Nov 17, 2013; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills free safety Jairus Byrd (31) celebrates his first half interception against the New York Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Will the Chicago Bears Pursue Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward?

Defense is the project ahead for the Chicago Bears and safety has become on of the positions to watch carefully.  Could the team make a serious run at free agents Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward?

Chris Conte not making plays in coverage like Byrd can

It really doesn’t matter which safety position fans look at.  Both are up for grabs in 2013 regardless if the Bears happen to keep both their original starters.  The question ahead is whether they might set aside a good chunk of salary cap space to pursue a top free agent.  First, the free safety position.  Perhaps no player had it tougher than Chris Conte for the defense.  Not only was he repeatedly proven mediocre helping against the run, his repeated gaffes in coverage, capped off by a terrible blunder that ended Chicago’s playoff hopes in week 17 have left him in very hot water.  It’s clear he doesn’t possess the instinct of a classic free safety despite gifted speed and athleticism.  That is why so many are anxious to see if the Bears go after Jairus Byrd in free agency.  The 26-year old is already a two-time Pro Bowler in Buffalo and is a natural playmaker.  He finds the football and attacks it, creating game-changing moments.  Having that on the back end would be such a help for defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

Major Wright a free agent and not as savvy as Ward

Perhaps the more practical signing for Chicago though is Cleveland Browns strong safety T.J. Ward.  He is tough, physical, reliable in coverage and one of the best tacklers at his position in the league.  That is emphasized by the 112 he made on the season.  He also can rush the passer too.  Ward is a Pro Bowler as well and only 27.  The reason he makes more sense for Chicago in 2014 is because their current strong safety, Major Wright is a free agent.  Like Conte he struggled in coverage most of the year though he was a better help when it came to tackling.  Wright is not a favorite to be re-signed by the team and Ward could come right in and fill the gap without missing a beat.  On top of that, he likely would come a bit cheaper than Ward because free safeties are more coveted due to their abilities in coverage.

Much will come down to if Phil Emery can balance salary cap

As always the end game comes down to money.  Chicago doesn’t have an enormous amount of salary cap space thanks to their recent deal to re-sign Jay Cutler.  At present they have just shy of $8.5 million in space.  With a number of other free agents on the roster to juggle, it seems like a difficult proposition to lure Ward or Byrd their way.  Byrd has stated he feels he should get paid like the best safety in league.  If his wish comes true that is likely a price tag somewhere between $8-10 million in salary cap space per season.  Ward would command something a little less but still in the ballpark.  Obviously Emery could make the deal more cap friendly early on but regardless it would still chew up the space the Bears have left.  That means if they’re dead set on making a move they would have to create room.  The best way to do that is either by re-negotiating some deals or by cutting overpriced veterans.  For example, if they were to, say, wave goodbye to Julius Peppers, Michael Bush, Adam Podlesh, Earl Bennett and Eric Weems (all of whom are potential cap cuts) their cap number would go from $8.46 million to over $24 million.  That would create the space needed to make an offer.

The problem is it also opens up even more roster spots to fill, which means the Chicago Bears would have to get creative with the cap since they only have seven picks in the 2014 draft.  Will they make a run at Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward?  Much will depend on whether they free up cap space before March.

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Tags: Chicago Bears Chris Conte Jairus Byrd Major Wright T.j. Ward

  • eric dub

    The bears need to cut all those players, peppers and hester should help create the cap space, and switch to a 3-4 def. Our roster should look like this….
    D-line= ratliff, meton, wooton (2nd round pick)
    Lb= anderson, briggs, williams, bostic/mclellin
    Cb= tillman, jennings, bowman (3rd round pick)
    Fs-jarius byrd or haha clinton dix (1st pick)
    Ss-sign bernard pollard or ryan clark (4th round pick
    Punter (late round pick) podlesh was horrible last year

    The bears could make those moves and theres no way thats not a top 10 def.

    • Erik Lambert

      They aren’t switching to a 3-4, Eric. The idea makes sense on some levels but the Bears simply don’t have the money or the picks to pull it off completely in one off-season.

