Bears free-agency primer: Analyzing needs, targets and whom they could lose
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Monday marks the start of the NFL’s official tampering period, a two-day window during which teams can negotiate with agents — but not players — before free agency opens at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Here’s what the Bears need, whom they figure to target and which players they might lose.
The Bears had $65.6 million to spend last year, the fifth-most in the NFL. They’re down to $17.4 million this year, according to the NFL Players Association’s public salary-cap report. Only 10 teams have less cap space.
Ranking the Bears’ needs
- Specialists: For reasons both practical and psychological, the Bears absolutely must fix their kicker problem. They need to find a kicker they trust — be it through free agency, the draft or both — to replace Cody Parkey, who will be cut Wednesday. Punter Pat O’Donnell will be a free agent, too.
- Safety: The abundance of veterans on the market means the Bears have options if they can’t keep Adrian Amos at a price they want.
- Cornerback: Whether they re-sign Bryce Callahan or look elsewhere, the Bears need a slot cornerback to team with Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara.
- Running back: Jordan Howard was an odd fit in his first season in coach Matt Nagy’s offense and is entering the final season of his contract. Nagy doesn’t lean on bellcows the way John Fox did, so the Bears will look for a versatile piece.
- Outside linebacker: With Aaron Lynch hitting free agency and Sam Acho cut, the Bears need an edge rusher to cycle in behind Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd.
- Wide receiver: Kevin White and Josh Bellamy are free agents. Even with promising Javon Wims entering his second season, the Bears could use another pass-catcher.
- Tight end: Look for the Bears to pursue a veteran blocker after cutting Dion Sims.
- Offensive line: All five starters will return, but the Bears’ three veteran backups are set to hit free agency.
- Inside linebacker: Starter Danny Trevathan and backup Nick Kwiatkoski are entering the final season of their contracts.
- Defensive line: Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman were anchors last season, and Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris showed promise.
- Quarterback: With Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel in the fold, the Bears’ interest likely will be limited to an undrafted free agent.
Bears on the market
Here are the Bears who are available this offseason, either as unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents or exclusive-rights free agents. The Bears have the right of first refusal on restricted free agents, and exclusive-rights free agents can’t negotiate with other teams.
All the below are unrestricted free agents, unless otherwise noted, with their 2018 average annual value, per Spotrac.com:
Running back: Benny Cunningham ($1.05M), FB Michael Burton ($616,089)
Wide receiver: Kevin White ($4.14M), Josh Bellamy ($1.97M)
Tight end: Daniel Brown ($925,000), Ben Braunecker (RFA, $540,000), Zach Miller ($790,000)
Offensive line: G Eric Kush ($1.35M), G Bryan Witzmann ($790,000), OT Rashaad Coward (ERFA, $510,000)
Defensive line: Roy Robertson-Harris (ERFA, $542,333), Nick Williams ($705,000)
Outside linebacker: Aaron Lynch ($4M), Isaiah Irving (ERFA, $510,000)
Cornerback: Bryce Callahan ($1.97M), Marcus Williams ($790,000)
Safety: Adrian Amos ($628,070), DeAndre Houston-Carson (ERFA, $585,000)
Punter: Pat O’Donnell ($1.5M)
Long snapper: Patrick Scales (RFA, $630,000)
Previously cut: TE Dion Sims ($6M) and OLB Sam Acho ($1.97M). K Cody Parkey ($3.75M) will be cut Wednesday.
The Bears won’t overspend at safety — they know they’ll have to extend Eddie Jackson next year — but they’ll have options if they can’t re-sign Adrian Amos at the right price. A glut of big-name safeties are hitting the free-agent market:
- Landon Collins (Giants): His combination of skill and youth — he’s 25 and has made three Pro Bowls — makes him the most alluring (and expensive) safety on the market.
- Earl Thomas (Seahawks): The six-time Pro Bowl player turns 30 in May.
- Tyrann Mathieu (Texans): The 26-year-old ‘‘Honey Badger’’ is a ballhawk, and the Bears already have one.
- Lamarcus Joyner (Rams): He played last season on the franchise tag.
- Tashaun Gipson (Jaguars): After stints with the Browns and Jaguars, might he value playing for a contender?
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Redskins): The 26-year-old spent 3.5 seasons with the Packers.
- Kenny Vaccaro (Titans): Bears GM Ryan Pace was in the Saints’ front office when they made him a first-round pick.
- Clayton Geathers (Colts): He played under new Bears coordinator Chuck Pagano with the Colts.
- Darian Stewart (Broncos): He has started at least 13 games in each of the last five seasons but will turn 31 in August.
- Jahleel Addae (Chargers): The 29-year-old box safety was cut Saturday after starting 32 games the last two seasons.
Kicking the tires
Only four available kickers made more field goals than Cody Parkey did last season. Two — the Texans’ Ka’imi Fairbairn and the Saints’ Wil Lutz — are restricted free agents, which means their teams would have the right to match any offer. The other two — the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and the Jets’ Jason Myers — are expected to get the largest free-agent hauls.
Because the Bears still have to pay Parkey not to kick for them next season, they don’t figure to swim in deep financial waters. Cheaper options include the Panthers’ Chandler Catanzaro, former Falcons kicker Matt Bryant and the Vikings’ Dan Bailey.
Rush to judgment
The Bears have made no secret of their desire for versatility in their running backs room. Here are some veterans who could fit that bill:
- Le’Veon Bell (Steelers): He’s got baggage, having sat out all last season in a contract dispute, and the Bears probably can’t afford him, anyway. Still, he caught 85 passes in 2017.
- Tevin Coleman (Falcons): The Oak Forest alum caught 32 passes for 276 yards last season. He shares an agent with Jordan Howard. Would his agent steer him to take another client’s job?
- T.J. Yeldon (Jaguars): He caught 55 passes for 487 yards last season.
- Mark Ingram (Saints): General manager Ryan Pace was with the Saints when they drafted the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, who caught 58 passes for 416 yards in 2017.
- Bilal Powell (Jets): He caught 58 passes for 388 yards in 2016.
The Callahan question
Bryce Callahan might have been the best slot cornerback in the NFL last season. His 0.69 yards allowed per coverage snap in the slot were the fewest in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. So he must have smiled when the Ravens gave star nickel back Tavon Young a three-year deal worth $25.8 million — with $13 million guaranteed — last month.
‘‘This is a record-setting number,’’ coach John Harbaugh said.
Callahan won’t get that much because he has yet to last a full season because of injury. But if he wants to get close, it might prove too rich for the Bears’ liking.