NFC North: Josh McCown

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Quarterback Jordan Palmer's actual NFL regular-season game experience is limited to four appearances and 15 pass attempts over parts of six years, but Bears general manager Phil Emery thinks Palmer is capable of being the team's primary backup to incumbent starter Jay Cutler in 2014.

Palmer
Josh McCown's exit to Tampa Bay leaves Palmer and former practice squad member Jerrod Johnson as the only two reserve quarterbacks on the current roster with the NFL draft one week away.

"Absolutely [Palmer can be the No.2]," Emery said Thursday. "And I told him that the other day -- the same thing I told Josh: 'Glad you're here, looking forward to your contributions and we're counting on you.' And Jordan, since the time that he came last year has been nothing but a positive. He performed well in a preseason game and I understand that's the fourth preseason game, normally that's the second and thirds and the back end of the roster, but you still want people to show that they have upside and perform well. There are people that make squads in that game, so that game is important. And he did well.

"He has been a backup in the league, obviously in Cincinnati, so he knows what the weight of that position is and how to carry himself and how to contribute positively to the team in that role. And to get himself ready to go every week in case there was an injury. So yes, comfortable with him and excited to see Jerrod on the field for longer than a week or two. You know, we brought him in to take a look at him, but we had to release him because we had other needs on our practice squad at the time depending on what had happened with our 53-man roster. So I told him when we released him that we would like to bring him back and we did."

Eventually, the Bears will need to find a replacement for Cutler, whose new contract essentially locks him in for the next three seasons. But Emery was quick to caution against the idea of the Bears drafting a developmental quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds. The Bears used sixth and fifth round picks on quarterbacks Dan LeFevour [2010] and Nate Enderle [2011] and neither player panned out.

"I just did a little study. It's very interesting," Emery said. "That developmental theory doesn't hold a whole lot of water. There's entire classes of quarterbacks, since '06, I went back and looked at from Jay's on -- when people say developmental quarterbacks, OK, so who has gotten developed? There isn't a single quarterback after the third round since 2006 that has been a long-term starter. So you're either developing thirds, and most of them have been wiped out of the league. So to get a quality quarterback, you've got to draft them high. That 2012 class is a blip on the radar that's unusual, highly unusual.

"Most of the starters in this league come from the first and second round. So that's where you need to take a quarterback. So when you talk about quarterback every year, they have to be somebody that you truly believe will beat out the second and third quarterback that you perceive on your roster. And if not, history shows that you shouldn't make that pick."

If the Bears bypass a quarterback in the draft, Emery is likely to continue to explore the free-agent market. The Bears worked out several quarterbacks, including former Bucs first round selection Josh Freeman, but failed to offer any of them contracts.
CHICAGO -- Free-agent quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Adam Weber visited the Chicago Bears on Monday, a source with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed.

UPDATE: Freeman worked out for the club, but the Bears do not plan to sign him, according to a source familiar with the decision.

Freeman
The Bears also worked out tight end Matthew Mulligan, per a league source.

The Bears are in the market for a reserve quarterback after Josh McCown signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. The club brought back veteran Jordan Palmer on a one-year contract on March 9, but general manager Phil Emery told reporters at a recent news conference the Bears would investigate the available free-agent class of quarterbacks.

Freeman entered the NFL in 2009 as a first-round draft choice of the Bucs (No. 17 overall). The 6-foot-6 Freeman started 56 games over his first four seasons in Tampa, throwing a career-high 27 touchdowns in 2012. But Freeman’s best year occurred in 2010 when he posted a 95.9 quarterback rating plus 25 touchdown passes and just six interceptions.

However, Freeman fell out of favor with the Bucs and former head coach Greg Schiano and was released on Oct. 3, 2013. Freeman eventually signed with the Minnesota Vikings but started only one game, going 20-of-53 for 190 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.

Weber signed with the Denver Broncos as an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Minnesota in 2011. He also spent time on the Bucs' practice squad.

Mulligan has made 24 starts since entering the NFL in 2009. He played for the New England Patriots last year after previous stops with the Rams and Jets.

