NFC North: Drew Bennett
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.)
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.
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.