      That aside I agree with your assumption they will try to keep Ratliff and Melton. That would create a very solid core at d-tackle. Wootton is our best young defensive end so he must stay. If Peppers is gone (which I believe he is) then we have to use our first two picks on the d-line if possible, maybe Kony Ealy in the first round or Scott Crichton in the second.

      The linebacker lineup certainly looks interesting with good potential provided they get the right coach in place this time.

      Honestly, I don’t think they’re bringing Tillman back. Not unless he’s willing to return at a reduced price. Bowman should be back though and I wouldn’t be surprised if they added an under-the-radar free agent to help.

      I figured try to sign Byrd first. If successful go after Deone Bucannon or Ahmad Dixon for the strong in the draft. If he falls through, go get Ward for the strong and then bring in Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor to compete with Conte.

      Aside from all that, we most definitely need a new punter. Don’t forget though. With only seven picks, the Bears will likely sign an undrafted or veteran free agent.

  • Jeremiah Collins

    I wouldn’t sign either… Hard workers still proving themselves is what the bears need… Chris Clemons is the type of player I like… Similar to those other names, cheaper, and just as effective… Drafting a Calvin Pryor, Buccanon, or Bailey. Then a Pierre Desir, or a Stanley Baptiste… That way we can truly if the problems with the secondary is the players or the staff… Free Agency can be cost effective by gobbling up young, hungry players like Linvail Joseph, and Everson Griffen, to not only bolster your depth, but breath life into the defense that was suffocating before this year… Lovies defense was a bend, but don’t break kind of deal… It want stellar…We need more blue collar players, to truly represent Chicago… No more divas… Please

    • Erik Lambert

      A very heady strategy, Jeremiah. It all comes down to price. I feel if Byrd or Ward don’t come in with ridiculous demands it would be at least smart to explore a signing. However, I would much rather go after a quality role player in free agency and draft the stars.

      • Jeremiah Collins

        I’m glad you agree… Imagine a lineup of lamarr Houston, Linvail Joeseph, Everson Griffen,.Henry Melton, Bostic,Briggs, Kyle Van Noy, Pierre Desir, Stanley Baptiste, Chris Clemons, and yo boy Bucannon… All while saving money to resign or very own like Alshon Jeffery… Bear Down 2014…

        • Erik Lambert

          Not a bad lineup. However, I feel it may end up looking more like this: Melton, Ratliff, Timmy Jernigan (1st Rd) at DT. Wootton and Scott Crichton (2nd Rd) at DE. Bostic, Briggs and D.J. Williams at LB. Jennings and Walter Thurmond (FA) at CB. Dion Bailey (3rd Rd) and T.J. Ward at S.

          Your lineup is good but I just don’t know if they have the picks and money to swing it that far.

          • Jeremiah Collins

            If you cancel Thurmond, ward, and include the trade down in the first it’s probable… The players on my list are good players, but their productivity was down because they played on mediocre teams. It’s just speculation, but wouldn’t that warrant a better market value for Chicago…

          • Erik Lambert

            The saying goes the money can be found if a team wants the players. I wouldn’t put it past Emery to find a way to pull such a list off.

  • Dakota

    I think they could cut Pepper, Podlesh and Bush and be fine cap wise. They could cut Weems too but he’s a great special teams player. I think Bennett should stay because he’s a solid slot guy. But the draft will all depend on who they land in free agency. If they land a big pass rusher, they should go with Haha Clinton-Dix in the first. If they land a safety, maybe go CJ Mosely in the first and a DE in second. The perfect scenario would be landing both a safety and d-end in free agency which could open a lot of possibilities.

    • Aaron Myers

      They would never Cut Peppers trade only but it would have to be a 2nd or a 3rd and a later pick, Bush maybe tho he is overratted and over paid… and Podlesh is a stud do you watch the bears???

      • Erik Lambert

        Aaron, Podlesh is not a stud. Have you seen his stat line? It’s not good. At all. Peppers is 34. There is no way with his bloated contract that they will get a 2nd or 3rd for him. Unless he takes a pay cut, which I doubt, he is either gone or the Bears find a way to work around the cap issue for one more year.