In other news, the Bears agreed terms on a three-year deal with former CFL long-snapper Chad Rempel; veteran long-snapper Patrick Mannelly continues to recover from offseason hip surgery.
On the eve of free agency two weeks ago, our four NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears) -- compiled a list of the top-15 free agents in the division.

Only three of the original 15 remain unsigned as free agency enters its third week. One of them, former Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, could remain that way for a while because of his neck injury.

Perhaps the biggest-name free agent from the NFC North, former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, did not make the original list because he was not a free agent until he was released shortly after free agency opened. He signed with the Packers on March 15.

You can follow all of the NFL free-agent moves in Bill Polian's free-agent tracker, but let's revisit the NFC North top 15 and see what has changed in the last week:

1. Sam Shields, Packers CB: Signed a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period on March 8. His $9.75 million per year average made him the fourth-highest paid cornerback in the league behind Darrelle Revis ($16 million), Brandon Carr ($10 million) and Aqib Talib ($9.8 million).

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: Re-signed with the Lions for four years and $16 million, including a $4 million signing bonus.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Trying to come back from neck fusion surgery, Finley remained unsigned after a visit to the Seattle Seahawks during free-agency's first week. According a report in the Green Bay Press-Gazette over the weekend, the Seahawks failed Finley on his physical during the visit, leaving his status in doubt.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: Signed a one-year contract to return to Chicago after missing half of last season because of a torn triceps. The deal is worth about $3.5 million.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Less than a year after reportedly turning down a multi-year offer that averaged $8 million per season, he returned to the Packers for a one-year, $4 million contract.

6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Vikings on March 7, just before teams could start contacting his agent and will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Bears. Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time with the Lions in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: After going unsigned during the first week of free agency, Jones signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Oakland Raiders. The deal was similar to the three-year, $9.6 million deal he signed with the Packers three years ago.

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: Was weighing an offer from Seattle, where he has visited twice since the start of free agency. After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen's time in Minnesota is over.

10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: Signed a two-year, $10 million contract to rejoin his old coach, Lovie Smith, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Coming off a torn ACL, Melton signed a one-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys that could become a four-year deal if the team exercises an option after the first year.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Signed a three-year, $9 million with the Atlanta Falcons after the Bears decided not to pursue an extension with the kick return specialist.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Remained unsigned after playing in 15 games and taking over as a starter early in the season last year.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: Cashed in on March 9th by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: Signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Miami Dolphins after the Lions released him with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014.

Free-agency review: Bears

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
9:00
AM ET
Most significant signing: The Bears made Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston their most expensive acquisition ($15 million guaranteed), but the price could actually turn out to be a bargain if he can replace some of the production lost with the release of Julius Peppers. Houston is a young, ascending player who has a reputation for physicality, which is exactly what Chicago wanted. Houston also provides the Bears versatility in the scheme because of his ability to be impactful as a pass-rusher from defensive end or defensive tackle. As well as Houston played in Oakland, it’s expected he’ll play his best ball in Chicago.

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJosh McCown threw for 1,829 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
Most significant loss: Even though Josh McCown was serving as the backup quarterback, his departure to Tampa Bay was significant because of all he did behind the scenes with starter Jay Cutler and the team’s skill-position players. It’s also worth noting that Cutler hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since 2009. So the chances of the Bears needing the backup to play in 2014 would seem fairly reasonable. The Bears have expressed confidence in Jordan Palmer’s ability to fill McCown’s shoes as the No. 2 quarterback, but they’ll continue to see if they can upgrade at that position.

Biggest surprise: Chicago’s judicious handling of free agency to this point is somewhat of a surprise. Despite several needs on defense, the Bears have resisted the temptation to overspend just for the sake of filling spots. The front office has identified the types of players it would like to add to the defense, and it hasn’t waffled. The club is also staying patient, knowing there are still bargains to be had in the later stages of free agency.

