Bears should re-sign offensive weapons, shop for defensive help
Following a 6-10 season, the Bears should be one of the most interesting teams to watch in free agency, with some glaring holes to fill, especially on defense. They hit big on Pernell McPhee last offseason, and once again have the cap space to target difference-makers.
WR Alshon Jeffery
Jeffery won’t be cheap, regardless of whether the Bears franchise tag him or agree to a long-term deal; either way, it’s difficult to imagine Chicago not retaining its best offensive player. He’s not much of a threat after the catch, but is one of the best at the position at playing the ball in the air, and last season ranked fourth with 2.87 yards-gained-per-route.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
With Matt Forte confirmed as not returning to Chicago, the Bears could stand to bring back the 26-year-old Rodgers, who played in only five games last season before ending the year on IR. He’s been around average as a rusher over his career, but is a capable receiver and above-average pass-blocker.
TE Zach Miller
Retaining Miller would further help Chicago’s offense if they can retain him at a reasonable price. He allowed just one pressure last season (sixth-best pass-blocking efficiency rating) and was one of two tight ends without a drop, finishing with the sixth-highest overall grade at the position. But the Bears shouldn’t break the bank for a player who is on the wrong side of 30, and didn’t see any regular season snaps from 2012–2014.
DE Mitch Unrein
Last season, Unrein was roughly average against the run, and slightly below that as a pass-rusher (12 combined pressures). However, average is an improvement over the rest of Chicago’s defensive line (apart from Eddie Goldman).
DE Jarvis Jenkins
PFF’s 104th-ranked defensive lineman last season, Jenkins graded progressively worse over the last four years with a notable drop-off in run defense in 2015. It’s worth looking elsewhere in both free agency and the draft.
ILB Shea McClellin
McClellin started as an edge player and moved to inside linebacker, but showed below-average overall production at both spots. His overall grade (37.7) ranked 88th among linebackers last season, though he flashed against the run in 2014. It might be time for the Bears to move on from the former first-rounder.
CB Adam Jones (Bengals)
In terms of on-field play, Jones has consistently graded above average in coverage over his career, last season allowing the fifth-lowest passer rating when targeted (60.7). His grade ranked in the top-15 at the position, and higher than Chicago’s top-graded incumbent, Kyle Fuller.
DE Malik Jackson (Broncos)
Chicago needs to improve on the defensive interior, and Jackson would be a solid addition. He’s good against the run, and an outstanding pass-rusher—last season, Jackson compiled 75 combined pressures and seven batted passes.
NT Damon Harrison (Jets)
There’s no better run-stopper at nose tackle than Harrison, who finished last season ranked second among 129 interior defenders in both run defense grade and defensive stops (51). He’s also topped defensive tackles in run-stop percentage over the last three years.
LB Derrick Johnson (Chiefs), LB Danny Trevathan, or LB Jerrell Freeman (Colts)
Johnson isn’t a long-term answer, but even at age 33, he finished the 2015 season with top-eight grades in both coverage and run defense. He’d be a boon in the middle of Chicago’s defense, where Shea McClellin graded far below average in both facets, and Christian Jones, while solid in coverage, was among the worst linebackers against the run.
Younger options include Danny Trevathan (Broncos) and Jerrell Freeman (Colts). Neither has the career body of work of Johnson, but Trevathan brings familiarity with head coach John Fox, and is coming off of a solid season in both run defense and coverage. And Freeman had his best year by far in 2015, with 53 defensive stops and just five missed tackles.