OK, it's official. The readers of Windy City Gridiron have spoken. In an article posted Monday by Kev, he put it to a poll; What is the Chicago Bears absolute biggest need? And with over total 900 votes cast, and with 26% of the vote, ahead of the 21% defensive end garnered, free safety comes out on top. I can't say I'm surprised. It's what I voted. My thought is if you don't have one on the roster it's gotta be a pretty big need.
I've already touched on the subject a couple times, here, and here. So after the jump I'll get into a few other options the Bears have in finding an actual free safety to roam the secondary in Lovie Smith's Tampa 2.
While the news that the New Orleans Saints will not slap the Franchise Tag on Darren Sharper could be considered good for Bears fans, I don't see him as someone the Bears would pursue. They could have had him last year yet passed, and now he's a year older and... Signing him just doesn't have a Bears feel to it. I think he'd be a great couple year stop gap until they could find a younger and better replacement (maybe with their #1 draft pick in 2011), but I'd be real surprised if Jerry Angelo goes that route. Honestly I'd be surprised if the Bears looked for a free safety in the free agent pool at all. One, because there isn't much in there, and two, I think they feel that can draft a guy that could come in and start for them. And let's not forget option three, where the arrogance of the Bears staff feels they have their FS on the roster. Shudder...
After initially not being very high on possibly going after Ryan Clark of the Steelers, I've had a change of heart. Basically because anyone that has played the position would be an upgrade for Chicago. Clark played in 15 games last year picking off 3 passes and making 89 tackles. The Steelers want him to return and he'd like to be a Steeler, but if they can't work out a deal the Bears may get a bid in.
The only other option I can see among the unrestricted free agents is Will Allen of the Buccaneers. But I see him more like a Josh Bullocks type signing. He's has some experience at free safety, he's just not very good.
With the CBA not resolved it really put a damper on the free agent pool. And with the Bears not having their first or second round picks this year, it really takes them out of making a play for any of the restricted free agents. The Bears best bet will be to find a free safety in the draft.
After getting laughed at with their 2009 7th round selection of Al Afalava by most "experts", the Bears got the last laugh with him seeing significant playing time as a rookie. The Bears could find their guy with a late draft pick. It could happen... Here are a few more prospects to keep an eye out for...
Jonathon Amaya of Nevada, who will be at the NFL Combine, is known as a speed guy. He's run the forty in the 4.4 vicinity. And he was voted 2nd team all WAC. He's another guy that played in the Texas vs The Nation college all-star game. Most draft sites have him as a 7th rounder at best, but if he tests well in Indy he could get himself noticed.
All Mountain West 1st teamer Robert Johnson from Utah is an intriguing prospect. He ran some track in junior college, he is known for his center-fieldlike skills while playing zone coverage, but his slight frame may scare away some teams. He is 6'2", but only 197 pounds. We'll have to see how he tests out at his pro day (March 8). as he wasn't invited to the combine. NFLDraftscout.com has him rated as a 5th-6th round prospect.
Nick Polk of Indiana, or DB39, as he'll be known at the combine is said to have a strong safety build (5'11" 213 and an affinity for the weight room), but with free safety speed. As a redshirt freshman in 2006 he started 9 games at wide receiver. Some sites have him going undrafted and others have him around the 5th-6th round.
Southern Mississippi FS Eddie Hicks has 38 consecutive starts and 13 career interceptions. He's another rangy center-field type that could use some added bulk (6'2" 188), but claims to be able to consistently run under 4.5 for his forty. He also didn't get the combine invite (his pro day is March 22), but he's working on his speed with 1992 Olympic sprinter Ed Lovelace.
My perfect scenario would be for the Bears to sign Sharper to a 2 year deal, and then draft a FS to groom into the roll. But as I don't expect the Bears to drop the cash to sign a free agent, I hope they draft at least 2 legitimate free safeties.