What’s next? It’s difficult at this point to say how free agency will affect Chicago’s draft because free agency for the Bears will likely go all the way until May as the team continues to exercise restraint in its search for impact players. The Bears will still be active in the second and third wave of free agency, and it’s likely the club will land at least one more defensive starter. Even with that, Chicago’s draft will still be focused on defense because it’s time to start looking toward the future. Defensive tackle would appear to be the main target in the draft, and that could still be the case, even if the Bears managed to bring back free agent Henry Melton.
On the eve of free agency last week, our four NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears) -- compiled a list of the top-15 free agents in the division.

A week has passed and nine of them already have come off the market, including six who re-signed with their old teams.

Perhaps the biggest-name free agent from the NFC North, former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, did not make the original list because he was not a free agent until he was released last week. He signed with the Packers on Saturday.

You can follow all of the NFL free-agent moves in Bill Polian's free-agent tracker, but let's revisit the NFC North top 15 and see what has changed:

1. Sam Shields, Packers CB: Signed a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period on March 8. His $9.75 million per year average made him the fourth-highest paid cornerback in the league behind Darrelle Revis ($16 million), Brandon Carr ($10 million) and Aqib Talib ($9.8 million).

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: Re-signed with the Lions for four years and $16 million, including a $4 million signing bonus.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Remained unsigned after a visit to the Seattle Seahawks last week. It’s not known what the Seahawks' medical staff thought of Finley's C-3/C-4 neck vertebra fusion surgery that he had last November following his season-ending neck injury.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: Signed a one-year contract to return to Chicago last Friday after missing half of last season because of a torn triceps. The deal is worth about $3.5 million.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Less than a year after reportedly turning down a multi-year offer that averaged $8 million per season, he returned to the Packers for a one-year deal signed on Friday that was believed to be worth $4 million plus incentives.

6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Vikings on March 7, just before teams could start contacting his agent and will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Bears. Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time with the Lions in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency and has not had any known visits even after he ranked second on the Packers last season in receptions (59) and yards (817), the latter of which was a career high despite missing nearly three full games because of a knee injury. Three years ago, coming off the NFL lockout, Jones did not draw strong interest on the free-agent market and re-signed with the Packers for three years and $9.6 million. Could the same thing happen again?

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency but reportedly visited the Seattle Seahawks over the weekend. After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen's time in Minnesota is over.

10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: Signed a two-year, $10 million contract to rejoin his old coach, Lovie Smith, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Coming off a torn ACL, Melton went unsigned during the first wave of free agency but has a visit scheduled with the Dallas Cowboys this week.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Remained unsigned more than a week after the Bears said they would not bring him back.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Remained unsigned after playing in 15 games and taking over as a starter early in the season last year.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: Cashed in on March 9th by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: Signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Miami Dolphins after the Lions released him with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Bear with me a minute for this anecdote that best illustrates what the Chicago Bears lost Wednesday when backup quarterback Josh McCown signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he joins former Bears coach Lovie Smith.

McCown
It wasn't long after Marc Trestman took over the head coaching job in Chicago last year when driving around near the club's practice facilities, he decided to drop by the hotel where the team houses rookies during the offseason. Trestman figured he'd pop his head in, take a look and see who might be milling around the hotel.

Trestman walks in, and in the hotel lobby, McCown had gathered the rookies for an impromptu film session in an attempt to help the inexperienced players digest the copious amounts of information they'd soon be trying to process on the practice field. As they watched film, McCown drew up the X's and O's on a grease board he'd borrowed from the front desk.

He'd pulled together everyone for film study without anybody ever asking him. Soon, starting quarterback Jay Cutler was doing the same thing with the rookies at that hotel.

That's the type of influence the Bears lose in McCown's departure to Tampa Bay. General manager Phil Emery once called McCown "a glue guy," while others within the organization have described him as "fatherly." That's why the team held supreme confidence in McCown's ability to get the job done in 2013 during the times Cutler was unable to play because of injuries.

Cutler will probably miss McCown the most.

