Checking in with the Bears Up Coming Free Agents
The Bears have a number of players going into contract years and some tough decisions will have to be made about who stays and who may be allowed to leave. There are limited resources to go around and this assessment is based on what has happened so far this season.
I have also tried to provide a comparable contract from free agency last season. The years and total dollar amount may vary, but the contract should be somewhere in this price range.
Week 2 Priority List
1. QB Jay Cutler [Tony Romo: 6 years 108 million]
I am not ready to hand Cutler 100 million just yet, but he has shown us a number of things that we all wanted before the season. He has shown a better attitude and looks like he is taking a more positive and active leadership role. He has made plays and won games with a couple of 4th quarter comebacks and QB ratings in the high 90s. He has also responded from mistakes. In the past we have seen Cutler fall apart and 1 interception turns into 3-4 and a loss, and this season has been different to this point. I do not think Cutler is a 20 million dollar a year QB, but then again neither is Flacco, and I think his inconsistencies make him more of a Tony Romo 17 million a season guy.
2. OG Matt Slauson [Donald Thomas: 4 years 14 million]
This may surprise people, but if you want to talk about the best value for the Bears in free agency this year it is probably Matt Slauson. Slauson has been a revelation at LG with solid pass protection, physical run blocking, and an attitude that fits with the new group. There is a ton of value in keeping the line together and growing, and Slauson is earning new money. Thomas and Slauson are both solid, unspectacular starting OGs in the league.
3. DE Cory Wootton [Carlos Dunlap: 6 years 40 million]
I believe that the Bears need to move on after the season from Julius Peppers who is declining and makes 17 million next season, money that could be better spent on younger players. If Peppers goes and with McClellin not showing he can start the Bears need to keep a young DE with emmerging production and a ton of physical ability. Wootton is a 3 down DE who is good against the run and can rush the passer and you do not let those guys leave before they turn 30. Wootton and Dunlap are both high upside, 3 down DEs that are entering their prime. Health concerns may keep me from giving Wootton 6 years but 6-7 million seems like a fair salary.
4. CB Charles Tillman [Ed Reed: 3 years 15 million]
This spot does not mean that he is going to be the 4th highest paid player on the list, but he is a huge priority for the Bears to bring back. Tillman is still playing at a high level and he is the heart beat of the defense and his big plays secure games for the Bears. The Bears may have to let a CB go, while they develop younger players, and Tillman offers more ability to cover #1 WRs while a young guy develops. Reed and Tillman are both aging veterans who can still play, but age reduces the number.
5. DT Henry Melton [Desond Bryant: 5 year 34 million]
This is not an indictment of Melton’s ability, but more of his play to this point in the season. His value for the Bears is clear, but that is based on past production, not what is happening right now. Right now Melton is being out played by much cheaper options in Paea, who has been dominant, and Collins who has looked much better than last season. If Melton wants big money he needs to be a big impact on the games. Melton deserves more than Bryant, but his market is not in the Geno Atkins range in my opinion.  Before people go ballistic I expect Melton to climb this list weekly as the season progresses.
6. CB Tim Jennings [Dunta Robinson: 3 years 15 million]
Jennings is a high priority for the Bears because he continues to get better and make plays. Jennings is a great complimentary CB and if the Bears can sign him for a reasonable contract they should bring him back. I worry that Jennings may be the victim of the big contracts that are going to be handed out ahead of him. Robinson and Jennings are both #2 CBs with limitations, but they deserve starter money and in this market that is 5 million a season.
7. S Major Wright [Morgan Burnett: 5 years 26 million]
Major Wright has his weaknesses and he has some injury issues, but the truth remains when he and Conte start beside each other the Bears usually win and force turnovers. If the Bears can keep the continuity I think it is worth exploring. I might not pay Wright as much as Burnett, who I think it more dynamic, but he is a young player who has shown he can start in the league and for this defense and his 92 tackles and 4 Ints would be tough to replace.
8. LB James Anderson [Rey Mualuaga: 2 years 6 million]
Anderson has been awesome, but he gets pushed down the list because of the youth at LB and the fact that Briggs is going to be here for a couple more years. Anderson has played very well and if the Bears can bring him back on a decent deal I would listen. If Bostic takes over and can cover Anderson becomes a 2 down LB, much like Mualuaga.
9. KR Devin Hester [Leon Washington: 1 year 1.3 million]
I was one that advocated for Hester to be gone before the season. But he continues to flash and 250 yards against the Vikings was awesome to see and could be indicative of a more confident Hester. If he continues at this pace I would offer him a deal for about what he makes now. Hester no matter what is not a priority if the money can be used for guys above him on the list. Hester may get more than Washington and I would give him 2-3 years, but you cannot over pay for a kick returner.

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