There has been a bunch of Chicago Bears information floating around before and during the NFL combine. Potential free agent targets have been mentioned, possible draft picks have met with the Bears and then, of course, there's some good old fashioned speculation.
We'll hit on the latest news surrounding the Bears free agents, then go over what we know about who the Bears have met with at the combine and how it pertains with the NFL Draft.
Chicago Bears Free Agents
During the combine the Bears met with a rep for defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff. There is mutual interest for a return to Chicago. The majority of his experience has been in Dallas' 3-4 defense, but he settled into the Bears 4-3 quite nicely. I think another one year deal could get it done.
Defensive tackle Henry Melton, who played under the franchise tag last year, also appears to be in the plans for the Bears. General manager Phil Emery has said that they want Melton back and that they'll "work through that process." ESPN's Michael Wright is reporting that Melton is expected to speak with other teams, however.
Wright is also reporting that the Bears would like to bring back corner/nickel Kelvin Hayden. Hayden missed the entire 2013 season, but he is 100% recovered from his hamstring injury.
Chicago head coach Marc Trestman has made it perfectly clear how he and the Bears feel about center Roberto Garza.
"We want Roberto back. He knows we want him back. We believe he should finish his career with the Bears. He does so much in our community. He's such a leader in our locker room. He knows how we feel about him. We just need to let this thing evolve and hopefully it's going to work out best, No. 1 for Roberto, because that's No. 1. And from his standpoint, and it should be, he deserves that respect. And hopefully it will work out for the Bears as well. We certainly want to see him back."
UPDATE: Garza re-signed
Bringing back QB Josh McCown is also in the plans, but he may have other suitors that complicate matters. McCown's top choice is to stay in Chicago, but the New York Jets, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are rumored to have interest.
There's mutual interest for cornerback Charles Tillman as well, but it appears he'll at least sniff around for some other offers before deciding on his 2014 team. The Bears will also want to make sure he checks out heath-wise after ending the season on injured reserve. With the Buccaneers shopping corner Darrelle Revis, it adds to the speculation that they could have interest in reuniting Tillman and Lovie Smith.
Middle linebacker D.J. Williams, who also ended the season on injured reserve, is another player that may be asked back. Phil Emery was very complementary on his play before he was hurt.
What are your thoughts on the Bears' free agency so far?
2014 NFL Draft
Over at Walter Football, they keep a running tab of which prospects have met with each team. It's obviously not the be all and end all of lists, because teams don't exactly go out of their way to make this info public, but it is a good source none the less.
Their list will grow as we creep closer to the draft, but as of right now they have the Bears down as having met with Clemson QB Tajh Boyd at the Senior Bowl. We looked at Boyd a little bit in this article, Should the Chicago Bears draft a quarterback this year?
Walter Football has the Bears down for a combine meeting with Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who may be available at 14, and with Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch who would be a 3rd day prospect.
Speaking of these combine meetings, each NFL team can request 60 prospects to interview. These official meetings last only 15 minutes, but there are other informal times teams speak with prospects.
The Bears also met with middle linebacker Yawin Smallwood of UConn at the combine. The 6'2" 246 pound Smallwood is the #2 ranked inside linebacker by CBS Sports and they give him a 2nd-3rd round grade. He played for former UConn head coach and current Bears defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni, so there's that angle.
Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard met with Chicago offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer at the combine in one of those informal settings. The two have a connection through Kromer's son Zach, who is a student-coach at Oklahoma. Ikard has a 7th round grade from CBS Sports and is the 5th best center according to NFL Network's Mike Mayock. He is a very experienced player however as he started 50 of 52 career games for the Sooners at both center and guard. He's also a three-time All Big 12 selection.
What are your thoughts on these draft prospects?