears could slash his cap number in half.

Defensive tackle Henry Melton, of course, is another obvious candidate. He signed his franchise tender of $8.45 million earlier this week.

Cornerback Tim Jennings also enters the last year of his deal and makes some sense.

You'd think Phi Emery will certainly consider all of those options (particularly the Tillman and Melton long-term deals). 

But, back to Roach- I absolutely hate to lose him, and think his value has been highly underrated by many Bears fans. The 27-year-old been a rock-solid starting strong side linebacker for the Bears since 2008, and did a nice job in replacement of Urlacher at middle linebacker in the final four games of the 2012 season. He's also been a solid contributor on special teams. It's hard to find linebackers fully capable of starting at middle linebacker, strong side linebacker, and are quality performers on special teams.

Now, the Bears are left with only one starting linebacker, in Lance Briggs (at least he's really, really good) on the weak side. Blake Costanzo, Dom DeCicco, and J.T. Thomas are still around, but Costanzo (especially) and DeCicco are on the team mainly for their special teams contributions, and Thomas is still a project that only made five tackles in 2012 after being on injured reserve for his rookie season in 2011. So, unless the Bears believe in Thomas much more than I think they do at this point, they need two more starting linebackers. And again, they're not going to have much money to spend.

Re-signing Urlacher would certainly seem more likely now, but the Bears aren't going to cave and meet his contract demands either (nor can they likely afford to). I don't see him getting much interest elsewhere, so there's a good chance he'll cave at some point and take what the Bears are willing to pay (or the sides will simply meet somewhere in the middle of what they each want).

Another possibility that I suggested on Twitter is that the Bears trust Urlacher won't sign anywhere else, select a linebacker with their first or second draft pick in April, tell Urlacher's camp that they're just fine with the newly drafted player starting at middle linebacker if need be, and get Urlacher to settle for less money than he wanted because he has little leverage. Then, you'd start the draftee at strong side linebacker alongside Urlacher, and potentially make that player the middle linebacker when Urlacher retires (or just keep the player at strong side linebacker long term, of course). Georgia's Alec Ogletree is a guy that makes a lot of sense with this scenario, for example.

On the free agent market, one player that makes a ton of sense as a strong side linebacker for the Bears is Daryl Smith, a guy that has been very underrated for the Jacksonville Jaguars for years. Smith, who just turned 31 yesterday and is 6'2", 249 pounds, played for new Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker over the last four years in Jacksonville. In 2011, Smith had 107 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and one interception (and put together similar seasons from '05-'10), but only played in two games in 2012 due to a groin injury. Given the fact he only played two games in 2012 and given his age, there's some thought that Smith could be affordable, but could the Bears afford him AND Urlacher? Seems unlikely.

But, the bottom line is the Bears now need two starting linebackers, and it would appear that neither of those guys are currently on the roster. Linebacker is without question the No. 1 positional need for the Bears now.

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On Saturday, it was reported that the Bears chose to not tender restricted free agent defensive tackle Nate Collins at the price of $1.323 million.

The move was a bit surprising, as $1.323 million isn't a lot of money (in the NFL world) to pay a defensive tackle that really showed some promise in his nine games with the Bears last year, and is still just 25 (and doesn't turn 26 until December). Additionally, the Bears' defensive tackle depth was a concern with only Henry Melton and Stephen Paea under contract (keep in mind that they released Matt Toeaina yesterday, too).

But, in the end, it all worked out quite well for the Bears, as today they signed Collins to the league minimum price of $715,000 (so, just over half the price they would've paid him with the restricted free agent tender). It's unknown if the Bears knew that they'd be able to get Collins to agree to a deal at that price, and if they didn't, their gamble certainly paid off. The team is dealing with a very limited cap space after the Martellus Bennett and Jermon Bushrod deals, so every penny they can save is meaningful right now.

Collins had 11 tackles and one pass defended for the Bears in 2012, but his presence was noticeable as a backup defensive tackle. He's 6'2", 296, and has quality athleticism for his size. He looks like he can be a solid two-way (defending the pass and run) defensive tackle, and may push Stephen Paea for a starting spot at some point. Whatever the case, he's quality depth at a position the Bears greatly needed depth.

Collins played for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2010 and 2011, so he has experience playing for new Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker as well.

