The Bears have twenty-two players hitting the free agent market this offseason, including some pretty big names that have done a lot of work for the Bears over their careers, so let's take an early look at some players that could earn a significant pay raise either in Chicago or for another team. The Bears have a lot of cap room, true, but they're also going to have a lot of roster spaces that need filling, and we'll look at ways the team could clear up some additional cap room later. But for now, let's focus on the Bears' prime free agents.
The entire list is available on Spotrac over here.
2014 Cap Hit: $1,172,787
Paea is probably the headliner of the Bears' free agents as far as youth and price point is concerned, because his fourth season as a Bear was likely his strongest. Injuries hurt his early career as a nose tackle, but even in Mel Tucker's "scheme" he still put up six and a half sacks as a pass rusher this past year. The question is, given the number of roster spots the Bears have to fill, can they afford to keep Paea?
2014 Cap Hit: $635,000
McManis found himself a pretty good role as a special teamer and occasional spot/fourth or fifth defensive back, and at 27, he'll at least get a multi-year, multi-million deal (Two years, two million is technically multi-multi).
2014 Cap Hit: $1,564,400
Here's where it gets interesting. Aside from Paea and McManis, there aren't many prime free agents before you get into Chris Conte, either for age reasons or production reasons (or both). Conte is an enigma. In 2013, PFF had him down as one of the worst performers on an absolutely terrible defense. This year, he was arguably the Bears' top safety (in a weak team position). He has trouble staying on the field, leaving quite a few games this year with some kind of injury or another.
The question becomes, does he make more than a million and a half next season as a 27-year-old three-and-a-half year starter? Probably.
2014 Cap Hit: $630,938
Put McCray in the "Sherrick McManis" boat of special teamer and occasional spot/third or fourth safety. He'll be earning more than $630K next season.
2014 Cap Hit: $570,000
Call me crazy, but I think Rosario had some occasional flashes of being able to be a second receiving tight end. It might be elsewhere next year, but I wouldn't be opposed to bringing him back again.
Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman
2014 Cap Hit: $6,500,000 / $3,050,000
So, you can't have a discussion on Bears' free agents without bringing Briggs and Tillman in, even though they aren't at all the prime age or production range to earn a raise (hint: They won't make more than they did this year). They both had modest cap hits last year, and neither will exceed that this year, but I can't see either of them playing football in a non-Bears uniform unless they do just that or get a multi-year deal - something I'm not sure will happen with their ages and declining production.
Keep in mind, the Bears can always re-sign their own free agents at any time before the new league year, but are there any Bears' free agents they absolutely have to keep?