The free agency period is just around the corner, and the Bears have plenty of roster holes to fill. A number of starters and key reserves are free agents, and only Henry Melton is coming back for sure next year thanks to the franchise tag (which hopefully leads to a long-term deal). There is one big free agent name for the Bears, but a number of other notable players that may be too pricey for them to return to Chicago.
The $8.45 price tag for franchising Henry Melton leaves the Bears cap-strapped; approximately $3.5 million under the cap. That's not enough to add any impact players in free agency, and not enough to cover adding more than a few of the Bears' nineteen free agents. So once the Bears start cutting players (hello Kellen, its the Turk calling) and restructuring contracts to free up cap space, which Bear free agents should they focus on re-signing?
The full list of Bears' free agents can be found here; I'm breaking them down into three categories: Really Want Back, Maybe Want Back, and Only Want for Free.
Bears I really want to return in 2013:
Brian Urlacher - He'll be 35 years old by the time the 2013 season rolls around, and he was greatly slowed by injuries last year. Yes, the end is coming soon for him, but if he's willing to return on a reduced and reasonable contract, the Bears need him. They have no other option at the Mike position, and it'll be cheaper to add younger developmental players to try and groom behind him rather plug in a different expensive veteran. Contract: 1 or 2 years, $2 million cap hit in 2013, with big incentive money (i.e. don't get injured and play well, get paid).
Israel Idonije - Too be honest, if I had to choose between either Urlacher and Idonije coming back next year, I'd want Urlacher, but that speaks more to the lack of talent behind #54 and the decent options the Bears have at defensive end with Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton. According to ProFootballFocus, Idonije was the most under-valued Bear last year. He earned $2.5 million and, according to PFF, played like a guy that should have earned $8.4 million.
He only started eleven games last year (but still managed 7.5 sacks), but Izzy's versatility is the key here. He doesn't have to start, he can be a rotational end with Shea and Corey, and be the pass rushing defensive tackle on third down alongside Melton. He's too important to lose; I just hope the Bears can afford him. Contract: 2 years: $2 million cap hit in 2013 (two year contract will push half his signing bonus to next year's cap hit).
Nate Collins - He's a restricted free agent, meaning the could offer the 25-year-old a tender worth $1.33 million (non-guaranteed). Word is the Bears like Collins enough to tender him, but if Emery and company really like Collins, I'd like to see a two or three year deal with small base salaries and few hundred thousand in bonus money. He played about one-fifth of the defensive snaps this year, but keeping him around could be huge with Izzy and Amobi Okoye being free agents (and Matt Toeaina being a possible cap casualty). Contract: 2 years, $1.2 million cap hit in 2013, $500k guaranteed.
Lance Louis - Louis is the last guy I really want back, and really, the Bears are in a great spot to re-sign him. Its terrible that Louis tore his ACL late in the season thanks to purple-mullet jerk, but the Bears can offer him a one-year, minimum salary contract while he rehabs his knee. Louis probably won't be healthy until after the start of the season - and may be a candidate for the PUP list - but the Bears need one of their interior lineman to return, so it might as well be the one who played the best last year and will be on one of the cheapest contracts possible. Contract: one year, minimum salary.
Bears I might want back in 2013:
Nick Roach/Geno Hayes - I know, I know, no one loves Nick Roach, but he's adequate enough that Geno Hayes couldn't overtake him for a starting job. Both had decent flashes in 2012, but their respective salaries may be cost-prohibitive to them returning. Hayes only made $750,000 last year, so a re-up at that salary wouldn't be horrible, but there's no way Roach - despite his ability to man the middle if Urlacher goes down - deserves another $2.8 million like he got in 2012. Best guess: Roach is too expensive, Hayes moves on, both spots are filled by cheaper options in free agency/draft/UDFA.
Jonathan Scott - There is no way I believe that Scott is a viable starting tackle option, but I think he's decent veteran option that is worth another minimum salary. Scott only counted $540,000 against the cap last year, and another veteran-minimum salary sounds about right for him. I wouldn't be surprised if Scott was still a free agent right before preseason (or during the season, like last year), but the Bears could do worse. Best guess: Scott - or another veteran on a minimum salary - is signed by the Bears to be a backup tackle.
Armando Allen - Allen had 124 yards in 2012 and averaged 4.6 yards per carry while showing more than we've seen from Chester Taylor, Kahlil Bell, and Marion Barber combined. As a third running back, the restricted free agent should come back, as he's cheap, had some flashes last year, and is one less position Phil Emery needs to worry about. Best guess: one year for cheap.
Kelvin Hayden - Being thrust into the nickelback position was equal parts Hayden's ability and D.J. Moore's inability to find his way out of Lovie Smith's doghouse. Hayden got lit up plenty last year, and I think he has more value as a backup cornerback as opposed to a nickle corner. Plus, if he returns for the veteran's minimum, I think he could have a better year next year. Best guess: goes somewhere else for a little more money.
Only if they played for free:
With Marc Trestman in charge, I assume a lot of the bottom-of-the-roster guys will get churned for fresh blood. Okoye won't get a third go-around, and I think Collins is better anyway. Campbell and McCown get replaced by a quarterback Trestman likes (and isn't named Tim Tebow) and maybe Matt Blanchard. D.J. Moore is already confirmed as gone, and Rachal and Spencer deserve nothing but a swift kick on their way out. Bowman, Bell, Mare, and Nolan... whatever guys. See ya.
So what do you think; who do you think the Bears should bring back? Is it more important to bring back Urlacher or Izzy?