NFC North: 2014 Free Agency Preview

Teams around the NFL can start contacting and negotiating with agents of players set to become unrestricted free agents on Saturday, but deals can't be executed until 3 p.m. CST March 11 when the new league year starts.

As that date quickly approaches, we take a look at Chicago's pending free agents, and their chances of returning to the team in the fourth part of our series we'll post all week.

2014 free agent: Blake Costanzo

Position: Special teams/linebacker

2013 statistics: Special teams -- 17 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery; Defense -- two tackles

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary and $25,000 workout bonus -- $740,000 cash value

Outlook: Costanzo led the Bears in special teams tackles but the team has made no attempt to re-sign him since the end of the regular season. The outspoken Costanzo didn't seem to click with first-year head coach Marc Trestman. However, Costanzo is a valuable contributor on special teams. He is sure to find work, but the prospects of him returning to Chicago are bleak. Costanzo received a $400,000 signing bonus from the Bears when he inked his two-year deal in 2012. That would be a great guaranteed number for Costanzo to strive for in the next round of free agency that begins March 11.

2014 free agent: Eben Britton

Position: Guard/offensive tackle

2013 statistics: None. Played in 13 games with four starts as an extra tight end.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary and no bonuses and $4,200 workout bonus -- $718,200 cash value

Britton
Britton
Outlook: Didn't play the first three games before making his Bears debut Sept. 29 and later starting four games as an extra tight end in some of the club's run sets. In all, Britton played in 13 games and is a valuable backup with extensive experience as a starter. In fact, Britton could attract interest in free agency from teams wanting him to come in to compete for a starting job. Chicago will let Britton test the market to see how things shape up for him, and if he doesn't receive consideration as a potential starter, the Bears might look into bringing him back as a reserve with a veteran-minimum salary.

2014 free agent: Patrick Mannelly

Position: Long snapper

2013 statistics: One special teams tackle

2013 salary: $940,000 base salary and $5,250 workout bonus -- $945,250 cash value

Outlook: When Mannelly recovers from offseason hip surgery he will have a one-year, veteran minimum salary waiting for him from the Bears. Entering his 17th NFL season, Mannelly's skills are still sharp. Maybe he doesn't snap like he did five years ago, but he certainly appears capable of being effective and his usual near-flawless self for the Bears in 2014. There is a chance Mannelly, who turns 39 next month, could decide to walk away from the game on his own terms. That is always a possibility. But if the Bears' all-time leader in games played still has the itch to snap in the NFL, the Bears are expected to welcome him back with open arms. Why wouldn't they?

2014 free agent: Jonathan Scott

Position: Special teams/linebacker

2013 statistics: None. Inactive for all 15 games he spent with the team.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary -- $672,941 cash value

Outlook: The Bears cut Scott in early September of last season to avoid being strapped with guaranteeing his salary for 2013 due to the fact he was a vested veteran. The Bears brought him back less than a week later, and although Scott was with the team for the final 15 games, he never saw action. Scott, 31, will test the market, according to his representatives, and it's unlikely the Bears will look to re-sign him unless they run into trouble finding younger players capable of contributing as reserves.
Teams around the NFL can start contacting and negotiating with agents of players set to become unrestricted free agents on Saturday, but deals can’t be executed until March 11 at 3 p.m. CT when the new league year starts.

As that date quickly approaches, we take a look at Chicago’s pending free agents, and their chances of returning to the team in the third part of our series we’ll post all week.

Williams
Williams
2014 free agent: D.J. Williams

Position: Linebacker

2013 statistics: 6 games (four starts); 39 tackles (21 solo), 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 tackles for lost yardage, 1 quarterback pressure.

2013 salary: $900,000 base salary, $750,000 roster bonus, $100,000 workout bonus -- $1,281,250 cash value

Outlook: The Bears mentioned Williams' strong play prior to a season-ending pectoral injury on multiple occasions shortly after the season, and all indications are the club wants the veteran to return for 2014. Williams has spent time rehabbing at Halas Hall and says he would like to remain a part of Chicago’s defense in 2014. Given the mutual interest between the sides, it should be only a matter of time before the Bears sign Williams to a deal similar to what he received to join the club last spring. With Williams in the middle flanked outside by Lance Briggs and Jonathan Bostic (provided he wins the starting job at Sam), the Bears could field a solid linebacking corps next season provided the group stays healthy.

Steltz
2014 free agent: Craig Steltz

Position: Safety

2013 statistics: 16 games (one start); 14 tackles, one pass breakup and 14 special teams tackles.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary and $50,000 workout bonus -- $765,000 cash value

Outlook: Steltz is a solid reserve safety and special teams contributor. He's spent his entire NFL career in Chicago and would no doubt prefer to stay with the Bears. League minimum contracts for NFL veterans are a sensitive subject. Minimum deals basically represent an invitation to try out for the team. Veterans that fall into the league minimum category will fight hard for signing bonus money. Steltz could possibly find himself in that situation. Steltz has always been a good soldier, hard worker and positive voice in the locker room. Whether the Bears reward Steltz with a signing bonus (he received a $125,000 signing bonus two years) remains to be seen. But he fits the mold of the type of player the Bears are looking to bring back.

Collins
2014 free agent: Nate Collins

Position: Defensive tackle

2013 statistics: Five games (two starts); 13 tackles, three quarterback pressures and one sack.