"I'd like to see him come back," Cutler said back in January. "There are talks about him getting other opportunities, which I think, rightfully so he'll have. We've had candid talks about what he wants to do. I'll let Josh address that when he wants to. I know we'd love to have him back. I know Phil talked on it. We'd like to have him back in the building: Just the amount of work he does behind the scenes with the younger players and myself, just the experience he brings to the quarterback room, it's very valuable. The guys in the locker room are hoping we see 12 back next year."

They will, but McCown will be standing on the other side of the field playing for Tampa Bay -- possibly as the starter -- next season when the Bears host the Buccaneers at Soldier Field.

In weighing his options, McCown hoped for an opportunity to compete for a starting job, and it appears the Buccaneers will grant such a chance.

"To leave Chicago, it will be a situation where I'm looking to compete to start or to start, and be able to kind of grow more as a player," McCown said. "The only way as a player that you can do that is on the field. That will definitely be something that we are looking at. So we'll see. We'll see what opportunities come and where we are at tomorrow."

McCown is expected to receive a significant bump in pay from the one-year, $840,000 veteran league minimum salary he received from the Bears last offseason that included a $25,000 signing bonus and $5,600 workout bonus for a total compensation package of $870,600.

He'll be missed in Chicago. But Emery put it best Wednesday in reacting to the news McCown is headed elsewhere.

"We all want to congratulate Josh. He's been provided with a great opportunity to be a starter down there in Tampa. We're very happy for him and very proud for him," Emery said. "Obviously we look forward to competing against him on the field; very happy for him that he's had this opportunity. Josh has earned the right and respect to be given the opportunity."
CHICAGO -- Free agent quarterback Josh McCown will visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Texans and New York Jets, in that order, according to a source familiar with the situation.

McCown
ESPNChicago.com reported on Monday the Bears, Bucs, Texans and Jets were the four teams to show the most interest in McCown, who is fresh off a career year in Chicago.

"To leave Chicago, it will be a situation where I’m looking to compete to start or to start and be able to kind of grow more as a player, McCown said Monday on ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike”. “The only way as a player that you can do that is on the field. That will definitely be something that we are looking at. So we’ll see.”

All three potential destinations should provide McCown with the opportunity to compete to be the starting quarterback.

McCown is expected to field multi-year offers from the interested parties that the Bears might not be inclined to match because of the money invested in starting quarterback Jay Cutler. He signed a lengthy contract with $54 million in guarantees at the conclusion of the regular season.

McCown, who turns 35 in July, had a career year in 2013 when he completed 149 of 224 pass attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception. McCown, who appeared in eight games last season with five starts, finished the season as the NFL’s third highest-rated quarterback with a 109.0 passer-rating -- the highest single-season quarterback rating in franchise history.

McCown set additional Bears all-time records with three straight 300-yard passing games, 36 completions in a single game versus the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 24 and an overall single-season completion percentage of 66.5.

McCown also had the best interception percentage in the NFL last year with one pick in 224 attempts (0.4 percent).
Disappointment over a potential deal that never materialized with Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett on Monday didn’t prevent the Chicago Bears from making a couple of cap-saving moves, in addition to shopping Julius Peppers around the league in advance of Tuesday’s start to free agency.

The Bears whiffed -- but not for lack of trying hard -- on Plan A with Bennett, offering more money than the Seahawks, who eventually retained Bennett with somewhat of a hometown discount. But the Bears under the direction of general manager Phil Emery typically devise alternate strategies for adding the players they want in free agency. So while Plan B, C and the other options aren’t fully known at this point, it’s likely Chicago expects to make a flurry of moves in the first wave of free agency and be active all the way through the process.

That’s why the team cut running back Michael Bush -- freeing up $1.85 million in cap space -- released tight end Dante Rosario, and put out calls around the league, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, for a potential trade for Peppers, which likely won’t ever take place. With Peppers counting $18.183 million against Chicago’s cap in 2014, no team wants to take in that salary via a trade. So when a team starts shopping a player, it often results in the club eventually cutting him.

