Daily mailbag: Chicago and its receivers

March, 4, 2009
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Thank you, Brian of Kenosha, for providing an avenue to discuss Chicago's approach -- or lack of approach -- to the free-agent market:

Why is it that the Bears have not taken a more proactive approach to free agency? They have glaring needs at receiver, an aging offensive line, and defensive ends that get no pressure on the quarterback. They have multiple needs all over the field yet they have done nothing of significance. If they believe that they can solve all there problems through the draft they are kidding themselves.

Brian, I'm not overly concerned with the Bears' situation on the offensive line. They've essentially added two new starters this offseason, left tackle Chris Williams and guard/tackle Frank Omiyale, who is expected to start somewhere -- likely at left guard. John St. Clair is testing his value on the free-agent market, but he could ultimately return to play right tackle.

As for defensive end, the Bears are like almost every other NFL team in that they want/could use a better pass rush from their defensive ends. There aren't many dominant pass-rushers in this league, and they only become available at a whopping cost. (See Jared Allen, 2008.)

Top Free Agent WR Options
Player '08 Team Grade
Marvin Harrison IND 80
D.J. Hackett CAR 71
Laveranues Coles NYJ 68
Bobby Engram SEA 66
Amani Toomer NYG 65
Reggie Williams JAX 65
Joey Galloway TB 64
Ronald Curry OAK 62
Devery Henderson NO 62
Shaun McDonald DET 62
Mike Furrey DET 61
Justin McCareins TEN 61
Restricted Free Agents
Player '08 Team Grade
Lance Moore NO 69
Mark Clayton BAL 68
Demetrius Williams BAL 62
Hank Baskett PHI 60
Franchise Player
Player '08 Team Grade
Antonio Bryant TB 78
At the scouting combine last month, coach Lovie Smith indicated his hopes for improving the pass rush rest with new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli -- and not an influx of new players. Here's how Smith put it: "As we talk about free agents and what we're going to do in free agency, I feel like we've already signed the best free agent on the market right now in Rod Marinelli."

But I'm with you when it comes to the receiver position. Smith said at the combine that he wanted someone to step into the No. 2 position beside Devin Hester, but to my knowledge the Bears haven't so much as scheduled a visit yet for a free-agent receiver.

If you need to improve your receiving corps immediately, free agency is typically the way to go. Unlike some other positions, rookie receivers don't often contribute right away. Earl Bennett, the Bears' third-round draft choice last season, is a prime example.

There is a mix of veterans, journeymen and young players still available, and it's possible the Bears are waiting for their market value to settle before exploring their options. There is also the unresolved situation in Arizona with receiver Anquan Boldin, who could ultimately be traded.

You can scan the list to the right to get a better feel for who remains on the market following the signings of T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Seattle), Nate Washington (Tennessee), Bryant Johnson (Detroit) and Brandon Jones (San Francisco). The players are listed in order of their Scouts Inc. grades. Remember, you need a grade of 60 or higher to be considered starter-quality on the Scouts scale.

(Two veterans who are available but graded out below 60 are Jerry Porter and Drew Bennett.)

If the Bears abstain from free agency and Boldin remains in Arizona, it's hard to predict where the necessary improvement will come from. The best hope would be for Bennett, who went without a catch last season, to ascend somehow to a prominent role. The Bears should get a better feel for that when their mandatory minicamp convenes in two weeks.



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