2013 salary: $630,000 base salary and $5,250 workout bonus - $635,250 cash value

Outlook: Collins had a strong preseason and appeared poised to have a breakout year until he landed on injured reserve with a torn ACL. Collins is a pass-rusher. Players that can pressure the quarterback are not easy to find. The Bears decided not to tender Collins at the restricted free agent amount last season, and instead released him and signed him back to a minimum deal. Because of the knee injury, Collins is probably looking at the same kind of deal this time around. Collins, who has potential, seems like a decent candidate to return in the later waves of free agency unless the Bears feel confident enough in his health to extend him an offer in the coming week.

Anderson
2014 free agent: James Anderson

Position: Linebacker

2013 statistics: 16 games (16 starts); 129.5 tackles (76 solo), 7.5 tackles for lost yardage, 10 quarterback pressures, 4 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery.

2013 salary: $950,000 base salary, $200,000 signing bonus, $100,000 workout bonus -- $1,250,000 cash value

Outlook: Anderson led the team in tackles, and tied with Shea McClellin for second in sacks. But the Bears haven’t shown much interest in bringing back Anderson so far this offseason. As of Wednesday afternoon, the team still hadn’t approached the veteran about a possible return. Anderson doesn’t seem to fit the mold of the tough, hardnosed athletes the Bears are looking to add to the defense. So once the negotiation window opens, Anderson will likely be speaking with other teams before the Bears make a move. Anderson will likely leave, but it's still too early to rule out a return to Chicago.
Teams around the NFL can start contacting and negotiating with agents of players set to become unrestricted free agents on Saturday, but deals can’t be executed until Mar. 11 at 3 p.m. CST when new league year starts.

As that date quickly approaches, we take a look at Chicago’s pending free agents, and their chances of returning to the team in the second part of our week-long series.

Melton
2014 free agent: Henry Melton

Position: Defensive tackle

2013 statistics: 3 games (three starts); 5 tackles, two quarterback pressures and one fumble recovery.

2013 salary: $8.45M base salary, $4,725 workout bonus -- $8,454,725 cash value.

Outlook: Once the negotiating window opens up on Mar. 8, Melton fully expects to start discussing potential deals with other teams. That expectation comes as a result of talks with the Bears that haven’t quite gone the way Melton’s representatives would have hoped, which is understandable considering he’s coming off a torn ACL, and a recent arrest, not to mention concerns about his level of commitment. Bears coach Marc Trestman has raved about Melton’s rehabilitation, and there’s a desire on the team’s part to bring him back for 2014. But with the team tight against the cap, Melton can’t expect to receive a deal anywhere near the $8.45 million franchise tender he signed in 2014, coming off a Pro Bowl season. Melton will have some suitors, and there’s a chance he could come back to Chicago at a reduced rate.

2014 free agent: Zack Bowman

Position: Cornerback

2013 statistics: 16 games (seven starts); 49 tackles, three interceptions (one touchdown), 10 pass breakups, two tackles-for-loss and three special teams tackles.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary, $65,000 signing bonus and $5,245.00 workout bonus -- $785,425 cash value.

Outlook: Bowman is expected to test free agency, but the Bears want him to return. At 29 years old with 23 career starts over six seasons, Bowman will probably generate interest from teams in need of depth at the cornerback position. The Bears were pleased with how Bowman performed when he replaced Charles Tillman in the second half of 2013, although it’s unknown if the club is willing to offer the six-year NFL veteran anything above a league minimum contract. Bowman’s leverage would increase if Tillman leaves the Bears via free agency. Bottom line: the Bears are a better team with Bowman on the roster in 2014. It wouldn’t take much to keep him in Chicago, but he is coming off a productive season. That is an important factor to remember.

Wright
2014 free agent: Major Wright

Position: Safety

2013 statistics: 15 games (15 starts); 117 tackles (97 solo), two interceptions, 1 pass breakups, and two forced fumbles.

2013 salary: $1.323M base salary and $5,075 workout -- $1,328,075 cash value.

Outlook: After a solid showing in 2012, Wright came into the 2013 season with high expectations, but regressed to the point at which there’s a perceived need at the safety position. While it appears Wright can be salvaged, it’s expected he’ll test the market because the Bears don’t appear inclined to offer anything more than a veteran minimum type of deal. Wright possesses the skillset to be a solid starter for the Bears moving forward. But his lack of consistency has become such a liability the Bears are likely strongly considering replacing him.

Wootton
Wootton
2014 free agent: Corey Wootton

Position: Defensive line

2013 statistics: 16 games (15 starts); 31 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five pass breakups, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and 4.5 tackles-for-loss.

2013 salary: $1.323M base salary and $5,600 signing bonus -- $1,328,600 cash value

Outlook: The Bears talks with Wootton have likely not surpassed the exploratory phase after the versatile defensive lineman underwent hip surgery in the offseason. It’s simply too early to tell when Wootton will be fully recovered from the procedure, although given Wootton’s work ethic and physical fitness level, he could be ready to return to the field in June. Wootton proved in 2013 that he can be both a viable defensive end and tackle. The ability to bounce inside and line up at tackle should aid Wootton (seven sacks in 2012) when he enters free agency. Wootton is a talented player with impressive size (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) who is extremely well-liked in the locker room. But the Bears will probably wait to see how they address defensive line in free agency and the draft before they make a final decision on the still recovering Wootton. He could be off the market before the draft concludes in early May, but the Bears don’t seem to be in a rush.

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