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 Editor's Note: Yes, I realize I'm posting this on day three of free agency, but I had some things going on and wasn't able to finish my post on this important news until today. Better late than never, right?

In a move that will surprise absolutely nobody that watched a Chicago Bears game in 2012, the Bears have released tight end Kellen Davis:

The team has also released another tight end in Matt Spaeth:

These moves come a day after the team signed (a real) tight end Martellus Bennett to a 4-year, $20 million deal.

Kellen Davis was a disaster for the Bears after being handed the starting tight job before the 2011 season. Davis caught just 37 passes over the two seasons, and it felt like he dropped 37 passes as well. And when he actually did catch the ball, he'd either do it while falling down or fall down soon afterward.

Brad Biggs has the details on the financial ramifications of cutting Davis for the Bears:

Davis had a $2.4 million base salary with a $100,000 workout bonus. He would have counted $3.85 million against the cap if on the team and now counts $1.35 million against the cap after being released.

Spaeth on the other hand isn't looked at in a negative light for Bears fans, as he did the job he was signed to do in 2011 after being with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Spaeth was brought in to be a blocking tight end, with the ability to make a catch on occasion, and that's exactly what he did. But, with Bennett now on the team, the Bears don't need Spaeth as much, as Bennett is a tremendous blocker himself and can be on the field for any offensive situation. That's what the Bears get in signing Bennett over, say, Jared Cook, who is really just a pass-catching tight end that doesn't offer the all-around abilities that Bennett does.

Here's Biggs with the financial details on releasing Spaeth:

The Bears also parted ways with their other incumbent tight end, Spaeth confirmed. He had a base salary of $1.025 million with a $500,000 roster bonus and $100,000 workout bonus. He counts $333,334 against the cap after being released.

With Davis and Spaeth gone, you'd have to think the Bears will explore the possibility of using Evan Rodriguez more at tight end after they used him more at fullback in his rookie 2012 season. He was of course drafted as a tight end by Phil Emery in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. I also think Kyle Adams may stick around for cheap depth (set to make just $555,000 in 2013), and I wouldn't rule out the Bears looking for a tight end in rounds 4-7 of the upcoming draft either. You can (almost surely) forget about the Bears drafting Tyler Eifert at No. 20 now, though. 

Defensive tackle Matt Toeaina will also be released in the coming days, as Emery said himself on Wednesday:

Toeaina, 28, spent the last six seasons with the Bears, appearing in 36 games (with 24 starts) over that time. Toeaina is a solid run-stuffer and will likely find a job without too much trouble as a rotational defensive tackle. He offers very, very little in the pass-rush game though, as he only recorded two sacks in those 36 games.

Biggs reports that the Bears talked to Toeaina's camp about taking a pay cut, but he refused. Here's the financial ramifications of his release for the Bears (information again from Biggs):

He (Toeaina) is due a base salary of $760,000 with a $290,000 roster bonus and $75,000 workout bonus. Releasing Toeaina would save the Bears $1.125 million in cap space as Toeaina would count $500,000 against the cap.

These three players, in my opinion, were the most likely to be released to free up cap space. It's hard to say right now what other Bears players could be released, but don't be surprised if there are some more on the way given the Bears' limited cap space.

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Under three hours into the 2013 NFL free agency, the Bears filled two need major, major needs.

First, the Bears agreed to terms with tight end Martellus Bennett on a four-year deal right as free agency began. And now, they've reportedly agreed to terms on a five-year deal with left tackle Jermon Bushrod (who we wrote that the Bears were showing interest in):
Albert Breer reports that the contract is for $35.965 million over five years, with $17.715 million guaranteed:
Bushrod, who turns 29 in August, made the Pro Bowl the last two seasons as Drew Brees' blindside protector with the New Orleans Saints.

The Bears and Bushrod were immediately linked as a natural connection after Aaron Kromer became the Bears' new offensive line coach on Marc Trestman's staff. Kromer was Bushrod's offensive line coach in New Orleans for the last four seasons, with Bushrod starting at left tackle and only missing one game over those four years.

Getting Bushrod at left tackle now gives the Bears more options with the rest of their offensive line, such as moving J'Marcus Webb to right tackle. At worst, Webb becomes the swing tackle, and while he's taken much deserved criticism over the years, would be a pretty damn fine swing tackle.

