Every offseason NFL teams use free agency and the draft as ways to build their teams and begin their quest for the Lombardi trophy. There are three main categories teams fall into during this time:
“Shoppers” – These teams spend heavy dollars on a free agent spending spree that would make Johnny Weir jealous. They go for the big splash to re-ignite a dwindling fan base or live up to demanding fans expectations. Teams like Washington, Vikings, and Cowboys typically fall into this category.
“Drafters” –These teams have established an identity and are adept at scouting and drafting players that will thrive in their system. The Colts and Patriots are two of the best at this. They draft players that most teams view as late round talents but are able to develop these players into every-down contributors at the NFL level. Their free agency spending is usually minimal and used only as a way to deepen the current roster.
“The Lions” – This one is self explanatory. Two words: Mike Williams…two more words: Charles Rodgers…
Typically the Bears fall into the second category as Drafters. Jerry Angelo prides himself on his drafting ability – which for the most part has been successful, but seems to have fallen off in the past couple years. Last year the Bears made headlines by mortgaging their future and trading a slew of draft picks for Jay Cutler. While I still think this trade will be looked upon in the future as a success, it left the draft pick cupboard bare for 2010. With no draft picks until the third round this year, the Bears are going to have to take a new “Spenders” approach for this offseason to be a success in the fans’ eyes.
The 2010 offseason is going to be an interesting one to follow as the NFL prepares to enter into an uncapped season due to the owners opting out of the collective bargaining two years early. There are quite a few intriguing free agents out on the market who will incite some serious bidding wars – and I fully expect the Bears to kick the tires on at least a couple of them.
Without further ado I give you what should be the Bears 2010 offseason shopping list. If August rolls around and the players below are in Bourbonnais for Bears camp the offseason will have been a huge success.
1a) Julius Peppers – One of the most athletic defensive ends in football, Peppers will command an 8 figure salary but would be well worth it. The Bears sorely lacked a consistent pass rush last season and Peppers would provide immediate help. If the Bears aren’t able to sign Peppers look for them to make a serious push for Aaron Kampman who would be a decent pick up in his own right.
1b) Antrel Rolle – News broke today that the Cardinals will release Rolle to avoid paying the $12M total he would be owed this season. It’s not very often that a 27 years old play-making free safety finds himself on the open market like this – He should immediately be a target for the Bears. The secondary was a bit of a mess last season and signing Rolle would be a giant step in the right direction. Zachary Bowman and Peanut Tillman are a solid corner duo who paired with Rolle and Al Afalava would make a talented secondary.
2) Brian Westbrook – Last year the Bears running game was non-existent. Matt Forte followed up his sensational rookie year with a sub-par sophomore campaign. His YPC number dropped from 3.9 to 3.6 and he had two 100 yard games – both against the Lions…not the type of stats you are looking for from your starting RB. Westbrook would be a great pick-up for the Bears. Getting him 10-15 touches a game in a Martz run offense would bring a whole new dimension to the Bears.
Any of the three free agents mentioned above would be a great fit for the Bears. There will be some less significant signings due to the lack of draft picks; however I don’t think that the Bears will use free agency to sign any more starters. They are also all but out of the running for any restricted free agents without picks to trade.
As for the draft itself, unless you get paid to follow the hundreds of draft eligible prospects like Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, it is pretty much a crapshoot from rounds 3-7. I glanced through the current ESPN/Scouts, Inc player rankings and put together a quick Bears draft that I would call a success.
3rd Round, Pick 11: Zane Beadles (OG, Utah) – A tough run blocker who could provide depth for the Bears aging offensive line.
4th Round, Pick 11: Tyson Alualu (DT, Cal) – A high motor player who might not be around at this point in the draft, but if he is the Bears will consider him. DT is a definite position of need this year.
5th Round, Pick 10: Jeff Byers (C, USC) – Olin Kruetz is getting older and looked the part for much of last season. Replacing a perennial pro bowler will not be easy, but Byers has some potential.
6th Round, Pick 12: Adam Ulatoski (OT, Texas) – A massive tackle at 6’8” has room in his frame to fill out. Could use an NFL “redshirt” year to bulk up but could potentially anchor the right side of the line with Chris Williams manning the left side.
7th Round, Pick 11: Clifton Geathers (DE, South Carolina) – Like Alualu above, Geathers might not be available at this pick. He is a physically imposing DE whose raw abilities have not led to on field production. Worth a 7th round flyer if he’s out there.
UFA: Ray Fisher (CB/KR, Indiana) – The obligatory Hoosier on the list. Fisher would bring some speed to the return game if the Bears are unable to retain Danieal Manning. He also showed flashes at CB this year, the only season he played it while at IU.
The Bears have plenty of holes to fill on both sides of the ball but the offseason outlined above would go a long way in filling them. The McCaskey’s have never been one to open up the checkbook to lure in the top free agents; I’m looking for this year to be different. Bears fans: Who do you think should be at the top of the Bears shopping list? What would be a successful offseason in your eyes?