2014 Team Needs: Chicago Bears
Rashawn Franklin looks at the Bears' top needs and suggests some free agent fits that would help.
2014 Team Needs: Chicago Bears
Since 2012, Phil Emery’s focus as general manger has been to build Chicago’s offense into one of the elite groups in the NFL. Because of that, the defensive side of the football has been ignored and gone from one of the most feared to the worst in the franchise’s history.
Underperforming draft picks, lack of depth and injuries tell most of the story, but Emery has just not shown the capability to find players on that side of the football to have an impact. Now, with one of the deepest drafts in the past couple of years in sight and serviceable free agency group, Chicago has the task of replenishing that side of the football to pair with an offense that looks to be poised for a breakout year in 2014.
Potential Cap Casualties
After a couple of signings, the Bears are sitting at a little under $10 million dollars of cap room (per overthecap.com). Because certain player’s cap numbers can be listed as bonuses in order to create more room that number doesn’t really tell the story of where Chicago is currently sitting. The front office has the flexibility to move money on a need-to basis in order to make signings they deem appropriate. Here are some potential cap causalities:
– Cutting Julius Peppers would save the Bears almost $11 million dollars. The problem with that is that Chicago doesn’t have any other options at edge defender to make up for the production. Heading into his 13th year in the NFL and coming off an overall grade of -4.4, Peppers is certainly not worth a cap number of more than $18 million.
– Running back Michael Bush played only 140 snaps in 2013, yet holds the ninth-highest cap number at a little under $4 million. There is no way to justify paying him that type of money, especially when there are cheaper options available in free agency and the draft.
– With an overall grade of -10.8, punter Adam Podlesh was the worst punter in the league. Cutting him would save the Bears a little over $1 million.
Chicago can’t be sure that Henry Melton, after an ACL injury, will return to form or that Stephen Paea (-2.5) will figure it out. That means defensive tackle needs to be the No. 1 priority for this team this offseason. The position should be looked at extensively in order to make sure that a similar situation doesn’t arise from last year. The Bears posted the worst team run defense in 2013 (-135.2) since 2009.
Free agent fix: Randy Starks was fifth-best defensive tackle against the run in 2013. On the wrong side of 30, Starks would provide a temporary fix in the middle of the Chicago defensive line. Likewise, Jason Hatcher had an outstanding season last year (+27.3) and could also provide an immediate boost for a limited time.
The Bears still have a long way to go at this position, even after resigning Tim Jennings to a four-year contract. Charles Tillman is an UFA doesn’t look like he’ll be back after an eleven-year stint with the Bears. Six-year veteran Zack Bowman stepped in and played well after Tillman was shut down in week 10 but is more of a backup, at this point. In the slot position, Isaiah Frey has provided middle-of- the-pack production. He allowed 1.29 yards per coverage snap, which is 19th out of 28. Yet another defensive position that needs a complete overhaul going into next season.
Free agent fix: At only 25, Alterraun Verner was one of the top cornerbacks in the league last season. He has never graded any lower than +6.5 in a single season since entering the league back in 2010 and only allowed 579 yards through the air in 2013. Vontae Davis is also available. Davis’ coverage grade of +12.8 was second best among corners and his overall grade was the best of his career.
Safety was more than a problem for the Bears last year, it was a nightmare. Both Major Wright and Chris Conte regressed under defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and Chicago will likely let both of them walk this offseason. That leaves two huge holes in the back of a defense in which the safety position is so vital.
Free agent fix: Cleveland’s T.J. Ward is the prize of the free agent safety class and would provide and immediate boost. His overall grade was third best among safeties, showing that he could not only defend the pass, but he had the best run-stopping grade at the position (+8.1). He will garner a ton of attention, but should be at the top of Chicago’s wish list.
Follow Rashawn on Twitter: @RashawnFranklin.