Free Agent Tackles would Break the Bears Bank

Jonathan Daniel

Replacing J'Marcus Webb with a high priced FA is a terrible idea, not only in the short term, but in the long term plans for the Bears.

This is a long, arching segment on J'Marcus Webb, and why picking up a high priced FA left tackle is a terrible idea, and how it will ultimately lead to the Blackhawkification of the team. But, lets ignore J'Marcus Webb for a minute, and lets start with looking at the team from a financial standpoint, which should be everyone's great concern in teambuilding. I'm not a capologist by any stretch of imagination, but Mr. Steven Schweickert (I before E except after C and in Schweickert), broke it all down a bit for us much earlier in the year here.

Schweickert notes that we have around 13 Million in 2013, and around 50ish in 2014 without 17 of 22 starters having contracts in 2013. A few months back I took a quick poll of myself and myself, and though, okay, who's going to stay with the team in 2013, and who needs a contract in 2014?

2013 2014
Zack Bowman Door Robbie Gould Keep
Jason Campbell Price is Right Armando Allen Conditional
Nate Collins Keep Kyle Adams Conditional
Kelvin Hayden Conditional Blake Costanzo Keep
Geno Hayes Door Dane Sanzenbacher Door
Israel Idonije Door Devin Hester Door
Lance Louis Keep Matt Spaeth Keep
Patrick Mannelly Ditka Jay Cutler Keep
Henry Melton Keep Craig Steltz Keep
D.J. Moore Door Charles Tillman Keep
Cheta Ozougwu Door Matt Toeaina Door
Chilo Rachal Door Tim Jennings Keep
Nick Roach Keep Kellen Davis Door
Jonathan Scott Keep Roberto Garza Door
Chris Spencer Door J'Marcus Webb Keep
Brian Urlacher Keep Edwin Williams Keep
Anthony Walters Keep Corey Wootton Keep
Andre Gurode Door Major Wright Keep

Door, obviously means, lets show them the door. Keep, means actively try to resign them.

Conditionally:

- Lets start with Kelvin Hayden. Hayden and Moore are in an epic battle, right now. It's not really apparent, but they are. When Hayden took Moore's starting Nickel role, the writing was on the wall. If Moore finds a way to redeem himself to Lovie and overtake Hayden, it's likely Hayden would see the door. But, the big upside to Hayden is that: he's actually able to fill in for Tillman as needed. Moore isn't. I can't trust Moore on the outside.

- We don't know what we have in Kyle Adams yet. He could be good, he could be bad, but we won't know for another year with more reps.

- Armando Allen is another conditional case, where there's simply not enough information to determine what the Bears may do with him, if he plays well into this third back/special teams role over the next 2 years, he'll be there. If not, he'll be replaced.

For many of these guys, it's the old Jack Welsh, of General Electric, way. Replace the bottom 10% of your roster every year, let guys get a shot. Ted Lundquist, former GM of the Broncos (and a candidate for the job Phil Emery currently holds) wrote about that being applied to the NFL. While there's only 53 candidates to weed through, identifying the stagnate players, and replacing them with hungry individuals to improve the base of the team, even if they're not the top 20% of the team, they improve the base, and that improves consistency.

It's something I feel that New England and Pittsburgh are very good at, year in and year out, is they keep the core of their team around as long as possible, and fill in players who are aggressive and know their role. With Emery being a talent evaluator at the core, being able to go and find the players to fit the Bears as role players in short term stints, who 'know their role', in the truest sense of the term in Lovie Smith's system, is paramount to the continued, long term success to the team.

Price is Right:

- Jason Campbell is obviously the 'Price is Right' candidate over all others, his being on the team next year has to do with how much he wants to start, and how much other teams are willing to pay him. Now, his game in SF isn't an indication in my mind of what the true value of Campbell is. But, he might cost a pretty penny to start. That said, if he's willing to play for the Bears for 1 more year at a reasonable price, say, 3.5$ Million again, then, the Bears should really look at drafting a QB high over the top 3 rounds this next year, because without a consistant backup behind Jay Cutler, bad things can happen. Just speculation, but, something that may cost a pretty penny as insurance.

In 2013, The Bears are going to have to resign Louis, Melton, Collins, Urlacher, and of course Mannelly. Franchise Tagging may happen, likely with Melton, who is going to cost a pretty penny, upwards of 5$ million a year, probably closer to 7$, the upper boundary would probably be a franchise tag. Urlacher also will be cheaper that the 7.5$ Million he made this year, because of the favorable reworkings the Bears put in for him over the past few years, it's about time the he owes the Bears. Collins and Louis will be relatively cheap. You can safely say that after churning the roster, the Bears are going to have around 5-10$Mil/Yr in cap space after the draft. But when you're looking at next year, and acquiring a marquee left tackle, like say, Brandon Albert or Ryan Clady, you're going to be investing money, a lot of money. Duane Brown went for 54$Mil/6 years, or around 9$Mil a year, D'Brickshaw Ferguson also ended up around 9$Mil/Year. In an open market? We're probably going to see Albert, Clady, Jake Long, Andre Smith, and maybe Jermon Bushrod hit the open market.