Cutting Peppers with the post-June 1 designation would result in $4.183 million worth of dead money in 2014 and $4.183 million in 2015, but given his astronomical cap figures over the next two years, that would still represent respective savings of $14 million and $16.5 million.

But at this point cutting Peppers doesn’t appear to be imminent.

What does seem to be on the way is the re-signing of middle linebacker D.J. Williams. The sides had been in discussion since last week, and negotiations were expected to continue through the weekend. As of Monday evening, the sides -- although still talking -- hadn't come to an agreement, according to a league source who expected a deal to take place late Monday night or early Tuesday.

Chicago also remains interested in re-signing other free agents such as cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive tackle Henry Melton and backup quarterback Josh McCown. Little information has emerged regarding Tillman’s situation, although he’s been linked to Tampa Bay because of his history with former Bears head coach Lovie Smith. The Bears have worked diligently to bring back Tillman, and it’s likely the effort will continue as the cornerback’s prospects with other teams could be limited by his age.

Melton, meanwhile, has generated interest from multiple teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, according to a league source, which would make sense given the defensive tackle’s familiarity with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. That doesn’t mean the Bears won’t be able to re-sign Melton. After all, the Cowboys are tight against their cap, and it’s unknown what kind of money another team might offer Melton, whose value could be diminished since he is coming off an ACL surgery.

As for McCown, as of right now, the Buccaneers appear to be the front-runner to land the quarterback, according to multiple sources, unless another one of the interested teams steps up with a more enticing offer, as the career backup may receive an opportunity to compete for a starting job. According to ESPNChicago’s Jeff Dickerson, McCown’s camp has been in contact with the Bucs, Bears, New York Jets and Houston Texans.

Dickerson also reported the Bears reached out to Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson on Saturday, ostensibly as a secondary option to Bennett, when the negotiation window for unrestricted free agents opened around the league. Although the sides engaged in preliminary talks, as of Monday evening it was believed the Bears weren’t at the top of the list for Johnson, who is widely considered the best available defensive end remaining on the market.

The Bears are also targeting defensive end Lamarr Houston of the Raiders according to a report on the NFL Network.

It’s unknown at this point where that leaves the Bears in terms of addressing needs along the defensive line, but several potential lower-priced options exist, and the salary demands could drop depending on how the first wave of free agency goes.

Safety is another area of need the Bears hope to address in free agency. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Chicago has expressed interest in San Francisco’s Donte Whitner, who would give the Bears an intimidating presence on the back end. A source also confirmed the club’s interest in New York Giants safety Ryan Mundy, who finds Chicago an intriguing opportunity because he’d receive a chance to compete for a starting job.

The Bears ended the day Monday with nearly $10.2 million in cap space, and it’s worth noting the club spent $5.775 million during free agency for the 2013 season on three starters in Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson and Martellus Bennett.

So as the initial sting of losing out on Bennett wears off, Emery said back in January the Bears will still be plenty competitive in terms of putting together a solid team once free agency opens on Tuesday.

We all just have to wait and see.

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears free-agent quarterback Josh McCown told ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” that his representatives have held discussions with four teams in advance of the NFL’s free-agency period which opens at 3 p.m. CT on Tuesday.

McCown declined to specifically name the interested parties, but the belief in league circles is that the Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets and Houston Texans are the organizations making the strongest push the sign the 34-year old veteran quarterback.

McCown re-emphasized that if he left Chicago, his home for parts of the last three seasons, it would be to pursue a full-time starting quarterback opportunity.

“I’m not going to get in to who I talked to,” McCown said. “There is a window and there is legal tampering but there are some shades on that window so I don’t know out of respect to those teams if we want to get into that right now. We’ve talked to four teams. There have been good discussions. We’ll take those as they come and evaluate those situations.

"To leave Chicago, it will be a situation where I’m looking to compete to start or to start and be able to kind of grow more as a player. The only way as a player that you can do that is on the field. That will definitely be something that we are looking at. So we’ll see. We’ll see what opportunities come and where we are at tomorrow.”

