Wednesday, March 05, 2008

2008 Free Agency: The Good, The Bad, and the Bears

This is a continuation of last night's post, which considered the top, or bottom, losers so far in free agency. "The good" was covered with a post on the top three teams, followed by a post with another three teams, in which my less-is-more philosophy became readily apparent.

So where did I leave off? Ah, yes, the Bears, whose work in free agency has been heavily criticized by just about everybody, including their great fans. But while it hasn't been pretty, I stopped short of including them among the biggest losers in free agency so far.

I don't think the Bears' situation is as bad as it looks. So what can Jerry Angelo be thinking? First of all, he brought Lance Briggs back, so let's give him some props for that. But alright, I know, defense isn't the problem: it's all of the holes on offense. So let's get to it.

There wasn't a reliable quarterback to bring in this off-season. No one significantly better than Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton was walking through that door. Those two aren't very good, but they know the system that's in place giving them the edge over anyone else who might have been brought in. What's that mean? Well, not a lot of passing probably.

In Greg Olsen the Bears have a young tight end with great speed who can stretch the field; in Desmond Clark they have a solid veteran tight end who has really performed well the past two years. More two–tight-end sets ought to follow. It suits the personnel and would mean even fewer passes to the wide receivers. Not re-signing Bernard Berrian looks bad now, but in the long run, well, that was a lot of money the Vikings threw at a guy who isn't a proven number one receiver. So not bringing Berrian back isn't necessarily a bad move. And the other wide receiver spot has actually been modestly upgraded from the overrated Muhsin Muhammad to Marty Booker. Devin Hester, Rashied Davis, and Mark Bradley understandably don't make the fan base comfortable, but in limited roles they could be adequate. And the Bears still can make a play for a second-tier free agent like Jabar Gaffney, Bryant Johnson, D.J. Hackett or Javon Walker, any of whom would be an affordable upgrade over the players above.

As far as the offensive line, there simply wasn't a stud tackle to be had among the free agents. To shore up the interior, they could have made a play for former Titan guard Jacob Bell who recently signed with the Rams (a nice signing by them). But if the Bears have confidence in Josh Beekman—I know I had confidence in him as a prospect coming out of Boston College last year—then maybe the idea is to spend a little less and just try to bring someone in to compete with Beekman for the starting left guard spot. Former Dolphin Rex Hadnot would probably be my choice, but maybe ex-Seahawk Floyd Womack can do better in a new locale. Another, more expensive possibility: the Ravens only gave restricted free agent Jason Brown the second-round tender. Brown is a good young lineman who received Dr. Z's vote for the 2007 All-Pro team. Z watches linemen more closely than any other AP voter and until I get my blocker rating system in place, I'll defer to his rankings more often than not. If the Bears aren't sold on Beekman then they should make a play for Brown. He's a known quantity, whereas any second-round or other draft pick is, at best, an educated guess. As for the tackle spot, Vanderbilt's Chris Williams is going to be awfully tempting if he's still on the board when the Bears pick at fourteen.

If the Bears, don't have the quarterback to put up a good passing attack, and aren't going to invest heavily in a number one receiver because of that, then they need to upgrade their running back situation. After three seasons, 2005 fourth overall pick Cedric Benson appears to be a bust. Adrian Peterson is a competent, all-purpose backup, but not as good when he starts for stretches at a time. The diminutive Garrett Wolfe is a scat back who needs to get the ball out in space in order to have success, and I don't envision a long career for him. Help can certainly be had in the draft, even if they don't take Rashard Mendenhall in round one as I have them doing in my mock draft.

So while the Bears haven't helped themselves too much this off-season, they did take a major step in keeping their good defense intact. And given the limited ability to significantly improve their passing game because of the lack of quality options available at quarterback and offensive tackle, the Bears are wise to proceed with caution and not blow a lot of cap space for moves that, at best, would only marginally help them. Less is more in free agency. And patience—it's true—is a virtue.

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