The Bears are typically one of the more active teams in free agency, chasing big name players and trying to fill the holes on the roster.
This has never been the best-advised plan to building a roster, but that isn't what we're here to debate today.
Roberto Garza was released yesterday after appearing in 145 games over 10 seasons in Chicago. Garza has quietly a mainstay with the Bears, appearing in the fourth-most games for an offensive lineman in team history (behind Kreutz, Van Horne and Bortz). Garza has been a leader and a staple for Latino-Americans playing in the NFL. He even appeared on the cover of the Spanish-language Madden game in 2009.
Garza has been the leader of the offensive line since Kreutz left the team and has been a captain for several years and by all accounts, a good locker room presence.
Here's what Kreutz himself said about his former teammate to Brad Biggs:
"I've met a lot of guys who had work ethic and Garza was obviously there every day, but when you say someone does something right all the time, Garza did it," Kreutz said. "There's someone like me who didn't do things right all the time, but Garza treated everybody with respect and class. He's a guy you really can't replace in your building.
Garza didn't necessarily have huge support among fans all the time and he was never a top-level player. He has no Pro-Bowl appearances, when he moved to center his shotgun snaps weren't always consistent, but he was always solid, doing his job and not slacking off.
Kyle Long credits Garza with helping him transition into in the NFL. For lack of a better term Garza was a lunchpail guy; going about his work, doing his job but never seeking the limelight or demanding top pay. For that we should all give him his respect. He was a very good player for most of the 10 years he played for the Bears, I'd say he was an even better guard than center.
Which all got me to thinking: Garza is probably one of the best free agent signings the team has had in the past ten years. Then I thought, well, how high is he on that list?
The Bears have had their share of free agent busts, sure: Mushin Muhammad, Kevin Jones, Adam Archuleta, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna come to mind. But there have been good ones as well: Julius Peppers, Thomas Jones and Martellus Bennett.
Now, Jones misses out on being in the last decade as he was signed in 2004. But the others are in the argument for best signings.
Peppers was an absolute monster his first three years in Chicago, and was in the defensive POY discussion in 2010 when he had eight sacks, three forced fumbles, nine pass deflections and two interceptions. Bennett has put in consecutive career years with the Bears, including his first Pro-Bowl campaign in 2014. In two years in Chicago he's caught 155 passes for 1,675 and 11 touchdowns, nearly doubling his production from four years in Dallas (85/846/4).
Who would be your pick for best free agent addition? And remember, this is veteran free agents only, so no traded-for players (Jay Cutler or Brandon Marshall) or undrafted free agents (Robbie Gould, for example).
To me the top three, in order, are Peppers, Garza, and Bennett. Garza gets the nod for longevity and leadership, but Peppers has him beat on production and helping solidify the defense for the team's most recent postseason run. Other stand out free agents that come to mind are Tim Jennings, Anthony Adams, Brandon Ayanbadejo and Josh McCown.
Even going all the way back to the turn of the century, if you can remember that far, I would venture to say Garza is still top ten but that's including guys like Thomas Jones, John Tait, Jim Miller, Brad Maynard and Phillip Daniels, among others.
Whom do you think is the best free agent signing for the Bears in the past ten years?