And getting the left tackle and tight end positions addressed means that the Bears will be able to enter the draft with much more flexibility. The Bears can take the best player available now without feeling as much guilt about filling specific positional needs.

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I just finished writing in the last hour how the Bears were interested in free agent tight end Martellus Bennett (make sure to read that post for much more on Bennett), and, just three minutes after free agency officially began, Bennett tweeted that he will be signing with the Bears:
Great, great news. With Bennett, Brandon Marshall, and Alshon Jeffery, Phil Emery has now gotten Jay Cutler three big, quality pass-catchers over the last year. And finally (well, since Greg Olsen was traded), a tight end that can catch the damn ball and make plays. And not just can Bennett catch the ball and make plays, but he's a great blocker, grading out as Pro Football Focus' No. 3 pass-blocking tight end in 2012 and No. 13 run-blocking tight end.

There's no information on the details of the contract yet, and we'll update the post with that information as it becomes available.

UPDATE: Adam Schefter reports that the deal is for four years. No details on the money involved yet. 

UPDATE #2: The deal is for $20 million (ish) over those four years, according to various reports. 

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We learned earlier about the Bears' interest in three of free agency's offensive tackles and free agency's top available guard. So, it's clear the Bears are trying hard to upgrade their offensive line, but what about their other most glaring positional need, the tight end position?

Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times is hearing that the Bears are interested in New York Giants free agent tight end Martellus Bennett:

The Bears have expressed an interest in free-agent tight end Martellus Bennett, according to a source.
Jensen added this tweet, which highlights the very nice season Bennett had in 2012, and the extremely awful season the Bears' tight ends had in 2012:
Bennett, 26, is arguably the best all-around tight end on the free agent market. As you see with the numbers above, he's a playmaker as a receiver (Pro Football Focus' No. 11 tight end receiver in 2012) , and he's also a very good blocker (Pro Football Focus' No. 3 pass blocker and No. 13 run blocker in 2012).

Bennett was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft, and played with them in his first four seasons before signing with the Giants prior to the 2012 season. He only had four touchdowns in his four years with the Cowboys, and all of those came in his rookie season. The highest catch total he had in a season with the Cowboys was 33 in 2010.

But, Bennett was behind stud tight end Jason Witten on the depth chart in Dallas, and there were some questions about his maturity/character concerns which appear to be a thing of the past. It all came together for Bennett with the Giants in 2012, and there's no questioning his tremendous talent. He really has the ability to blow up into a top-tier tight end, and would be a very exciting addition for the Bears.

UPDATE: Martellus Bennett will sign with the Bears. If you're skeptical, Bennett tweeted about it himself:

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We just informed you of the Bears' interest in three of the top offensive tackles in free agency (which begins today at 4 PM ET), and now comes news that they're showing interest in the top guard available in free agency.

The Chicago Sun-Times' Adam Jahns reports that the Bears are interested in Buffalo Bills free agent guard Andy Levitre:

A source said the Bears are interested in Levitre, who has started every game for the Bills since being drafted with the 51st overall pick in 2009. He's considered the best available guard.

Pro Football Focus ranked Levitre as the ninth-best guard in 2012, and No. 1 in pass protection, an area where the Bears' struggles have been very well-documented. He's also started every game for the Bills since they drafted him in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL Draft, and will be just 27 in May.

Add all of that up, and yes, Levitre be expensive (Rotoworld's Evan Silva predicted Levitre would six years, $48 million).

The Bears may only be able to afford one of these high-level offensive linemen they're showing interest in, but it's just nice to see they're even showing serious interest in these players. Phil Emery clearly understands how much the Bears need to upgrade their offensive line.

UPDATE: Andy Levitre signed a five-year $39 million deal with the Titans. Look for the Bears to show interest in the second-tier guards, though. It sounds like they're the frontrunners for Jets guard Brandon Moore.

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The Bears are reportedly trying to steal OT Phil Loadholt away from the Vikings.

The 2013 NFL free agency period begins at 4 PM ET, and we're already getting news on the Bears being interested in three of the market's top offensive tackles.

The Bears are interested in offensive tackles Jake Long, Jermon Bushrod, and Phil Loadholt, according to reports.

