Oct 20, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman (33) runs after an interception against the Washington Redskins during the first half at FedEX Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

How Should the Chicago Bears Juggle their Top Remaining Free Agents?

No team has more free agents to balance on their pay-scale than the Chicago Bears.  What likely fates are in store for all the pending names?

Josh McCown – QB – Re-sign:  Yes

If it were four years ago then this would be a different situation but at age 35 it’s highly unlikely that Josh McCown will find a starting job elsewhere, especially with Mark Sanchez and Michael Vick expected to be available.  He’s best served returning.

Roberto Garza – C – Re-sign:  Yes

Like McCown the old veteran is winding down but Roberto Garza continue to remain effective and a great leader for the young linemen the Bears have installed.  He should see a modest one or two-year deal.

Taylor Boggs - C – Re-sign:  No

He played well in training camp and preseason but is Taylor Boggs really a long-term option for Garza?  While it’s debatable the reality is it isn’t likely.  He may stay on as a backup but more likely the Bears go hunting for Garza’s real replacement.

Eben Britton – T – Re-sign:  Yes

He may not have started any games but Eben Britton was a highly valuable blocker for the Bears throughout the season and a capable backup.  He may try to land a starting job elsewhere, but he should get an extension as the permanent swing tackle in Chicago.

Jonathan Scott – T – Re-sign:  No

The Bears will want to keep getting young on the offensive line and that means cutting loose older veterans.  Jonathan Scott was a nice depth piece but he’s getting old and had trouble staying healthy last year.

Dante Rosario – TE – Re-sign:  Yes

Trading for him proved fruitful.  Dante Rosario is not a starting tight end but he’s an able backup who lends his talent most to the special teams where he proved a fine addition.  He should get some kind of short-term deal.

Henry Melton – DT – Re-sign:  Yes

This is probably the toughest decision upcoming for the Chicago Bears brass.  Henry Melton is still young despite coming off a torn ACL and they could really use him to reinvigorate the lifeless defensive tackle position.  The question will be how much he demands in free agency.  In the end he’ll find no teams willing to pay his price.

Landon Cohen – DT – Re-sign:  No

There really isn’t much to say.  He was a late addition off the free agent heap and didn’t do much other than take up a roster spot.

Nate Collins – DT – Re-sign:  No

When Melton went down, Nate Collins stepped in and performed admirably but he’s getting older and coming off a torn ACL himself now.  Unless he accepts the veteran minimum it’s not likely he stays.

Jeremiah Ratliff – DT – Re-sign:  Yes

It didn’t save the day but Emery was right when he brought in Jeremiah Ratliff after the Cowboys cut him.  The four-time Pro Bowler got better as the season went on and could recapture his old form in 2014.  Chicago will want to find out.

Corey Wootton – DE – Re-sign:  Yes

Defensive end is really hurting heading into free agency.  Part of the problem is player leaving, either for free agency or other positions.  Corey Wootton is headed for the open market, but don’t expect the Bears to let him get that far.

Cheta Ozougwu – DE – Re-sign:  No

A practice squad standout the past few seasons, Cheta Ozougwu found ways to contribute in 2013 but he’s nothing more than an emergency depth player.  It’s unlikely he’ll stick at a position that’s expected to get a makeover.

James Anderson – OLB – Re-sign:  No

He led the team in tackles, which has to count for something.  The problem is both Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic are expecting to move to outside linebacker, which essentially makes the older James Anderson expendable.

D.J. Williams – MLB – Re-sign:  Yes

At the same time Bostic moving outside opens the door for D.J. Williams to get a second chance.  He performed well at middle linebacker prior to getting hurt and though Chicago wants to get younger they may want to keep him in the middle for the time being.

Blake Costanzo – MLB – Re-sign:  No

He’s been a special teams ace for the Bears the past few years but Blake Costanzo is aging on a team trying to get younger.  His roster spot will likely be held for a rookie inside linebacker to learn behind Williams.

Charles Tillman – CB – Re-sign:  No

Another really tough decision.  The problem is Charles Tillman thinks he has options and he does.  If the Bears can’t meet his price, which it’s likely they won’t, then he has every right to leave if he wants to because they won’t franchise tag him.

Zackary Bowman – CB – Re-sign:  Yes

The thing is if Tillman does leave then it’s important the Bears hang on to Zackary Bowman.  While not a star by any means, he filled in admirably after Tillman got hurt.  Having him will provide stability until the front office can bring in some help.

