Chicago Bears: Jason Jones

Eight in the Box: FA winners or losers?

March, 22, 2013
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A look at whether each NFC North team has been a winner or a loser in free agency.

Chicago Bears: A hot start in free agency netted left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett. The Bears had been trying for five years to find a genuine left tackle, and Bushrod's arrival should boost the faith of quarterback Jay Cutler. Bennett, meanwhile, gives the Bears the kind of pass-catching tight end they once had in Greg Olsen. But Bushrod and Bennett accounted for most of the salary-cap space the Bears had budgeted to use, and now they are nibbling the edges. Overall, however, the Bears improved two important positions, making them winners in free agency.

Detroit Lions: The NFC North's most active offseason team has added three new starters in running back Reggie Bush, defensive end Jason Jones and safety Glover Quin. Bush will have a big impact on balancing the explosiveness in the Lions' offense, and Quin will pair with the returning Louis Delmas to give the Lions their best safety duo in recent memory. The Lions have improved as many positions as they could have given their tight salary-cap situation.

Green Bay Packers: It's difficult to win when you don't play, and general manager Ted Thompson is notoriously reluctant to compete financially in the market. He allowed receiver Greg Jennings to sign with the Minnesota Vikings and didn't make a good enough offer on running back Steven Jackson. But the Packers have made the playoffs in four consecutive seasons by following a similar approach. These days, their focus is on saving enough salary-cap space to re-sign quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews. The Packers won't find two players better than that on the free-agent market.

Minnesota Vikings: In essence, the Vikings traded receiver Percy Harvin for Jennings, along with a first-, third- and seventh-round draft pick. They won't replace Harvin's unique skill set, but that's not a bad recovery. The Vikings are also in a better spot at backup quarterback with Matt Cassel rather than Joe Webb. But they don't have a middle linebacker after bidding farewell to Jasper Brinkley, and they remain thin at cornerback after releasing Antoine Winfield. The Vikings remain a work in progress this offseason. They haven't won or lost yet.

Bears free agency preview: DTs

February, 5, 2013
ESPNChicago examines potential unrestricted free agents at positions of need for the Bears.

Henry MeltonJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDefensive tackle Henry Melton had a team-high 24 quarterback pressures this season.

Bears free agency previews: DE | G | WR | TE | QB | LB | OT

The Chicago Bears experienced a youth explosion at the defensive tackle position in 2012 with starters Henry Melton and Stephen Paea coming into their own, which bodes well for the team's future provided they can re-sign Melton in free agency.

A pending free agent, Melton tied for third in the NFL among defensive tackles with a career-high six sacks in 2012 on the way to his first Pro Bowl nod. Paea, meanwhile, bounced back from an injury-riddled rookie season to start 14 games in which he posted 30 tackles, 2.5 sacks and eight quarterback pressures.

So if the Bears bring back Melton, who is expected to command a hefty salary, they don't need to dip into the free-agent market for anything other than depth at reasonable costs.

[+] EnlargeStephen Paea
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesStephen Paea started 14 games in 2012 after an injury-riddled rookie season.
A scheme change also isn't expected to take place up front, given new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker's experience coaching 4-3 units in Jacksonville. Under Lovie Smith, the Bears preferred a penetrating, pass-rushing under tackle (Melton) to pair with a run-stopping nose tackle (Paea). But when Tucker worked in Jacksonville, the Jaguars wanted more size and run-stuffing capability from the DT spot.

Given the talent already on hand, Tucker likely won't change much. But eventually the Bears might begin to utilize the DTs in a more traditional sense, as opposed to what the club did in Smith's Tampa-2 scheme.

Should the Bears choose to look internally for depth at defensive tackle, they've got the option of trying to re-sign veterans Nate Collins and Amobi Okoye (unrestricted free agent), players both familiar with the system. A restricted free agent, Collins missed the first six games of last season, but made valuable contributions (13 tackles, three pressures) once the Bears placed him in the rotation. Tucker also is familiar with Collins from their time together in Jacksonville.

Okoye, meanwhile, spent the first 11 games of last season with the Bears, but played in six contests, contributing three tackles and a sack before the club waived him in November. Two weeks later, the Bears brought back Okoye because of a rash of injuries along the defensive line.

It's likely the Bears would consider Collins more of a priority to bring back for next season than Okoye.

Matt Toeaina is also an option, but the club must consider his future given the significance injuries played last season in limiting his production. Signed through 2013 and due a roster bonus of $290,000, Toeaina started in Week 1, but was inactive for 10 of the next 12 games. Toeaina returned to action on Dec. 9, and contributed three tackles in a loss at Minnesota. He missed the next week before finishing the last two games on the injured reserve.

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