Breaking down the Bears’ free-agent needs on offense
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Former Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase said that at times, he would wonder what could have been. The offense he ran for one season was marred by injuries.
From rookie receiver Kevin White’s season-ending shin surgery to receiver Alshon Jeffery’s neverending leg ailments to running back Matt Forte’s sprained knee and so on, there were so many to plan around.
“It would have been interesting to see how well we could have done offensively,” Gase said. “Alshon was such a difference-maker, and then we lost Matt for three games.
“Just having Kevin would have been interesting to see what would have happened with those two guys [Jeffery and White] outside with [slot receiver] Eddie [Royal].
“With those kinds of scenarios, it would have been a fun experience. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way.”
Gase’s point is that the Bears’ offense had playmakers last year, and it still does for the 2016 season, despite some notable changes to the roster.
With Gase leaving for the Dolphins, new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains will put the offensive puzzle together, but plenty of good, promising pieces remain.
With the NFL’s negotiation window for free agency opening Monday, here’s a look at the Bear’s offensive breakdown:
* 2015 offensive rankings: Total: 21. Scoring: 23.
* 2015 Pro Bowl player: Right tackle Kyle Long (alternate).
* Notable free agents: Running back Matt Forte (will not be re-signed), left tackle Jermon Bushrod (released), tight end Zach Miller, center Will Montgomery, guard Vladimir Ducasse, receiver Marc Mariani, running back Jacquizz Rodgers.
* Top five salary-cap hits for 2016: Quarterback Jay Cutler ($17 million), receiver Alshon Jeffery ($14.6 million franchise tag), tight end Martellus Bennett ($6.31 million), receiver Eddie Royal ($4.5 million), kicker Robbie Gould ($4.1 million).
* Draft picks on roster: 10 — White, center Hroniss Grasu, running back Jeremy Langford, lineman Tayo Fabuluje (2015); running back Ka’Deem Carey, quarterback David Fales, left tackle Charles Leno (2014); Long, receiver Marquess Wilson (2013); Jeffery (2012).
The Bears’ free-agent spending started last week when the franchise tag was used on Jeffery. With a $14.6 million price tag and negotiations on a long-term deal ongoing, it’s unlikely that the Bears will spend more on another player in free agency.
Jeffery struggled with injuries last season, but the Bears still learned how valuable he is to their offense and in the league.
“We’ve seen enough of him — albeit we’d like to have seen him more, but that’s part of football — and we’re willing to take that risk,” coach John Fox said at the NFL combine. “When he’s been healthy, we’ve liked his production and what he brings to our team.”
When general manager Ryan Pace speaks of having “a lot of needs,” the Bears’ defense is what comes to mind. It’s a group that could possibly feature several new starters despite its relative success last season.
The offense is a different story. There’s already a strong influx of young players. The Bears aren’t re-signing Forte because they believe in what’s ahead for Langford and Carey. They released veteran left tackle Jermon Bushrod because Charles Leno Jr. won them over.
Overall, Pace can look at Jeffery, White, Royal, Wilson, Langford and Carey and feel good about the offensive playmakers he already has on his roster. Pace can also look at the current makeup of the line — Long, Leno, Grasu and veteran left guard Matt Slasuon — and see only one hole to plug.
Quarterback? It’s full steam ahead with Cutler. If the Bears are going to add a quarterback this offseason, it will come in the draft.
That doesn’t mean Pace will ignore the offense in free agency. He won’t. The Bears will add to it, and their plan should start with finding a new tight end, veteran help at running back and a quality lineman or two.
Tight end is the one position worth spending money on because of Bennett’s situation and a lackluster draft class.
The Bears are in the process of saying goodbye to Bennett, who has one year remaining on his contract and is looking for a new deal. The hope is that a trade can be reached for the talented, but mercurial tight end.
Few tight ends offer as much as Bennett does as a player, but moving on from his problematic ways is viewed as the best course of action. The Colts set the market, re-signing Dwayne Allen to a four-year deal worth a reported $29.4 million. Allen had 16 catches last year. Coby Fleener (Colts) and Ladarius Green (Chargers) are the best available.
The Bears would like to re-sign tight end Zach Miller — “We like Zach,” Pace said at the combine — but they are waiting to see what the free-agent market truly holds for him.
Miller’s real value — not what his agent Drew Rosenhaus, who also represents Allen, is saying at the moment — will be determined over the next few days. Pace is OK with that. It’s part of the process.
“I understand that’s the case with a lot of these positions,” Pace said.
But again, that’s not many positions on offense. Pace said he wants to be “selective,” “cautious,” and “mindful” in free agency, and he really can be when targeting players for the offense.
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