McCown is expected to receive a significant bump in pay from the one-year, $840,000 veteran league minimum salary he received from the Bears last offseason that included a $25,000 signing bonus and $5,600 workout bonus for a total compensation package of $870,600.

That pales in comparison to the kind of money that exchanged hands last week at the quarterback position, when Chad Henne signed a two-year, $8 million ($4.5 million guaranteed) with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Matt Cassel inked a two-year, $10 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings.

McCown, who turns 35 in July, had a career year in 2013 when he completed 149 of 224 pass attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception. McCown, who appeared in eight games last season with five starts, finished the season as the NFL’s third highest-rated quarterback with a 109.0 passer-rating – the highest single-season quarterback rating in franchise history.

McCown set additional Bears all-time records with three straight 300-yard passing games, 36 completions in a single game versus the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 24 and an overall single-season completion percentage of 66.5.

McCown also had the best interception percentage in the NFL last year with one pick in 224 attempts (0.4 percent).

The Bears had an exclusive window to negotiate with McCown since the end of the regular season, but the club appears unwilling to set the market for a 34-year old quarterback after it signed starter Jay Cutler to a contract that contained $54 million in guarantees.

The Bears also agreed to terms on a one-year deal with veteran quarterback Jordan Palmer on Sunday.

Top free-agent roundup: NFC North

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
10:00
AM ET
A few deals have been signed around the NFC North in the days leading up to free agency, but plenty of valuable players are about to hit the open market.

Here is a ranking of top NFC North free agents, with information provided by ESPN.com reporters Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears).

We will update this periodically throughout the next several weeks.

1.Sam Shields, Packers CB: Emerged as the Packers' top cover cornerback last season while playing for the restricted free-agent tender of $2.023 million and was re-signed to a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period Saturday. His 2014 total pay of $15 million makes him the NFL's second-highest-paid cornerback for next season.

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: The No. 20 pick in the 2009 draft out of Oklahoma State, Pettigrew spent the past five seasons as one of Detroit's primary tight ends, specifically known for the ability to both block and run routes effectively.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Had surgery to fuse the C3 and C4 vertebra in his neck but expects to be cleared by his doctor. Gambled two years ago in free agency, signing just a two-year, $14 million deal in the hope that he would blossom into a star and command an even bigger contract the next time around.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: The NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year, Tillman started eight games last season before finishing on the injured reserve with a torn triceps. The Bears hope to bring back Tillman but might not be able to come up with a suitable offer.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Reportedly turned down an $8 million per year offer from the Packers last season, which might have been a sign that he preferred to play in a system that gave defensive linemen more freedom. After a disappointing season, his value has gone down, and as of last week, he was close to signing a one-year deal to return.

Cassel
Cassel
6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year deal with the Vikings on Friday, just before teams could start contacting his agent. He will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3. Young turned into one of the more disruptive players up front, making 47 tackles, recovering two fumbles and recording three sacks.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: Ranked second on the Packers last season in receptions (59) and yards (817), the latter of which was a career high despite missing nearly three full games because of a knee injury. Three years ago, coming off the NFL lockout, Jones did not draw strong interest on the free-agent market and re-signed with the Packers for three years and $9.6 million.

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen’s time in Minnesota is likely over. He could come back as a situational pass-rusher on a reduced salary, but after making $14 million last season, Allen might head elsewhere for a bigger role and bigger paycheck.

McCown
10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: He proved he is capable of filling in for Jay Cutler in a pinch and is instrumental behind the scenes for nearly every skill player on the offense. It's not a slam dunk he will be back, and talks with the Bears haven't been especially productive.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Melton's representatives fully expect him to test the market in free agency because the Bears haven’t shown a ton of interest. Coming off a torn ACL, Melton probably won't command top dollar in the first wave of free agency.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Became strictly a return specialist for the Bears last season and is still one of the league's best at his position. Probably expects a payday similar to what he's gotten in the past.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Mathis signed with Detroit during the 2013 preseason and became one of the team's starting cornerbacks by the third week of the season. He played in 15 games, making 47 tackles and often drawing the opponent's top wide receiver.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: The 26-year-old cashed in on Sunday by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota. He should flourish in new coach Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: The 26-year-old was released by Detroit with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014. Has played in 65 games for Detroit over five seasons, with 328 tackles, six interceptions and two forced fumbles. He also had five sacks and four fumble recoveries.

