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Urlacher situation warrants creativity

3/12/2013
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY Sports

It was all quiet on the Brian Urlacher front after the middle linebacker's agents reportedly submitted a contract proposal to the Bears on Thursday evening.

With the Bears plagued by limited salary cap space, both sides will need to be creative to get this deal done. But make no mistake: every defensive veteran on the squad is paying close attention to how the Bears handle the Urlacher situation.

With a massive leadership void on offense, the loss of Urlacher could be a damaging blow to the locker room. But the real issue is whether the Bears still think Urlacher can play at a high enough level to help the defense in 2013. If the answer to that question is "yes," then it would be wise for both sides to find common ground, and do so quickly.

Here's a list of the Bears unrestricted free agents, and their prospects for returning in 2013:

Nick Roach, linebacker: He has generated substantial interest since the NFL's legal-tampering period commenced late Friday evening. Eight have expressed interest in Roach potentially filling their respective voids at either strong side or middle linebacker, and unless the Bears make a late push before the official start of free agency at 3 p.m. CT on Tuesday, Roach is expected to field several concrete offers.

ESPNChicago previously reported the Bears want Roach back, perhaps in a more expanded role than in previous years, but the club is not believed to have extended an offer over the weekend. The longer the Bears wait to try and lock up their own unrestricted free agents, the greater the risk the club faces in losing some of their key veteran contributors off a defense that carried the team to 10 wins last season while the offense struggled in big games.

Kahlil Bell, running back: Bell's biggest obstacle in returning to Chicago is the fact the Bears don't seem to be inclined to spend more money than necessary on reserves. With the team already extending a non-guaranteed exclusive rights tender to Armando Allen, can the Bears afford to carry Bell for another year with so much invested in Matt Forte and Michael Bush? Bell is fond of Chicago but is going to see if he can generate interest from other clubs in free agency.

Zack Bowman, cornerback: Bowman resurrected his career on special teams and is a player the Bears want to keep for around the league minimum. But Bowman put together strong film last year when he finished tied for second on the Bears with 11 special teams tackles in only 11 games.

With Dave Toub now running the special teams show in Kansas City, and several other former Bears' assistant coaches spread across the league, Bowman will receive interest, which could force the Bears to bump up the money a little in order to hang on to him.

Jason Campbell, quarterback: It's believed the Bears want to bring back Campbell, who completed 64.1 percent of his passes last season as a backup, but likely not at his 2012 price tag of $3.5 million. Given the talent available at quarterback in free agency, Campbell could wind up with multiple suitors willing to grant another opportunity to win a starting job. At this point, the Bears don't appear to have the cap room to bring back Campbell.

Kelvin Hayden, cornerback: The Bears expressed interest in signing Hayden for 2013, and bolstered that by their decision to let D.J.

Moore walk in free agency. But Hayden wants to test the free-agent market, according to a source, and has already generated some interest from other teams. Should Hayden return, he'd be penciled in as the starting nickel corner. But Hayden wants an opportunity to be a No. 1 or No. 2 cornerback.

Geno Hayes, linebacker: Started three games last season and finished with 24 tackles and one pass breakup, and he also contributed on special teams. Considering the team's lack of depth at linebacker, it would make sense for the Bears to try to re-sign Hayes. At 25 years old, Hayes has started in 45 of 71 career games, making it likely he could be looking to joining a team that would give him a legitimate opportunity to win a starting job.

Israel Idonije, defensive end: Even though Idonije is on the wrong side of 30, his performance last year warrants a better contract than the one-year, $2.5 million deal he signed last offseason to continue his career in Chicago. But life is not fair in the NFL. Although Bears general manager Phil Emery said on the record the team wants to try and re-sign the versatile defensive lineman, the Bears aren't interested in giving Idonije much of a raise. The market will dictate where this one goes.

Lance Louis, guard: Suffered a torn left ACL on Nov. 25 of last season, and has hence flown under the radar in free agency despite being one of the more talented players at his position. Having started 24 games for the Bears over the last two years, Louis has become arguably the team's most consistent offensive lineman. The Bears will work diligently to bring back Louis, and could have the upper hand in the negotiations because of the knee injury that isn't expected to make him miss time next season.

Olindo Mare, kicker: Signed last Dec. 11 when Robbie Gouls suffered a calf injury that knocked him out for the season. Mare played three games and hit on 6-of-8 field goals, and all seven of his extra-point kicks. With Gould expected to return fully healthy, the team isn't likely to sign Mare, a 16-year veteran. At this point in his career, Mare is more of an emergency injury replacement than a player teams can depend on for the long haul.

Josh McCown, quarterback: Plays an integral role in meeting rooms and sometimes served in 2012 as the liaison between starting quarterback Jay Cutler and the coaching staff. McCown didn't play any in 2012 after signing in November, but in 2011 finished the season 1-1 as a starter. Cap space will dictate how this one goes, but it's believed that McCown would be open to returning if offered a veteran minimum deal.

D.J. Moore, cornerback: Quietly developed into one of the league's rising players at the nickel cornerback spot, but fell out of favor in 2012 as the team eventually gave most of his repetitions to Hayden. The team recently informed Moore he won't be returning in 2013, but that's of little consequence because he should have multiple suitors in free agency given his age (25) and playmaking ability.

Troy Nolan, safety: Signed late last season when a rash of injuries at safety depleted depth. Prior to joining the Bears, Nolan had played in 37 games with seven starts over four seasons with the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins. Nolan won't be a priority for the Bears and it's likely he won't be returning in 2013 as a Chicago Bear.

Amobi Okoye, DT: Hard to believe that Okoye, a six-year NFL veteran, is still only 25 years old. When healthy, Okoye is a nice player to mix into the defensive line rotation, although it's unclear how the new coaching staff views him. From Okoye's perspective, it doesn't sound as if he's ruled out a return to Chicago, but he is expected to explore his options in free agency. The Bears have already made a pair of moves this offseason at defensive tackle by slapping the franchise tag on Henry Melton and opting not to tender restricted free agent Nate Collins, who could always rejoin the team for less money.

Chilo Rachal, Guard: In a strange twist, Rachal left the team for personal reasons after being demoted for a horrid performance in the team's

32-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Once Rachal returned, the Bears placed him on the reserve/non-football injury list. Even with problems on the offensive line, it's safe to say the Bears aren't even remotely interested in Rachal.

Jonathan Scott, OT: General manager Phil Emery indicated in February the team plans to try to re-sign Scott, who started five of the last six games at right tackle in place of Gabe Carimi. "He helped us win games,"

Emery said. "At some point, we'll sit with his agents and see if we can't move forward." Scott signed for $700,000 last September, but if the team plans to bring him back as a starter for 2013, it's likely the Bears will have to give him a raise.

Chris Spencer, guard: Spencer doesn't expect the Bears to make an effort to bring him back, according to a source. But he should generate some interest around the league because of his versatility. A starter at center for the majority of his career, Spencer never received the opportunity to play that position because of Roberto Garza. He likely won't be a Bear in 2013, but Spencer shouldn't have trouble getting work for next season.