John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE
In this continuing series, impending free agents are explored as alternatives to draft picks for the Bears. With only a finite number of draft picks and many needs to be filled, GM Phil Emery could look to free agency to shore up the offensive line. Today is a look at offensive tackles.
As of right now, there will be plenty of tackles on the market for the Bears to choose from. Last year, tackles Gabe Carimi, Jonathan Scott and J'Marcus Webb combined to perform at best "so-so" for the Bears. Most people have been disappointed with the play of the of the tackles for years now, but there is hope that Carimi will improve with a healthy off season and new coaching in Aaron Kromer.
However, the jury is out on J'Marcus Webb. Webb has been in the lineup since 2010 and has yet to anchor the left side. Many have clamored for him to go back to the right side where he started as a rookie but Carimi is best suited to the right side.
The Bears could certainly look to free agency to fill in a tackle position. I used Pro Football Focus' list of free agents (which is updated for recent cuts). It has their grades and lists all free agents. Please peruse their list, as I will not have time to highlight everyone on it, but I'll pick out some of the more intriguing names on the list.
Brandon Albert, Chiefs - This is a name many Bears fans hope makes it to free agency. At 28, he's got years ahead of him and he is a proven starter. He missed five games last season with back problems and with the Chiefs holding the first overall pick, they could go with Luke Joeckel and let Albert walk. He's not a Pro-Bowler but a solid starter so the Chiefs could sell the move if they trade or sign a QB and believe he has back problems. Despite any concerns, PFF rated him with a +13.8 for the season.
Sam Baker, Falcons - Baker is 27 and missed only one game last year. Since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2008 (when I seem to remember Bears fans hoping he'd fall to them in round two), he has been the LT for Matt Ryan. While he has struggled at time, he is still young and was able to earn a +11.6 grade for last season. There isn't much official about which way the Falcons are leaning about his contract situation, but it might be interesting to see how teams around the league, including the Bears, feel about an inconsistent and sometimes injury-prone LT.
Will Beatty, Giants - Beatty, a former second round pick, has battled injuries for much of his career but is entering free agency coming off his best season protecting Eli Manning and he is only 27. PFF graded him out +22.4. The Giants have cap issues, evidenced by their recent roster purge of players like Boley, Bradshaw and Canty. The Giants could franchise Beatty, but they have a lot issues to work out on their roster and many questions along the offensive line.
Jermon Bushrod, Saints - Bushrod just participated in his second consecutive Pro-Bowl as a late replacement for Joe Staley, who was going to the Super Bowl. Bushrod has anchored the blindside for Drew Brees since 2009. Despite his Pro-Bowl worthy play, sources are saying the Saints could let him walk if a team makes a big play for him and who better to follow to Chicago than his old OL coach Kromer? Bushrod graded out with a +1.5 for the 2012 season.
Ryan Clady, Broncos - Who wouldn't want to see Clady reunited with former Bronco teammates Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall? Clady is coming off an All-Pro season and received the highest grade among tackles from PFF (+26.9). Clady is 26 and has never missed a game as a pro. While it probably wouldn't be tough for him to be convinced of a Denver offensive reunion and trade navy and orange for a different shade of the colors, it will be tougher for Denver to let him get the chance. Denver is expected to franchise him or sign him to a long-term deal.
Jake Long, Dolphins - The en vogue, big name free agent this year is Jake Long. Many see him as a long-term answer to LT. He is only 27 and is coming off his worst season as a pro. PFF graded him at -0.3 He has some injury concerns but still has years ahead of him in the league and unlike many on this list, who played well in their contract years, Long could arguably need to settle for slightly less money. Also, unlike many of the other marquee guys, the Dolphins have enough cap issues that they seem to be content to move on without Long. Long says he wants $10/million a year but once he hits the market, perhaps the big offers won't come and he would eventually settle for less.
That is it for most of the big-name left tackles. There are many good right tackles about to hit the market too; Andre Smith, Bengals, who comes with off-field baggage but was graded at +26.9, Sebastian Vollmer, Patriots (+21.5), Gosder Cherilus, Lions (+23.5), Phil Loadholt, Vikings (+15.9), Winston Justice, Colts (+0.1), King Dunlap, Eagles (+7.1).
Anyone you want to see on the Bears line next season?