The first Albert and Long are for sure going to hit the open market. Long will cost the Miami Dolphins too much who clearly look like they're cleaning house (again), and Albert fits in the same category, but Long has had a decline in play over the past few years, and looks marginally above average, and Albert's going to be a hot commodity when he hits the market. Smith has finally turned the corner, and seems to be in Marvin Lewis' clutch. Jermon Bushrod will be hard to pry from New Orleans if he's not Franchised, and Clady? Clady turned down a 50$Mil/5 year contract from Denver. If that's the case, why would he come to the Bears for cheaper? Albert, if he hits the market, should cost about the same amount as Clady, if not a bit more. Could the Bears afford 11-13$Mil a year in a left tackle? Should the Bears spend that kind of money on one player who makes more than the rest of the line combined?

Absolutely not.

Not only can't the Bears afford Clady nor Albert in 2013, they can't realistically afford Jake Long at LT next year either. You have to look at the cost/benefit to all this. If you replace Webb with Clady or Albert, or even Long, how much better is the line going to be? If you said, a lot, you're probably forgetting that Gabe Carimi was terrible at pass blocking this year, we don't have a LG going into 2013, our RG is probably not going to be able to start for the first few games next year, given an 8-10 month recovery time for ACL injuries, which puts him back, at the very earliest beginning of August, or at the latest, end of September. So, there has to be someone to replace him to if he happens to go on the PUP or is inactive for any length of time less than the PUP. And not only that, if you're paying someone like Long 8 million a year to be marginally better than Webb, but still have a gaping hole at LG with someone like Chris Spencer, you're not going to be any better on the line. It just isn't happening.

J'Marcus Webb is a cost-effective solution for the LT problem here in Chicago, whether you like it or not, he's going to be the LT next year, and the LT the year after that.

There's so many better places to look at improving the line, which is the ultimate goal. Webb, can only be criticised for how mediocre he's been. Mediocre in the best way possible. He's still inconsistent with his technique and terrible with his hands, but, has been better in quite a few ways to produce better results this year than he has over the past 2 years from either side, yes with some help, but, even in solo blocks, he's been getting better.

Fighting the realization that Webb is playing better than last year is fruitless, the narrative that he has to be replaced? Obsolete. Webb isn't a franchise LT, but then again, neither is Jeff Backus in Detroit, but he's there because he is cheap, serviceable, and effective enough to be gameplanned.

Spending 11$Mil/Year on one position isn't going to keep Cutler from ending up on his backside. You have a LG situation that's arguably in worse shape, your RT is injured and is without a shade of doubt the worst pass protector on the team, and your center is up for a new contract next year, but his level of play says 'unsustainable at best'. And you want to spend 11$Mil/Year at left tackle? Long might be the ONLY LT that's even remotely in the Bears price range, but still 7$-10$Mil/Year, and you still have to get a LG to start and an RG to fill in, neither of which are probably on the roster right now. So, what is there to be done?

Andy Levitre (BUF) is one of those guards I think deserves merit as someone the Bears should aggressively find to plug the LG hole for the Bears. He's an excellent pass protector at LG (which helps the left side of the formation, and by proxy, helps Webb). He's a solid run blocker, and moves very well in space. He won't be cheap, not as expensive as Carl Nicks or Ben Grubbs, but definitely in the 5-5.5$Mil/Year range ala Josh Sitton (GB), and plugs a spot where the Bears need to fit a body, and the great news is that the Bills can't use a franchise tag on a Guard. Why? Because it's 10$Mil, give or take a Million. There's no distinction between tackles, guards, and centers in the Franchise Tag, ergo, if the Bills can't work out a long term deal with Levitre, there's definitely room for the Bears to acquire a good LG. If they do work out a long term deal, another Bill, Chad Rinehart, might be a cheaper, but equally serviceable option at LG with good upside.

Lance Louis and Gabe Carimi both are penciled in next year at their respective spots, but, Roberto Garza? Centers in the draft are something to definitely something to consider. Garza hasn't been terrible in pass protection, but in the run game? He's lost a lot. Part of what made Garza good, at guard, was he was good in space. He moved decently well. But at center? He's been subpar in the run game, he's not the best shotgun snapper, and he's going to have to be replaced in 2 years when he hits 35. But the good news is, is that drafting centers is cheap, Stefan Wisniewski in the 2nd round was around 1.5$Mil/yr in 2011, and not resigning Garza the year after next will allow the Bears to play with a cost controlled, cheap, and reasonably effective line until 2014 that would cost the team about 12-13$Mil/Year and fill multiple holes at a reasonable cost (broken down as Webb 1.5-2$Mil, LG 4-5$Mil, Center post Garza 1.5$Mil, Louis 3$Mil, Carimi 2$Mil). Yes, the product may not be top of the line in the passing game, it may not be Buffalo, Houston, or New England's, but it will be adequate enough. Certainly better than Green Bay, Washington, or Arizona.

And that, really, is all the Bears need. A mediocre line with great skill players is a winning combination, and the Bears smartly surrounded themselves with plus talent offensively this year in Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, and Michael Bush, and as the line continues to coalesce, get healthy, and add talent, we'll see a slight reduction in sacks (30-40 range), a slow rise in the Yards per Attempt average on Cutler, and a bit more scoring offensively, a few more converted drives, and less max protect, and another year with all of the pieces of the top defense in the league held down for a few more years. Keeping Webb as an LT may not be the most, uh, attractive option, but it certainly allows the Bears to be more flexible in drafting, more patient with the draft picks it makes in finding the right player, and keeping Webb gives the Bears the best financial success to thrive for years to come, which as we know, being good for a long period of time increases your chances to reach the playoffs consistently, and make runs (plural) to win rings.

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