Free-agency primer: Bears

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, D.J. Williams, Major Wright, Devin Hester, Corey Wootton, Josh McCown.

Where they stand: The club informed Hester it won't be re-signing him for 2014, but the Bears are making a concerted effort to try to bring back Tillman. Still, there's a chance the economics won't work out, as Tillman could have other suitors willing to pay more than Chicago. The Bears did some work in re-signing free agents, such as defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, cornerback Kelvin Hayden along with center Roberto Garza, to cap-friendly deals. Negotiations to re-sign McCown have moved along slowly, which means there's a chance the Bears could lose him if another team gives the backup an opportunity to win a starting job. There's interest from both sides in re-signing Williams, and talks are expected to continue over the weekend.

What to expect: At this point, it's unknown where Chicago's pro personnel department has rated its own unsigned free agents against what else is available on the market. So count on the Bears waiting to see what the market value for their own players is before moving to re-sign them, which is actually a smart move that will keep them from overpaying. The Bears aren't expected to overspend on big names in free agency, but general manager Phil Emery has been known in recent years to make a couple of surprise moves. The Bears would like to infuse youth on defense, but that could prove to be a pricey proposition in free agency for a team with limited cap space. They do have the flexibility to free up cash by cutting players such as Julius Peppers, or restructuring Jay Cutler's deal, which includes a base salary of $22.5 million in 2014.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Backup quarterback Josh McCown wants to remain in Chicago, but a market that seems to be heating up for his services could change that.

McCown
Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht wants to add a veteran quarterback to compete with Mike Glennon, as does new Bucs coach Lovie Smith. Given Smith’s familiarity with McCown from their time together in Chicago, the veteran quarterback is a logical option to battle Glennon for the starting job.

“There’s a lot of positions on our team that I’m sure Lovie would agree that we want to anoint as the starter,” Licht said when asked if Glennon is the starting quarterback. “We want competition for Mike.”

There’s a good chance the Jets could also want competition for Geno Smith, based on a report from the New York Daily News.

McCown produced a 3-2 record last season filling in for Jay Cutler, generating a passer rating of 109 and throwing 13 touchdown passes and only one interception. McCown has expressed a desire on multiple occasions to remain with the Chicago Bears, as he was an integral part of the team's implementing a new offense under first-year Bears coach Marc Trestman.

But the Bears are expected to face competition for McCown, who at this point appears to be inclined to remain in Chicago unless he’s given an opportunity to start or handed significantly better financial terms in a contract than his current team can offer.

“I talk to Josh pretty much weekly, or biweekly. I’ve talked to him two or three times, anyway, and I’ve texted with him,” Trestman said Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium. “He’s in the loop into what’s going on. I’ve just called him on a personal level just to catch up with him and see how he sees the league and what’s going on. We just like to talk football. He knows exactly where he stands with us. I think that he’s going to take his time, see where things are at. When he’s ready to say, ‘I want to come back,’ I know [general manager] Phil [Emery] is going to do everything he can, and we’re going to do everything can to make sure he is.”

The Bears haven’t yet submitted an offer to McCown, and because he signed a one-year contract in 2013 under the minimum-salary benefit, the team can’t officially sign him until the start of free agency (March 11), although the sides could agree to a deal anytime before that date. So McCown could be exposed to the market (if the sides don’t agree to a new deal before the league new year), where he’s sure to have plenty of suitors.

“I’d like to see him come back,” Cutler said at the end of last season. “There’s talks about him getting other opportunities, which I think, rightfully so, he’ll have. We’ve had candid talks about what he wants to do. I’ll let Josh address that when he wants to. I know we’d love to have him back. We’d like to have him back in the building. Just the amount of work he does behind the scenes with the younger players and myself, just the experience he brings to the quarterback room, it’s very valuable. We’ll see how it works out. The guys in the locker room are hoping to see Number 12 back next year.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton's recovery from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament has progressed to the point where Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery said on Thursday the club's preference is to re-sign Melton who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 11.

