The Chicago Bears open the "voluntary" portion of their offseason program this week, having made a series of mid-level moves last week that re-organized their linebacker group and effected a swap at right guard. After catching up on the rest of the division, let's dig a bit deeper into the Bears' moves.
After bidding farewell to middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (free agent) and strong-side linebacker Nick Roach (Oakland Raiders), the Bears signed free agents D.J. Williams and James Anderson. Both players received one-year contracts that at most will cost the Bears about $3 million combined, which should tell you all you need to know about the permanence of that situation. (Anderson signed for $1.25 million, while Williams will earn up to $1.75 million, according to Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.)
Williams' natural position is on the weak side, where Lance Briggs plays. So at the moment, he appears the most likely candidate to replace Urlacher in 2013. He will turn 31 in July and might be best-suited for an inside role at this point in his career. Anderson, who turns 30 in September, could wind up in Roach's old position.
I don't know if the Bears will alter their draft priorities after signing Williams and Anderson, but I don't think it should. If anything, what the Bears have done is provide a bridge to their next generation of linebackers. When the season ends, all three of their presumed starters -- Williams, Anderson and Briggs -- will be at least 30.
The Bears might no longer face the urgency of drafting an immediate starter at either position, but their need for long-term replacements at all three linebacker positions is no less acute. In some cases, a rookie can earn a starting job midway through the season if not before. Regardless, the position remains a high priority in this month's draft.
Meanwhile, it's fair for the moment to consider Matt Slauson as the replacement for right guard Lance Louis, who signed a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins worth $1.603 million. I'm guessing the Bears didn't want to commit long-term to Louis while he rehabilitates his torn ACL, but it's only fair to point out he was the team's best offensive lineman last season. Slauson started 48 consecutive games over three seasons for the salary cap-strapped New York Jets, but he'll need to be a pretty successful free-agent signing to match Louis' pre-injury play from last season.
Note: The Bears got a head-start in their offseason program division because the NFL has a different schedule for teams with new coaches. During the next two weeks, players can participate in strength-and-conditioning workouts, as well as rehabilitation. Chicago will have a voluntary pre-draft minicamp from April 16-18, will start organized team activities (OTAs) on May 13 and have its mandatory minicamp from June 11-13.