I graded the new and improved coaching staff for the Chicago Bears pretty highly in part one of my off-season recap. Do the additions the team made in free agency match up?
While free agency technically isn’t over, the Bears have already made all of their major moves. Those moves were nearly perfect in my book.
There aren’t many drawbacks to note other than Brian Urlacher leaving town. Surprisingly, he still hasn’t caught on with another team since being let go nearly two months ago. Apparently, the Baltimore Ravens are the favorites to sign him.
Adjusting to life without Urlacher may be tough, but not impossible. Phil Emery brought in a slue of low risk/high reward veterans to help ease that transition on the defensive side.
The most notable add-ons were linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson, who both signed short term deals. While they are basically serving as a bridge for the next wave of dominant linebackers in Chicago, they form a damn good bridge.
Williams has had some off the field issues (DUI, failed drug test), but he is a former defensive co-captain of the Denver Broncos and was a first round draft pick from the University of Miami in 2004. He has an excellent pedigree and has shown flashes of brilliance in his years in Denver. At only 30 years old, Williams has a chance to stick in the Bears linebacker rotation with a solid showing this season, which is something I fully expect from him.
James Anderson manned an outside linebacker spot for the last seven seasons in Carolina before signing with the Bears. He’s contributed on 100+ tackles in two of the past three seasons and he will be turning 30 years old in September, meaning he’s still in his physical prime like Williams. A starting corps of Lance Briggs, Williams, and Anderson will stack up with any team in the league if they all play to their potential.
The Bears also resigned defensive tackle Henry Melton, which was huge. Melton was a Pro Bowler last season and a steadying force on the interior. With Israel Idonije’s resigning an uncertainty, Stephen Paea still on the mend, and Shea McClellin entering his sophomore season, Melton and Julius Peppers will serve as anchors while the rest of the line settles in around them.
I would’ve liked to see Emery take on a few more guys in the secondary, but the money just wasn’t there. The cornerback market was absolutely loaded with talent, and some low-cost veterans like LaRon Landry and Adrian Wilson were available at safety. But with the small amount of cash the Bears had, they felt other needs were more pressing, and they did a damn good job at filling those needs first.
While the Bears did their shopping in the bargain isle for the defense, they shelled out big money to bolster the offense. The two biggest signings came at the two biggest areas of need: Jermon Bushrod at offensive tackle and Martellus Bennett at tight end. As evident by their long-term contracts, these guys are key cogs in the franchise’s plans moving forward.
Bushrod is a two-time Pro Bowler who protected Drew Brees’ blindside for the past four seasons in New Orleans. After being a bench player for the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Bushrod was pressed into action due to an injury and exceeded all expectations. He’ll be reunited with Offensive Coordinator Aaron Kromer, who presided over the Saint’s offensive line since Bushrod assumed the starting duties there.
Bennett is joining his third franchise in six years, but he provides the Bears with the receiving target from the tight end position that the Bears have desperately needed for years. He has enough speed and height to create matchup nightmares in the secondary, and he will serve as a safety valve for Jay Cutler in short yardage and goal line situations. He can also pass and run block well. As a former second round pick, Bennett has extraordinary upside which I think he will fulfill as a Bear.
The combination of huge improvements on offense and addressing the most pressing needs on defense warrants an A- grade for the free agency period. With the money they had, the Bears did an incredible job. I would’ve liked to see an addition in the secondary, and possibly a speedy slot wide receiver, but those are minor gripes.
The thing that looms the largest for these new free agents: potential. Williams, Anderson, Bennett, and Bushrod all have very high ceilings, the key is reaching them.