The Loadholt news is the one getting the most talk today and comes as a bit of a surprise. Brad Biggs is hearing from a source that the Bears are "hot on Loadholt", which is frankly more than I needed to know.

The 6'8", 343-pound Loadholt has been an absolute mauler at right tackle for the rival Minnesota Vikings. In 2012, Loadholt ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 22 offensive tackle, the No. 8 right tackle, the No. 4 run-blocking tackle, and the No. 27 pass-blocking tackle (for perspective on the last stat, J'Marcus Webb ranked 42nd as Sean Jensen points out). The 27-year-old (just turned it in January) has started 63 of 64 games for the Vikings after being a second round pick out of Oklahoma in 2009.

So why would the Vikings let Loadholt get away, especially after watching what Adrian Peterson did running behind him in 2012? Money, of course. The Vikings don't want to pay Loadholt over $5 million per, and the Bears are offering him more than that, according to Tom Pelissero of ESPN 1500 (Twin Cities):
Biggs adds, "The price tag for Loadholt could reach $5.75 million per season."

It's assumed the Bears would just leave Loadholt at right tackle where he's played so well, but he played left tackle in college and would appear to have the tools/size to play on the left side in the NFL. So, you can't totally discount that possibility.

But, the Bears are reportedly interested in two of the market's top traditional left tackles as well. Biggs says that the Bears "are in conversations with" the Miami Dolphins' Long and New Orleans Saints' Bushrod:

A source also said the team is involved in conversations with the top left tackles on the market: Jake Long of the Miami Dolphins and Jermon Bushrod of the New Orleans Saints. The Bears’ interest level in Long is difficult to gauge, though.
Jensen also had this tweet in regards to Long:
And Jensen added this on Monday in an article on the Sun-Times about the Bears' interest in Long:

Long was considered one of the truly elite left tackles earlier in his career, but his play suffered in the last two seasons, when he was sidelined with injuries. According to Pro Football Focus, Long was ranked 47th out of 75 tackles last season. In 2011, he was 21st but second in 2010 and second in 2009.
If Long were still playing like he did in 2009 and 2010, there's no way the Dolphins would let him hit the market after taking him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2008. But, the decline in play to go with the injury concerns (and the injuries of course could be the main reason for his decline in play) has left the Dolphins unsure about paying the $9-$12 million average salary Long's looking for in free agency.

Long will still just be 28 in the 2013 season, and perhaps he'll be in better health and return to pre-2011 form. That's surely what the Bears are hoping, and if they pay Long the hefty price he's looking for, that would say they're pretty confident he'll be playing at a higher level than he did the previous two seasons, at least.

As for Bushrod, the 28-year-old has been linked to the Bears since they signed Aaron Kromer to be the offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, as Kromer was the offensive line coach for Bushrod in New Orleans from 2009-2012. The 6'5", 315 Bushrod made the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2012 after being Drew Brees' blindside protector. It's believed Bushrod could be had for under $7 million or so annually, so signing him instead of Long could give the Bears more options in free agency (like, getting Loadholt too?).

Other Bears free agency nuggets as we approach 4 PM ET...

  • There's been a few mentions from reporters on Monday about the Bears being interested in re-signing Jason Campbell. I just have a hard time seeing that happening unless he takes under $3 million or so per (and I doubt that since he could potentially compete to start for a few teams) given the Bears' needs on the offensive line, tight end, linebacker, wide receiver, etc. Of course, if they don't keep him, the rest of the quarterback market is god awful and for the No. 2 quarterback position, they may be better off just going with a quarterback selected in the first four rounds of the upcoming draft that they can also develop into a potential successor to Cutler. I don't see Matt Blanchard being a realistic No. 2 option, and Josh McCown is a pretty underwhelming No. 2 himself. It's going to be interesting to see what the Bears do here.
  • Vaughn McClure points out how "word around the Combine" was that the Bears would look to get a traditional fullback. Solid fullbacks can be found for really all the way up to the beginning of the season as they're valued differently by different teams (some teams don't use a traditional fullback really at all). 

UPDATE: The Bears are also interested in Andy Levitre, the top guard on the market.

Stay tuned for much more Bears free agency coverage right here on DBN. And make sure to follow our Facebook and Twitter pages for more updates as well.

