Happy March, hopefully it is coming in like a lamb for everyone. In the coming days the draft news will become secondary and the free agent news will begin to heat up. The new league year begins at 4 p.m. Eastern time on March 12. At that point, teams must be under the salary cap for 2013. So between now and then, teams will be making moves, restructuring deals, and negotiating with free agents (the period for that is the 9th-11th).
By Monday it will be known which players have the tag applied and which have new papers. For the Bears, most reports seem to suggest they want to work out a long-term deal with Henry Melton ASAP, so that they could actually make a move or two in free agency should they chose.
The biggest need for the Bears is the offensive line, so let's take a look at who the best available linemen are:
Ryan Clady, Broncos - Obviously he is the number one guy and he will get a truckload of money if he hits the market, but that is also very, very unlikely to happen. He will either get a new deal this weekend or the franchise tag by Monday's deadline.
Andre Smith, Bengals - Smith is an interesting player. He was pretty highly touted when he was coming out in the draft but questions about his work ethic and weight bogged him down a little. He was still a top ten pick and has played very well for Cincinnati at right tackle, Pro-Football Focus graded him at +26.9 for 2012, the same grade as Clady but Smith did have less snaps. He was also arrested last month for trying to get through airport security with a gun in his carry on.
Brandon Albert, Chiefs - A name a lot of Bears fans would like to see the team pursue. Albert has played guard and could be shifted back inside, although he says he's a LT and will likely want to be paid as such. Albert does have some back issues but he is a solid player and could be had for less than the two names above him on this list.
Sam Baker, Falcons - Baker was healthy last season for the first time since his rookie year and played very well, grading out at +11.6 by PFF. He allowed only 3.5 sacks last season and given his injury history, he could come at a discount.
Gosder Cherilus, Lions - Another right tackle, Cherilus has started 71 of 75 games for the Lions since he entered the league. PFF graded him at +23.5 for 2012. He is 28 and has bounced back from a slow start to his career.
Jake Long, Dolphins - Seems like at the beginning of last season Long would have been number one or two on this list and now he's down toward the bottom of the top-tier free agents. Long battled injuries and inconsistencies last year but is 27 and was an All-Pro just two seasons ago.
Jermon Bushrod, Saints - Bushrod is 28 and has been the Saints' LT since 2009. He has made consecutive Pro-Bowls and PFF graded him at +1.5 last season. Sun-Times reporter Sean Jensen says he thinks the Bears could make a run at him with a cap-friendly deal similar to the one the Giants just gave Will Beatty but the Bears may have to restructure some deals before that can happen.
For a list of available free agent tackles, check out SBNation's list here. As it gets closer and closer, who would you like to see the Bears make a run at?