Since I began looking at prospective free agents last month, I tried to look at some of the cheaper alternatives to the big-budget banner players. I did this because I thought that the Bears might not have the cap space to be a player for some of the bigger-name huge dollar players and two, because I thought that the Bears would be focused on getting younger.
The thing about free agency is that there are usually only two kinds of players who hit it: Players coming out of their rookie deals, and players who are coming out of their second contract.
If the player is leaving his rookie deal and hasn't been extended then there is some type of issue with him: injuries, inconsistency, off-field issues, etc. If a player leaving his second contract hits free agency he's going to be, generally speaking, over age 30.
Obviously this isn't always the case, but that is the usual grouping in free agency.
Since the final cap numbers came out this week, we've finally been able to get an idea on the Bears' financials.
For those that are asking, envision #Bears having roughly $27 million or so in cap space. Number can always shift.— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) March 2, 2015
Next Tuesday, the rule of 51 starts. Removing the rookie class cost, #Bears project to start free agency w/ $23 million of free cap space.— dan durkin (@djdurkin) March 2, 2015
Rookie class cost?
The #Bears rookie class projects to cost just under $6 million.— dan durkin (@djdurkin) March 2, 2015
Because of the new CBA, it is a lot easier on teams to slot into the rookie deals.
Anyway, with the rookie class accounted for, the Bears can spend some money. As has been the case in recent years, I expect the Bears to be in the mix for some of the higher-priced free agents.
Specifically, I want to look at the safeties. On Monday I floated the idea of signing Tyvon Branch and the feedback was mostly that he would not be a guy fans would want to see as a Bear.
But with the money that the Bears have to spend, should they set their sights a little higher?
McCourty is far and away the best safety available and is usually in the top three on free agent rankings lists. He will be 28 at the start of next season, but he is in the prime of his career. McCourty is a great safety in coverage, an area the Bears' safeties have lacked in recent seasons. He is also considered a leader of New England's defense and that is also an area the Bears have a big need in. Profootballfocus.com has McCourty at an 11.6 rating for last season, just .1 behind their No. 1 rated safety Mike C. Adams of Indianapolis. Adams is 34. The top safeties in the league are getting between $8 and $10 million per year. This isn't cheap but, if they use a structure similar to the one Jarius Byrd got in his six-year deal with the Saints last year, the cap hit for 2015 could be as low as $3.5 million, leaving somewhere between $18.5-20.5 million in cap room depending on which figure you use ($22 million post rookie pool or $23 million). If they structure it more like Earl Thomas' extension, the cap hit could be closer to $7.5 million for 2015.
Now, Moore isn't likely to break the bank like McCourty, but I still wanted to bring him up because of his ties to John Fox and because he is still very young. Moore turned 25 last month, yet he's started 48 games for the Broncos in the last four years. He had four interceptions last year and is a player many consider to be on the rise. Who better to have the inside scoop on Moore than his former head coach Fox. And Fox's specialty early in his career was as a DB coach. I think, based on experience and production, that Moore could fall into the $4.5-5.5 million per year and perhaps even be structured similar to Moore's teammate T.J. Ward. Moore received a +0.3 grade from PFF last season.
The only other big-name safety free agent that intrigues me is Searcy from Buffalo. Now, granted I say "big name" but I really didn't know much about him until I started the process of vetting through the UFA market. Searcy graded out with PFF at a +8.6 last season, and is the only safety in the top 10 of their grades who is both an unrestricted free agent and under the age of 27. Searcy is 26 and won't turn 27 until November. He is a young player with five career interceptions, three coming last season, and he's only started 23 games but was behind Byrd for most of that time. Last season, with Byrd gone, he was able to step up and take the job in his own right. He's a guy who gets to the hit market at just the right time for him. He's another guy who would be in the $4.5-5.5 per year range, maybe a little more.
Do you think the Bears should go for the big fish in McCourty and go all-out in a bidding war, or play it a little cheaper and sign someone like Moore or Searcy, saving the big, big money for another player or position?