HOUSTON - OCTOBER 02: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers winces in pain after being sacked by outside linebacker Mario Williams #90 of the Houston Texans> at Reliant Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
I know, I know... What about a receiver?!? I've gotta tell ya, the premise took me by surprise too. I've been on the Marques Colston bandwagon all off season, but the more I think about it, the more I find myself leaning towards the best free agent defensive lineman on the market, Mario Williams. And before you assume that it's all about defense winning championships or some misguided notion that they need to go defense because of the great Monsters of The Midway tradition, think again. The Bears need to sign Mario Williams because he will bring the best value for the money.
The wide receiver market will be inflated because there are so few legit #1 receivers out there, and a number of others that will claim to be. And in this market the fringe receivers will get close to #1 money. Mario Manningham, who has never been the man on the Giants, will get big money. So will Laurent Robinson, Pierre Garcon, and Robert Meachem. Maybe all these guys will step up their game and prove worthy of their deals, maybe all these guys will be like the countless other receivers that were paid like a #1 only to play like a #2 or #3. It's a gamble.
Steve Johnson and his reported 5-year, $36.25 million deal is a start to the market, but I'd expect most free agents will want more. Once players have teams bidding over their talents, the price goes up. Vincent Jackson will get more than that, as will Colston. Brandon Lloyd might sniff that much, although his sketchy history may hurt him. Mike Wallace is a restricted free agent, but a team better bring the coin if they want him to sign an offer sheet. Then they have to forfeit their 1st round draft pick to the Steelers for his services.
But back to Mario Williams. He'll command a Julius Peppers like contract, and he's worth it. At just 27 years old, he's in the prime of his career. Just imagine the havoc that he and Peppers would cause offenses. With both those freaks coming off the edge, which way should the offense slide protection? As much as Peppers has helped the play of the other Bears defensive linemen, the addition of Williams will take it to another, almost unheard of, level.
But that's not to say the Bears shouldn't be ready with an offer for a top wide out. With close to $30 million in cap space, they could afford to get both. I know they still have the Matt Forte situation to deal with and a few of their own free agents, but with a creative contract or two it's possible. The Bears should have a market friendly contract with some incentives ready for one of the top wide outs. They could even decide that their 19th pick in the draft this year is worth pursuing Wallace from Pittsburgh.
If Williams is the target, there are some secondary free agent receiver options that would be an upgrade over the current crop of Bears receivers. And of course there's always the draft. It's a deep pool of WR talent, and they have the ammunition to go up a few spots if need be.
New Bears GM Phil Emery will do his due diligence and make sure his first free agent signee has as low of a bust factor as possible. Not only is Mario Williams the top defensive player available, but he's also the safest option.