UPDATE #2: No Phil Loadholt, as he re-signed with the Vikings, after they stunningly released long-time stud cornerback Antoine Winfield to clear up $7.5 million in cap space. Maybe the Bears' interest caused that release or for the Vikings to pay a bit more for Loadholt?

Reports are that the Bears are still in talks with Jermon Bushrod, though.

NFL free agency officially begins Tuesday (tomorrow) at 4 PM ET, but some news with major ramifications on the NFC North broke on Monday. And it wasn't in the form of a signing/cut, but rather a trade (and trades are also frequent at this time of the year as teams would of course rather get draft picks/players back instead of just cutting players if possible).

The Minnesota Vikings have traded star wide receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for a 2013 first round pick, a 2013 seventh round pick, and a "middle-round pick" in 2014. The Seattle Times' Danny O'Neill tweeted that the 2014 pick is expected to be a third-rounder.

Harvin had been unhappy in Minnesota, reportedly in regards to the coaching staff (particularly head coach Leslie Frazier), the front office, and even the quarterback play of Christian Ponder. Yahoo's Jason Cole wrote on Monday that Harvin's lack of confidence in Harvin was the final straw for the Vikings:

According to two sources, the straw that broke the Vikings' back with Harvin is when he bemoaned the fact that quarterback Christian Ponder, a 2011 first-round pick, was not good enough. That came even though Ponder consistently fed Harvin the ball.
Additionally, Harvin wanted a contract extension paying him at least $10 million per year, and there were reports he would hold out (potentially for the first 10 games of the 2013 season) if a deal was not reached. And even the contract numbers met what he was looking for, it's possible he would've still been unhappy anyway due to the coaching staff and Ponder.

So, it's quite understandable as to why the Vikings finally decided they'd had enough of dealing with Harvin, and made the trade before free agency began so that they could make a run at a wide receiver or two to replace Harvin's production. The problem is, I don't see anybody replacing what Harvin did for them.

Before suffering a a season-ending injury in week nine, Harvin had 62 receptions for 677 yards and three touchdowns. Harvin, who turns 25 in May, was also (arguably) the most explosive kick returner in the NFL up to that point of the season, returning 15 kicks for 574 yards and a touchdown. Oh, and he also had 22 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown. In 2011, he had 52 carries for 345 yards and two touchdowns.

The 5'11", 185-pound Harvin can line up at any wide receiver spot and perform well, can carry the ball out of the backfield for quality yards, and is an elite kick returner. You could've argued that he was a more valuable player than anybody in the NFL in 2013. Yes, even as valuable (well, close, anyway) as superstar running back Adrian Peterson was for them through that point of the season. Oh, and Adrian is not very happy about the trade, by the way:
The Vikings will surely try hard to add a wide receiver like Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings through free agency, but nobody in free agency will be able to quite replicate the production Percy Harvin provided for them. Again, Harvin did much more than just play the role of wide receiver. He was frequently in the backfield, he'd line up in the slot, he'd line up outside, he was a dynamic kick returner, etc, etc.

And say the Vikings got a Mike Wallace- He's a burner known for being the best deep ball guy in the game... what does it matter if you have an exceptional deep ball guy if you don't have a quarterback that can throw the deep ball well? Harvin was perfect for Ponder because he was able to turn those routes under 15 yards into huge plays. Wallace's abilities would not be able to utilized with the Vikings as much as they would be with most NFL quarterbacks.

The draft haul the Vikings got back is nice and they'll now have four picks in the top 83 of the 2013 NFL Draft. They'll surely go out and get a wide receiver or two in free agency, the draft, trades, etc. But, they're going to greatly miss what Percy Harvin brings to the table, in so many areas.

And the Bears most certainly won't miss having to face him and gameplan for him twice a year.

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VIDEO: Matt Forte is jacked

Posted by Matt Clapp | 3/09/2013 10:14:00 PM |

Bears running back Matt Forte released a video of himself working out his arms on Saturday, and good lord is he looking ripped.

Check out the video:

Great to see No. 22 working hard in the gym this early in the offseason. The Bears could certainly use a huge year out of the veteran back.

