Due to the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement, the pool of unrestricted free agents will be shallow this season, but there are still some marquee names who will hit the market starting at 11:01 p.m. Chicago time on March 4.
The Bears are not expected to be major players in any high-stakes bidding wars for elite players like Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers. But general manager Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith are both aware that another non-playoff season will punch their tickets out of town, so they will be looking to free-agency as the only way to get a quick fix for a 7-9 team that doesn’t have a first- or a second-round draft pick in April.
Angelo has said for year that he believes in having at least two quality running backs. Last year it could be argued that the Bears didn’t have any, although some of Matt Forte’s struggles must be attributed to an underachieving offensive line. Forte should bounce back this year, but backups Garrett Wolfe and Kevin Jones are both coming back from season-ending injuries, and Adrian Peterson is unrestricted and likely to leave.
The good news for the Bears is that the Steelers’ Willie Parker and the Vikings’ Chester Taylor are both scheduled to hit free agency. Both are veterans – Taylor is 30; Parker is 29 -- but both have some miles left on their treads and could be ideal complements to Forte, although both are also capable of carrying the load in case of an injury.
At wide receiver, Torry Holt’s name has been linked to the Bears since last year at this time. Holt, who was released by the Jaguars this morning, had some tremendously productive years playing for Bears new offensive coordinator Mike Martz when both were in St. Louis, but that was a long time ago.
Holt had over 1,100 yards and more than 80 catches in eight straight seasons with the Rams from 2000-07, along with 65 touchdown receptions. In 2009, Holt caught 51 passes for 722 yards and a 14.2-yard average, but he’ll be 34 before training camp starts. He might make the Bears better right now, but his presence would delay the development of the Bears’ young wide receivers, al of whom showed improvement last season.
Terrell Owens is unrestricted and still productive at 36, but is he the guy you want mentoring a young group? Probably not. The Ravens’ Derrick Mason continue to put up solid numbers, but he’s 36 and would also knock younger players with better potential down the depth chart.
There really isn’t much talent available among unrestricted offensive linemen. The very few quality ones are past their primes, and the Bears lack the draft-choice compensation to go after the better restricted free agents.
What about defense? That’s a topic for another day, but there are talented players available, especially linemen.