So the first wave of NFL free agency is over. Teams that have immediately made their mark, for better or worse, include Cleveland (re-signing Derek Anderson and Jamal Lewis, the additions of Donte Stallworth and Corey Williams); Philadelphia (signing of Asante Samuel and the acquisition of Chris Clemons); and New Orleans (signing of Randall Gay, re-signing of Devery Henderson and Mark Simeneau, and the trade for Jonathan Vilma). Other big additions included Alan Faneca going to the NY Jets, DeShaun Foster headed to San Francisco, Kawika Mitchell going to Buffalo, and the Jacksonville Jaguars re-igniting their passing attack with Cleo Lemon, Troy Williamson and Jerry Porter!!! *(*–Now Watch Me Jock does not guarantee said re-ignition.)
But what about the Bears?
Honestly, I’m guardedly optimistic about what they have done so far. This isn’t to say that I’m pleased about where they stand at the moment; Mark Bradley does not foster giddyness in a season ticket holder as a team’s number 1 option at receiver. Neither does having 3/5 of an offensive line. But if you take a look at the moves the Bears have made thus far, things could be worse. Seriously.
—Bernard Berrian, WR: Signed with Minnesota for 6 years, $42 million. While the Bears receiving corps is presently in shambles, I wouldn’t have wanted Berrian for this money. He’s a solid receiver, and maybe he will be a number 1 option in the future. And the fact that he’s going to a division rival doesn’t thrill me. But then again, its not like I’ll be worried about Berrian twice a year. There is already another guy on that offense that has my undivided attention, and its not Tarvaris Jackson. But that $7 million a year, including $16 million guaranteed, would be better used to sign a less expensive free agent receiver and/or re-signing guys on the defense like Brian Urlacher later this year or Tommie Harris next year.
—Lance Briggs, LB: Re-signed with Bears, 6 years for $36 million. This is a steal. Briggs was the best player on the defense for some of last year, and while he might not be as great as he thinks he is, when healthy he is the perfect outside linebacker in the Bears’ Cover 2 scheme. And the fact that the Bears got Briggs for only $6 million a year with a relatively paltry $12 million up front shows that the linebacker knows he is best in the scheme, next to #54 and behind a top-five defensive tackle like Harris. With this surprise re-signing, the Bears know that at least its defensive front seven will be decent if healthy.
—Muhsin Muhammed, WR: Signs with Carolina after being released by Bears. I would of driven Moose to the airport and carried his luggage to security. The guy came to Chicago after a ridiculous 2004 in which he accounted for over 1400 yards and 16 TD, signing a lucrative free agent deal to become the playmaker the Bears needed on offense. During training camp that year, he spoke to the local media at length about being the leader and big play maker the offense has needed since……shit, I don’t know……Walter? Neal Anderson? In three seasons, Muhammed accounted for 164 catches and 2183 yards with a grand total of 12 touchdowns. Sure, his quarterbacks weren’t great, but by the middle of his second season in Chicago, it became painfully aware that Moose had shot his wad in 2004 and now was nothing better than a 2 or 3, possession-type wideout. Also, his claim to be a leader was nothing but bullshit, as he consistently threw his quarterback–whether it be Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton or Brian Griese–under the bus during and after games. Good riddance, Moose.
—Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton, QB: Re-signed to one year contract extensions. Obviously, the knee-jerk reaction, especially nationwide, was one of surprise that the Bears would re-sign these two, especially Grossman. But if you look at things objectively–instead of taking the easy way out and blaming everything on the quarterback–you’ll notice that both of these quarterbacks are good enough to compete if the team surrounding them is strong. Its true that I am a Rex backer, but to be honest, I would rather see Orton win this job out of training camp this year. I think Orton has showed to be less mistake-prone in his starts, and while Grossman’s ceiling is higher, I think Orton is a better fit for this team. Especially now, with the lack of offensive punch on this roster. Another reason these were good signings is that there were no better options. Unless the Bears were going to make a ridiculous offer to Derek Anderson, what free agent quarterback that is/was available is far and away better than these two? Todd Collins? Cleo Lemon? No. Better to just stick it out with these two, release or trade Griese, and see what happens in 2008.
—Alex Brown, DE: Re-signed to 2-year deal. I love this move, as Brown solidified himself as the better all-around defensive end when compared to Mark Anderson, the second-year man who took his job in 2007. Its obvious that a 3-man rotation at defensive end, with Anderson playing primarily in passing situations, is the way to go.
So what do the Bears still need to do? Its obvious they need a free-agent wide receiver. Bradley and Devin Hester are third and fourth options, at best, on a decent offense. Javon Walker is looking for a new home and should be affordable considering he is coming off two injury-plagued, subpar seasons. Bryant Johnson has spent his first three seasons as the third receiver in Arizona, working the slot behind Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Is he ready to be a primary target? Probably not, but he’s a sight better than Bradley. Other free agent options include DJ Hackett, Marty Booker, Brandon Lloyd, Justin McCareins, and Nate Washington (forget about Randy Moss, people). At least one, if not two or three, of the guys mentioned in this section better have a Bears jersey on in 2008, or its going to be an ugly season.
The two areas I expect to be addressed in the draft are offensive line and running back. Unless one of the big three running backs (Darren McFadden, Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Stewart) fall to the Bears at #14, expect the team to go with an offensive tackle. As long as the Bears go with an offensive lineman or two (or three) in the draft, along with a running back somewhere and perhaps a signal caller on the second day, the team is in about as good of a position as it can be.
Its probably going to be an ugly season, but try to seperate the dispair you feel when looking at the team as currently constructed and the feeling when looking at the moves the team has made thus far. Like I said, so far so good.