Chicago Bears: Santonio Holmes
July, 25, 2011
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com
The possible acquisition of a big-bodied receiving threat dominates discussions concerning the Chicago Bears with the NFL lockout lifted.
What about the man responsible for delivering the ball?
Let’s not forget that quarterback Jay Cutler absorbed a league-high 52 sacks in 2010, in addition to leaving one game with a concussion, and another with a sprained knee in part because of shoddy protection along an offensive line that went through five combinations of starters before eventually settling on continued inconsistency.
Twenty-four of Cutler’s sacks came over the final eight games -- after the Bears supposedly fixed the line -- begging the question: How do they expect to improve protection in 2011 utilizing virtually the same players (with the exception of first-round pick Gabe Carimi) as the year before?
They can’t. That’s why the receiver position, while important, shouldn’t take precedence over the offensive line during this upcoming period of unrestricted free agency. Without adding more than just a rookie first-round pick to the offensive line, there’s no way the team can realistically expect the unit to significantly improve.
“Free agency is a big part of our team,” running back Matt Forte said. “We’ve signed a lot of big free-agency deals the last couple of years, [and] I could see us picking up some more linemen in free agency.”
Surely, Cutler hopes so, too.
Here’s a list of positions the Bears might address in order of importance, and potential free-agent targets. Because of his uncertain status, Patriots guard Logan Mankins was excluded from consideration for this list.
Roberto Garza gradually improved after missing two games due to arthroscopic surgery. Still, the team needs to acquire Garza’s eventual replacement, while upgrading the left side, where former first-round pick Chris Williams played inconsistently.
With a rookie (Carimi) and second-year player (J'Marcus Webb) penciled in as starters at tackle, depth at that position might also be addressed in free agency. But it’s doubtful the club pulls the trigger on expected big-ticket players like Jared Gaither (Ravens), Willie Colon (Steelers) or Doug Free (Cowboys).
Harvey Dahl, Falcons: Dahl flashes the type of nastiness coveted by Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice. Because the Falcons have to find a way to re-sign three offensive linemen, Dahl -- who represents an upgrade -- might be in play for the Bears.
Kyle Kosier, Dallas: He allowed only one sack last season, but his age (32) and salary demands might be too much for the Cowboys, who appear to be approximately $18 million over the $120 million salary cap. Might be too rich for the Bears’ taste, too, but would start right away.
Howard Smith/US PRESSWIREOffensive guard Kyle Kosier allowed just one sack last season with the Cowboys.
Evan Mathis, Bengals: Mathis makes this list because he could turn out to be a bargain-priced steal. Mathis didn’t start most of last season, but played well with limited opportunities. At worst, Mathis -- who possesses starting-caliber ability -- could provide strong interior depth.
Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are the only Bears linebackers under contract, and the team needs to find a starter to play on the strong side. Nick Roach appears to be the most likely candidate, but Lovie Smith said the team will bring in competition at the position.
James Anderson, Carolina: Coming off a breakout season (130 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five pass breakups), Anderson, 27, fits Chicago’s system. He’s indicated he’d like to re-sign with the Panthers quickly, but a lucrative contract could lure him away.
Chuck Cook/US PresswireCarolina's James Anderson is the top free-agent target among outside linebackers.
Keith Bulluck, N.Y. Giants: Bulluck has said he wants to play for a contender. His age (34) and recent injury history (torn ACL in 2009) are a concern, but his track record and leadership are undeniable. His salary demands may be more than what the Bears would pay.
Justin Durant, Jacksonville: The Jaguars don’t plan on bringing back Durant, who fought through nagging injuries during somewhat of a down 2010 season. Although he’s the type of run-and-hit style of linebacker the Bears like to utilize in their system, Durant would seem like an ideal fit for a two-down role.
Although the Bears would like to add a veteran to the group, several in the organization feel the team could get by with the players already on the roster. Santonio Holmes, Santana Moss and Mike Sims-Walker appear to be the most likely candidates, but players such as Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith figure into the mix, too.
Santonio Holmes, N.Y. Jets: At 27, Homes is in his prime. But surely, Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum will do everything he can to retain Holmes’ services, which means the Bears might also have a shot at players such as Edwards and Smith. Holmes likely will be highly coveted.
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicSantonio Holmes emerged as the Jets' big-play threat in 2010.
Santana Moss, Redskins: Despite his age (32), Moss is an explosive deep threat, who fits what the Bears do offensively. Bears receiver Devin Hester told the Chicago Tribune he’d like to play with Moss. But Moss has stated his desire to remain a Redskin.
Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars: Sims-Walker is somewhat of an enigma considering his size (6-foot-2, 214 pounds), deceptive speed and smooth route-running ability. Injuries and life outside of football (let’s be clear that he doesn’t have off-the-field issues) have kept Sims-Walker from reaching his full potential. The Bears may be able to acquire him relatively cheaply.
The Bears brought in Richmond McGee as a potential replacement for veteran free agent Brad Maynard, who isn’t expected to be brought back. But surely the Bears don’t trust the unproven McGee, which means there’s a chance they will bring in another player whether it’s an established veteran or rookie free agent.
Sam Koch, Ravens: He has a 43.7-yard career punting average (38.1 net), and he’s landed a Ravens franchise-best 149 punts inside the 20.
Adam Podlesh, Jaguars: Podlesh was tendered, but is a four-year veteran, which means he’s not expected to be a restricted free agent under the new CBA. Considered a free-agent priority by the Jags, Podlesh ranked fifth in the NFL in net average (39.12 yards).
AP Photo/John RaouxAdam Podlesh ranked fifth in NFL in net average (39.12 yards) last season.