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The 2013 NFL free agency period "officially" begins on Tuesday at 4 PM ET, but as Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio explains, free agency pretty much begins at midnight tonight (Friday night/Saturday morning):

But with the league opening a three-day tampering window as of Saturday at midnight, free agency begins soon. 

We’re not quite sure what to expect, so we plan to stay up late and monitor the text messages and emails and tweets and other reports and information for evidence of teams talking to agents about players who will be free to sign elsewhere on Tuesday. 

The challenge will be to separate fact from fiction. Some agents will be tempted to put out false (or at a minimum embellished) information about negotiations with a team in order to generate interest elsewhere. Some teams will be tempted to engage an agent for one player in negotiations publicly, in the hopes of concealing the talks with another. 

Regardless, since the NFL is an industry where most of the participants work at full capacity because they assume everyone else is, we plan to be at full capacity tonight under the assumption that the news will be flowing. 

So, we could learn a lot about signings, contract restructures and extensions, cuts, etc. from the Bears and the rest of the NFL in the coming days.  Let's examine some links that relate some Bears topics as we hit the beginning of free agency...

Brian Urlacher gives Bears a proposal for new contract- Sean Jensen:

"Linebacker Brian Urlacher’s agents provided the Bears with contract parameters for a new deal Thursday morning, according to a league source"

The Urlacher situation is a very difficult one for Phil Emery to deal with. Urlacher was running at about 70% following his knee surgery, and admitted multiple times that the knee is never going to be the same again. Still, he's the captain/quarterback of the defense, and his instincts are as good as anybody to ever play middle linebacker. Even if he looks like he's jogging out there much of the time, he still has value. But how much? That's what Emery has to determine, and it would certainly help if Urlacher could give a "hometown discount" of sorts. It would be a shame to see Urlacher play anywhere but Chicago in the rest of his career, but the Bears can't afford to overpay No. 54 given their other huge needs and limited cap space (more on all that to come below).

If the Bears can't work out a deal with Urlacher, it makes signing Nick Roach even more important. Roach's primary position has been strong-side linebacker with the Bears, but he stepped up admirably at middle linebacker for Urlacher when Urlacher missed the end of the season with a hamstring injury. Roach could be a nice short-term fix at middle linebacker as the Bears look to find the long-term answer there (they could slowly develop a linebacker drafted in 2013, for example). Really, Roach has too much versatility and value to this Bears team to let get away given his price is unlikely to be too high. (Pro Football Talk)

Israel Idonije: "My priority is to stay here", "I think "Brian (Urlacher) is going to be back"- Israel Idonije spoke with Laurence Holmes on 670 The Score, and expressed his desire to remain a Bear:

"Even though ultimately I’ll be back in Chicago when I retire from the game — Chicago is going to be home — my priority is to stay here and enjoy these next few years in Chicago with my friends, my family and with my organization."

The 32-year-old also thinks that Brian Urlacher will re-sign with the Bears, and that Urlacher is too important to let get away:

“When you start talking about the offense getting better and maintaining defensive success, Brian Urlacher has to be a piece of that equation,” Idonije told Holmes. “You take him out of that situation and things change. I think Brian is going to be back.”

Like Urlacher, the Bears would like to have Idonije back (who, like Nick Roach offers the ability to play multiple positions), but at the right price. With Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton, and 2012 1st round pick Shea McClellin already at defensive end, and given how much the team is now paying Henry Melton, they can't devote too much money to the defensive line. (670 The Score)

Bears have interest in Jets guard Brandon Moore- After the Chicago Sun-Times' Sean Jensen wrote last night how free agent guard Brandon Moore would make plenty of sense for the Bears in free agency, ESPN Chicago's Michael C. Wright reports that the Bears indeed have interest in signing the 32-year-old offensive lineman:

"Past issues in protection indicate the Chicago Bears could be looking at offensive tackle in free agency or the draft, but the club has actually explored the possibility of bringing in an interior offensive lineman in New York Jets veteran guard Brandon Moore, according to an NFL source.

A pending free agent and 10-year veteran, Moore has started 142 of 144 games for the Jets, and has logged 137 consecutive starts for the team. While age (32), could be seen as a negative, Moore is considered one of the NFL’s top free agents at his position. "

As Jensen pointed out in his article last night, Moore is Pro Football Focus' top rated guard or center available in free agency, and the fourth-best guard overall in 2012. Jensen adds about Moore, "His pass-blocking is above-average, and his run-blocking is exceptional."

