When looking at all the position groups so far, there could be a debate as to what needs to be done moving towards 2010. Some think the young Bears wide outs will be OK, while others want a legit #1 brought in; some are guessing the offensive line will be all right with another season to gel, while others demand some free agent replacements, and some want a big splash made at DE while others like the group they have. All good healthy debates.
But, in regards to the secondary, particularly free safety, there is no questioning the Bears need to find an actual free safety. No more talk of converting a strong safety or a corner, and no more square pegs in round holes (to steal a Jerry Angelo favorite saying). Identify a FS or two either through draft or free agency and aggressively target him. I wonder if the Bears are thinking what could have been had they signed Darren Sharper last off-season?
DEFENSIVE BACKS - As I just mentioned, I think free safety should be a priority. I wasn't as ecstatic as some fans with the play of rookie Al Afalava. I though he showed promise, but promise as a strong safety. And I wasn't as down on Kevin Payne as a lot of you were. He's has some upside, I just see him as a strong safety type as well. The Bears didn't really have a free safety on the roster (yes I know Josh Bullocks has experience at FS, he's just not that good). At corner I think they like what they have, and I tend to agree, but I do expect some changes.
Charles Tillman - Signed through 2012 - First off, let's get this out of the way. Charles Tillman is not moving to free safety. He's the best corner on the roster. He's been their best cover guy, and he'll continue to be their best cover guy. He plays hurt, he's physical, he's a solid tackler (he does go for the strip a bit more than I'd like, but that's his thing so...), he's good in zone, and when asked to man up on a receiver he comes through. He's not a lock down corner, but as mentioned on this site there are only 2 in the league, but he's a great fit for what the Bears do defensively.
Zackary Bowman - Signed through 2011 - Bowman really opened a lot of eyes in 2009. He improved as the season progressed and is someone the Bears are expecting good things from. I see no reason why he isn't starting along side Tillman again in 2010.
Nathan Vasher - Signed through 2012 - Here's what Vasher is due; next year, $2.95 million, in 2011 he's due $3.45 million, and in 2012 it jumps to $3.7 million. Is there any way he isn't cut? I don't even think he's the 3rd corner on the roster anymore. His dalliance with free safety didn't work either. He had a nice run, he got paid, but it's time to move on.
Corey Graham - Signed through 2010 - What happened to Graham? After having what I thought was a very solid 2008, he kind of fell out of favor in 2009. He was moved to free safety for a bit, then moved back to corner, but he didn't really do anything impactful all season. He is a good special teams player and as the 3rd or 4th corner his place seems secure for 2010.
D.J. Moore - Signed through 2012 - I really though Moore had the skill set to get some meaningful playing time in '09. When he slipped to the Bears in the draft I thought they had a guy that would challenge to start opposite Tillman some day. That day still could come, and maybe year two will see him make the same kind of improvement as Bowman did. I think he'll be around next year.
Woodny Turenne - Contract undisclosed - I think Turenne is an exclusive rights free agent, and I expect him to be in camp for 2010. He has good size and speed, andhe's a nice project to have around. His roster spot is far from a sure thing, but he should be able to prove himself on the field.
Al Afalava - Signed through 2012 - Whether at free safety or strong safety I thought Afalava played OKas a rookie. I'm not ready to anoint him as anything more than a player with some upside at this point. And I'd rather he not play FS next year. Most players make their biggest jump in productivity from year 1 to year 2, so hopefully he'll make strides in 2010 and take control of the SS position.
Kevin Payne - Signed through 2010 - Payne saw his numbers decrease across the board last year. Here's another guy that has seen time at FS and SS, but he's a better fit at SS. I like him as a player and I think he could grow into a limited (i.e. reserve) role at FS. His ability to play both safety spots and special teams should keep him around in 2010.
Craig Steltz - Signed through 2011 - The Bears just have too many strong safeties on the roster. If the Bears address free safety in the off-season (as I expect them to do) Steltz could get caught up in a numbers crunch and end up released.
Danieal Manning - Restricted free agent - I wonder if they are finally just going to leave Manning alone at nickle-back? He seems to be a good fit there. He has the speed to play free safety, he's just never been able to lock the spot down. Maybe if he weren't shuffled around from safety, to corner, to nickle-back, and back a few times he would have been the "guy". If by some crazy way the CBA is agreed upon, Manning would be an unrestricted FA, but as it stands now I think he'll be back.
Josh Bullocks - Restricted free agent - Bullocks in in the same boat as Manning, if the CBA gets done, he'll be unrestricted. But either way I don't see him returning.
2010 DB OUTLOOK - I would not be surprised to see the Bears target a free safety in the draft and in free agency. Because even with as much as Lovie Smith claims the safety position is interchangeable in his system, it's clear no one on the roster has had any success at free safety. I'd expect the Bears to draft a corner at some point as well.
Of the posible free agents the Bears could pursue, Darren Sharper will be available, again. He'll no doubt want multiple years, but at 34 years old is he worth the investment? Does the Steelers Ryan Clark do anything for you? There aren't very many unrestricted FS's on the market, many that are very good that is. And I don't see the Bears making a play for any restricted free agents. But for arguments sake, here are a few restricted players out there; Nick Collins of Green Bay, O.J. Atogwe of the Rams, and Antoine Bethea (who has played free safety in the past) of the Colts.
The Bears should look to draft a FS, maybe even with their top pick (3rd round). Popular WCG topic Kam Chancellor is an intriguing prospect. At 6'3" 232, he has the build of a strong safety (or even a Tampa 2 linebacker), but according to the scouting reports I read he did play FS his last two years at Virginia Tech. Opinions vary to his draft status (at least one WCG reader thinks he's the bee's knees), with NFLDraftscout.com listing him as a 3rd-4th round pick (with the arrow pointing up), WalterFootball.com (as of their mid January rankings) has him as with 7th round-FA potential, NFLDraftDog.com has him as a 5th rounder, and DraftSite.com has him as a 4th rounder. He is listed as a potential 2nd rounder by CollegeFootballNews.com, but that's at strong safety... But, wouldn't that make him more attractive to the Bears since they seem to always draft a SS then try to make him a FS...
I'll get into more specific draft weekend targets at a later date, but it's a sure bet free safety will be a high priority in the Bears War Room.