Steve Weatherford, Jets: Posted a 38.1 net average in 2010, and is believed to be the Bears' targeted player to replace veteran Brad Maynard. Weatherford punted a league-high 42 balls inside the opponent's 20-yard line last season.
Depth along the defensive line and secondary certainly make sense in free agency.
Strong safety Danieal Manning isn’t expected to return, meaning the team will need to find a capable backup to play behind Chris Harris and Major Wright.
At cornerback, the Bears are happy with Charles Tillman starting on one side, with Tim Jennings and Zack Bowman competing for the job at the opposite corner in training camp. Second-year man Joshua Moore figures into the mix, too, according to Smith. So with five players -- counting nickel corner D.J. Moore -- capable of contributing already on the roster, it’s unlikely the Bears use free agency to add a veteran unless they can swing a deal for a major upgrade.
Prior to the draft, the Bears wanted to add to the defensive line, and they did just that by drafting second-round pick Stephen Paea. There’s still a possibility they bolster the position in unrestricted free agency.
The Bears are reportedly interested in Seattle’s Brandon Mebane, who has ties to Tim Ruskell, the Bears' vice president of player personnel, and defensive line coach Mike Phair.
April, 13, 2010
By Jeff Dickerson | ESPNChicago.com
Q: When is Danieal Manning going to start attending the offseason workouts? I’m not the biggest Manning fan, but Lovie Smith did say Manning is going to start at strong safety. It can’t be a good thing that he’s staying away from the team. – Christopher, Round Lake, Ill.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDanieal Manning has a strong relationship with Bears coach Lovie Smith.
A: Manning made it clear to ESPNChicago.com his decision to skip the start of workouts was purely business, and he holds no ill will towards the Bears organization. But there is something to be said for a player feeling disrespected, and I get the feeling Manning thinks the Bears should offer him a new one-year contract, or tender him at a higher level. Since neither of these things are likely to happen, I expect Manning to eventually sign his injury waiver and start attending workouts -- perhaps as early as next week. Manning loves football and has a very strong relationship with Smith, so I bet this whole saga ends peacefully. However, I wouldn’t anticipate Manning showing up this week because it wouldn’t make much sense for him to return before April 15, the deadline for teams to sign restricted free agents to an offer sheet. Manning has incredible talent, and I really hope the Bears find a way to utilize him properly this year, but I’m not holding my breath.
Q: I saw that Santonio Holmes was traded to the Jets for a fifth-round pick. What gives? Why weren't the Bears players in this deal? Aside from his suspension, Holmes would be a true No. 1. He would instantly upgrade a young group of wide receivers not to mention fit in perfectly with [Mike] Martz's spread offenses. Thoughts? -- Zach, Chicago
A: It's hard to blame the Bears for taking a pass on Holmes. Yes, the former Super Bowl MVP is coming off a career best 79 receptions for 1,248 yards, but look at all the off-the-field nonsense surrounding this guy. Not only is he suspended for the first four games of 2010, he's also under investigation for a glass-throwing incident in Florida, and has previously been arrested for domestic violence and possession of marijuana. Jerry Angelo once said the biggest character gamble he ever took was on Tank Johnson, and we all know how that turned out. Holmes may be an excellent talent, but in my opinion, he's not worth the hassle.
Q: JD, you really think Hunter Hillenmeyer would be a "solid addition" for multiple NFL teams at linebacker? Have we been watching the same Hunter Hillenmeyer? He's below average at best. -- Ryan, Crown Point, Ind.
A:I just don't understand why people fail to appreciate Hillenmeyer. He's not the flashiest guy on the field, but is always in the right spot, and more times than not, makes the necessary plays. Not only has Hillenmeyer recorded 100-plus tackles in two of the last three seasons, he's a prime example of somebody who sacrifices his body to play through tremendous pain. Let me ask you this question, Ryan: How many below-average former fifth-round picks stay in the league long enough to start 69 regular season games in his first seven seasons? Not many. Hillenmeyer is certainly not "below average" and if any team is looking for veteran help at linebacker, he'd be a solid choice given experience, intelligence, productivity and versatility [either at middle or strong side linebacker].
Q: Jeff, this might be a shot in the dark, but how about re-signing Adewale Ogunleye? Now that Alex Brown is gone, shouldn't the Bears look to add another veteran defensive end? Thank you for your response. -- Mark B. -- Skokie, Ill.
A:I don't think so. The Bears made it pretty clear they were moving on without Ogunleye, who remains unsigned. If I were to guess, I'd say Ogunleye ends up somewhere after the draft, when teams have a firmer idea of what they still need to fill out their rosters. I thought Ogunleye did a decent job here in Chicago, but the Bears need a little more consistency from that premiere pass-rushing spot. Also, I don't believe Ogunleye is looking to be a reserve -- he still views himself as a starter -- so the prospect of returning to Chicago probably isn't all that appealing.
Q: I was wondering if you think the Bears will try and turn Lance Louis into a fullback for certain situations? He can obviously block and has great speed, and also has great hands for his size. -- Jake, Calif.
A: I wouldn't rule anything totally out, but tight ends usually take on that H-Back blocking role, and the Bears already have plenty of candidates for that role: Greg Olsen, Brandon Manumaleuna, Desmond Clark and Kellen Davis. Plus, the Bears signed Eddie Williams, a bigger fullback who may be able to handle those short-yardage situations. However, Mike Martz is known to be very creative, and using Louis in that way certainly would be thinking outside the box. Unfortunately, I can't give you a scouting report on his hands, since we never saw him catch any passes last season -- he only had a small number of receptions at San Diego State. You're right about his speed, Louis is fast and athletic, a major reason why the Bears feel he can at least compete for a job this summer. To sum it up; it's not a bad idea, but I'm not sure if it's likely given the players currently on the roster who could fill that need.