Right now, the Bears are operating with approximately $3.95 million in cap space after slapping the $8.45 million franchise tag on defensive tackle Henry Melton. Moore is expected to command $5-6 million per year, and the Bears also have other needs (offensive tackle, tight end, etc.) to potentially fill in free agency. And the Bears would surely like to try to work out deals with some of their own free agents, such as Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach, Israel Idonije, Lance Louis, Jonathan Scott, Jason Campbell (although I think he'll be too pricey), Kelvin Hayden, Zack Bowman, and Nate Collins.

So, there's no doubt the Bears need to find a way to free up quite a bit of cap space, which means some restructures (Julius Peppers potentially), 2013-cap-friendly extensions (Brandon Marshall, Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Robbie Gould potentially), and of course cuts (Devin Hester, Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth, Matt Toeaina potentially, to name a few) are surely to come. Phil Emery and team lead contract negotiator Cliff Stein (the best in the business) are in for quite a challenging few months. (ESPN Chicago)

D.J. Moore won't return to Bears- Hardly a surprise. Moore was pretty awful in coverage at times, and ultimately replaced by Kelvin Hayden as the nickel back before midseason. He's also undersized and unable to play adequately on the outside. Also, I doubt the tight-lipped Phil Emery was a fan of how much D.J. Moore ran his mouth to the media about matters that should be kept in-house. (Chicago Tribune)

Evan Rodriguez training with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery- It was revealed months ago that Alshon Jeffery planned to train with Brandon Marshall this offseason, which was certainly great news to hear. Even better news to hear? Evan Rodriguez has joined them:

"Last year’s fourth-round pick, fullback/tight end Evan Rodriguez, arrived at Marshall’s brand-new Fit Speed Inc. training facility in Weston, Fla., in mid-February to participate in workouts with his Bears teammates and other NFL players recruited by Marshall, who is recovering from offseason hip surgery."

I was extremely disappointed by how little Mike Tice used Rodriguez in the passing game, and I expect Marc Trestman and his staff to make Rodriguez a weapon, rather than just a blocking fullback. I think we'll see E-Rod used in a variety of roles. (ESPN Chicago)

Should the Bears cut Julius Peppers?- On the surface it seems like a CRAZY question, but there are actually reasons to at least look into it given the Bears' needs and how much money Peppers is due.

Peppers is still a damn good player and it doesn't all show up in the box score with him; he's still the center of attention for opposing gameplans and draws double teams. He still makes everybody else on the defensive line better.

But, the Bears could likely get by okay still with a defensive end rotation that would still feature Corey Wootton, Shea McClellin, and likely Israel Idonije if Peppers were gone. If letting Peppers go could be what it takes to get you a premier left tackle and tight end in free agency, the Bears may be better off for it. Still, it's Julius freaking Peppers and there's no doubt the veterans in the locker room would be quite furious if he were cut.

Make sure to read the entire post from Windy City Gridiron's Lester A. Wilfong Jr. on the situation, but here's how he closes:

"With a restructure for Julius Peppers unlikely, and cap hits of $17 million due in 2014, and nearly $20 million due in 2015, it's safe to assume he'll be cut at some point. Which begs the question; Does it make sense for the Bears to do it now?"

If you ask me, I probably wouldn't do it, but I would at least spend some time looking into the possibilities on what you could potentially do with that money. (Windy City Gridiron)

Chicago Bears 2013 NFL Free Agency Preview- A very nice summary from Adam Oestmann of what looms for the Bears as we approach free agency. (Chicago Bears Huddle)

Devin Hester posts "I'm a Bear for 4 life" to Instagram account- We'll have to see if Phil Emery allows this to be technically correct, even though Hester's heart will surely always be in Chicago. (670 The Score)

Bears announce offseason schedule- The Bears announced their offseason schedule on Friday.

Key dates...

April 2: Open voluntary offseason workout program

April 16-18: Voluntary veteran minicamp

May 10-12: Rookie minicamp

May 13-June 6: 10 organized team activities (OTAs)

June 11-13: Mandatory full squad minicamp (ChicagoBears.Com)

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