We all agree: A high caliber FS is the next top priority. I've been looking at what we could do and decided to share my thoughts in the ramblings below.
With regards to our starting 2010 free safety, there are three fundamental options:
1. The guy is already on our roster
2. There is a veteran we can acquire either via free agency or trade
3. We hit a home run in the draft and get an immediate starter.
Starting with option 3. Let's be realistic: If we had a first round pick we could take a shot at a Berry, Thomas or Mays, I'd say go for it. But, we don't. With our first pick only coming in the third round, there is no way we can go into the season with a plan to find our starter in the draft. We can still draft a player, of course, but it can't be our primary option.
So, it really comes down to getting a vet via FA or trade or going with someone currently on the roster. In my view, when selecting a Free Agent or trade option, there are several key considerations:
1. This player MUST be considered the starter going into the official off-season. There is no point in the Bears signing veteran "depth" at the safety position. Our existing roster is chock full of mediocre veteran DB depth and there is no point in adding more.
2. Cost: I have no idea what the Bears have left in the ol' account but I suspect a clear starter will cost us at least $5M and possibly up to $7M. The cost of a trade is either more draft picks (this year and/or next) and/or another player of value-- Olsen, Hester, Vasher one of our younger LBs, etc.
3. Age: Ideally, we can find a player who can start immediately AND be around for several years in order to provide some stability at the position. We just signed three 30+ year old free agents and we were a relatively old team already with many of our best players past their primes (Url, Pnut, Kreutz, Brown, Tommie maybe even Briggs, etc) I'm not saying that we MUST find a 28 year old but we should give that some weighting as well.
4. Skills and Fit: Lastly, we should look at guys who fit our system and have the skills that we need in a FS- including smarts. I firmly believe that a key role for our FS is to quarterback the secondary and for that to happen you need a guy who can learn quickly and be a leader.
Here are some of the options that have been discussed so far this off-season:
1. Atogwe: Without a doubt, this is our best remaining option. He has the skills and smarts to play FS in our defense. He has the history of production. His health is a minor risk but the word is he should be 100% going into this season. He is the perfect age with several very good years in front of him. Picking him up will allow the Bears to focus on the O line early in the draft and not feel compelled to take a shot at 3rd/4th round safety. The only issue is cost. But there are no draft picks involved which makes it feasible. How much are the Bears willing to put up. Signing him for $7M per would likely to the trick (unlikely the Rams would match given their tendering approach). That would probably be overpaying but frankly I don't see a better fit and again in an uncapped year you can front load and build for the future.
2. Sharper: Going into his 14th season. He fails in the age category. He has experience with the Cover 2 defense but he didn't excel in it like he did in the Saits D where he could roam more freely. He will likely cost less but he really is a one year option only. A Sharper pick up means you MUST draft a FS as early as possible in the next draft in order to start developing a long term solution.
3. Ryan Clark: A solid but not spectacular player. Entering his 9th season he probably has 2 good years left in the tank. He has never played in a cover 2 and so he may not be a great fit. He has benefited from playing next to one of the best ss in the league. Is he really that much of an upgrade over the guys on our roster? Questionable. For 4-5M per year he might be ok but don't expect greatness. With Clark you'd still really have to go FS early in the next draft as well.
4. Michael Huff: He's not a FA at all but his name has come up as a possible trade candidate with the Raiders. This former 7th overall pick in 2006 has been a disappointment and some may recall we discussed him last season as well. He showed a few good signs early in 2009 and Coach Cable has gone on record to say that he thinks the kid has turned the corner but that remains to be seen. Huff is costing $5.75M this year. I only put him out there as he could possibly be acquired in a trade: Either a late round draft pick this year or next or for some vet we think we can dispose of. But, how eager will the Bears be to get Huff given his production in his first four years? I'd say the only way anything happened here would be if Lovie and Rod knew something about this kid and his "untapped potential" and that there was some secret reason for his poor performance. I'm thinking like a Safety version of Gaines Adams where these guys love him and believe they can fix him.
5. Brodney Pool: This 5th year player has been a starter and contributer for the Browns but he was not tendered at all. Why? He's one more concussion away from probably being forced to call it a career. He has shown flashes but their is too much injury risk IMHO. Not worth it.
6. Antoine Bethea: He was given a first round tender by the Colts so cross him off the list.
7. Jermaine Philipps: Tampa Bay safety has been oft injured and is in big trouble with the law for beating up his wife. He's going into his 9th year and although he might not be expensive, is he really that much better than the guys on our roster? Not worth it.
8. Kerry Rhodes: He wasn't cut as many though he would be and the Jets came out and said they'll pay the $2M roster bonus due this week and go into the season with him as the starting FS again. Rhodes and the Jets mgmt had lots of run-ins last year but I guess they still value him enough. Or, possibly, consider him as trade bate? He's only 27 going into his sixth season. He is clear starter material. The Bears should consider a trade option here with the Jets. Maybe a 4th rounder this year and a 5th next year?
There is one last option which has been discussed frequently. That's the P-Nut to FS option. That is highly unikely as P-Nut has made it clear he is not interested in going that route and we don't have another CB capable of filling his #1 CB shoes. Had we gone after Daunta or Cromartie, perhaps but we didn't and so I don't see this happening at all.
In summary, I think the Bears still must do something about this position now and Atogwe is really the best option-- even if we have to overpay by $1-$2M. My next choice would be a trade with the Jets followed by a deal for Ryan closely followed by a deal with Sharper.
What do you all think we should do?