Kelvin Hayden – CB – Re-sign:  No

He was a nice option at the nickel position but his ongoing injury problems have hit that point-of-no-return line.  Highly unlikely he makes an appearance in navy blue again.

Derrick Martin – CB – Re-sign:  No

He was merely a depth addition and special teams help during the season after a practice squad stint.  Don’t expect him to get much consideration.

Sherrick McManis – CB – Re-sign:  Yes

There’s a chance he’s in the same boat as Martin but Sherrick McManis is a capable enough reserve and a regular contributor on special teams.  The Bears will want to hang onto him for depth in both areas.

Major Wright – SS – Re-sign:  No

Fans better get ready because serious changes are coming to the safety position, and it will start by letting Major Wright walk in free agency.  He was too inconsistent all year both in run and pass coverage.

Craig Steltz – SS – Re-sign:  No

The same fate will await Craig Steltz.  While he is a definite special teams help, he’s just not fast and athletic enough to warrant what Phil Emery has in mind for this defense moving forward.

Anthony Walters - SS – Re-sign:  No

Another special teams helper but nothing much more than that.  He flashed on occasion in preseason but the kid isn’t athletic or disciplined enough.

Devin Hester – KR – Re-sign:  No

Dave Toub is in Kansas City and now Lovie Smith is in TampaBay.  Devin Hester wants to stay with the Chicago Bears but they may want to save his roster spot for other areas of need.  Given the options available, he’s more likely to head elsewhere.

Patrick Mannelly – LS – Re-sign:  Yes

The grizzled, old veteran endured a tough injury during the season but returned to his usual efficient form towards the stretch run.  The Bears should give him a short deal to let him finish his solid career with the same team.

Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: Charles Tillman Chicago Bears Corey Wootton D.J. Williams Henry Melton

  • Sinclair Phos

    Not much to argue with here….not a bad piece

    • Erik Lambert

      Thank you, Sinclair.

  • ElectrticBob

    Erik, great piece. Enjoyed reading it. I agree with most of your decisions but am not sure how we keep all these players with only 12.4 mil of cap space and still sign a few of the other FA’s on the market. We could release some of the players under contract who are making more than their contribution would dictate such as Peppers, Bush, Podlesh, Weems and Earl Bennett. I believe this would raise our cap space to about 28 mil. Please correct those figures if I’m wrong.
    You are right Melton is a tough one because of his age. He is entering the prime of his career. But in addition to his ACL, he has also been arrested. If he is found guilty will the league suspend him? Emery also questioned his dedication to football publicly. I think all of this will be a deal breaker for most teams driving his price down somewhat. In the end I think the Bears can only afford one of the two between Ratliff and Melton. I believe Ratliff to be the better choice because his is more flexible across defensive schemes. It is rumored that the Bears will be changing up the defense this year to either a 3-4 or a hybrid where they will need players like Ratliff who are able to play in multiple schemes. I believe they will target either Hageman or Tuitt early in the draft for the same reason – flexibility across defensive schemes.
    I would love for the Bears to keep Tillman. I thought he was playing well before the injury. For what it’s worth, he said he would retire a Bear. I’m not sure exactly how to interpret that. Hopefully a deal can be worked out. If not, I think the Bears will draft a CB. This draft is deep with corners; they could land a starter in the 3rd or 4th round.
    I would keep Steltz (league minimum). He has performed admirable as a backup and is a good special teams player.
    I’m also interested in a wild card. The Bears are very high on TE Fendi Onobun (practice squad). He has all the physical tools and athleticism but has to polish his NFL game. If he steps it up this year, Rosario could become expendable.

    • Erik Lambert

      Good points all around. Based on what I know for the moment the Bears have just shy of $6 million in cap space. If they were to cut all the above mentioned names it would bump the price up to over $22 million. It sounds like a lot but really isn’t considering how many players they likely have to sign. One thing they could do is designate Peppers as a June 1st cut which would raise the number to over $26 million. The truth is it’s going to be tough for them to fill all those spots AND get more than one solid free agent on the market. I imagine Emery will be doing a lot of scouting for some serious bargain shopping.

      I personally would love if they kept Peanut. He’s still effective, smart, and a great locker room guy. Keeping him would lessen the immediate need to get a corner. The question is how much will it cost? If he demands too much then we have to let him test the market.

      I wouldn’t mind if they kept Steltz provided they end up finding a replacement for Wright.

      Keeping Rosario would be purely for special teams purposes. I too am interested to see what happens with Onobun but the key with him is he has no special teams value, which is why he wasn’t elevated to the active roster last season.