"We do want to bring back Henry and we'll work through that process," Emery said at the NFL combine. "He's made progress. He's made positive progress."

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHenry Melton collected 13 sacks combined in 2011 and 2012, but played in just three games last season.
Slapped with the franchise tag by the Bears last season ($8,454,725) after posting 33 tackles and six sacks in 2012, Melton started just three games before landing on injured reserve on Sept. 27 -- Melton has 15.5 sacks in 48 career games.

After undergoing surgery and sitting out the final three months of the regular season, Melton has apparently dedicated himself to strengthening his injured left knee over the past couple of months.

"He's in every day early," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. "He's got to drive in from downtown. If you see him, you'll see that he has been training and he has been working. He's very focused. You'll see he dropped some weight. He looks very good physically right now. Obviously he's in there working the knee, but he's been on time, he's working hard with [Bears head athletic trainer] Chris [Hanks].

"As I said, I spoke with him yesterday for 30-45 minutes and he's committed to getting himself back and he's got work to do to get there, but he's in a very good place right now and we all understand the situation and we'll see where it goes."

The Bears' ability to retain Melton is expected to boil down to money. Considered one of the top defensive tackles scheduled to reach free agency, there is no way of knowing how much other teams are prepared to offer Melton when the new league year begins on March 11.

The Bears find themselves in the same situation with the other unrestricted free agents the organization wants to return, namely quarterback Josh McCown, cornerback Charles Tillman and center Roberto Garza.

While the Bears cannot officially re-sign McCown until the beginning of free agency, the team does hold exclusive negotiating rights with the veteran quarterback and can agree in principle to a new deal. McCown posted the third-highest quarterback rating (109.0) when he completed 149 of 224 passing attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception in eight appearances (five starts).

"I talk to Josh pretty much weekly, or bi-weekly, I've talked to him two or three times anyways and I've texted with him. He's in the loop into what's going on. I've just called him on a personal level just to catch up with him and see how he sees the league and what's going on," Trestman said. "We just like to talk football. He knows exactly where he stands with us. I think that he's going to take his time, see where things are at, when he's ready to say ‘I want to come back,' I know Phil's going to do everything he can and we're going to do everything can to make sure he is."

Tillman, the 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, has publicly stated on multiple occasions that his decision to return to Chicago for a 12th season will be determined by the kinds of contract offers he receives.

Meantime, Garza, a 13-year NFL veteran center/guard, will likely have to accept a one-year, veteran-minimum contract with a relatively low signing bonus to stay with the Bears. However, Garza is a respected team captain and the leader of the team's revamped offensive line that started all 16 games together.

"It's a tough business," Trestman said. "We want Roberto back. He knows we want him back. We believe he should finish his career with the Bears. He does so much in our community. He's such a leader in our locker room. He knows how we feel about him. We just need to let this thing evolve and hopefully it's going to work out best, No. 1 for Roberto, because that's No. 1. And from his standpoint, and it should be, he deserves that respect. And hopefully it will work out for the Bears as well. We certainly want to see him back."

Emery also praised free-agent veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams who battled injuries for much of last season. Emery sounded as if the door is still open for Williams to return, and if he does, Williams is expected to compete with Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene for a starting spot.

"Saw a good football player [in Williams]," Emery said. "Saw a guy that has legitimately very good burst. Saw a player that has good instincts, gets around the ball and plays with a relentless style. We were not displeased with his effort. We were very pleased with where he was going and how he was progressing. Obviously, he had some injuries in camp, he had to get his feet back under him and once he did he started producing at a high level."

Other notable unrestricted free agents for the Bears include: defensive lineman Corey Wootton, defensive tackle Nate Collins, return man Devin Hester, safety Craig Steltz, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and cornerbacks Zack Bowman and Kelvin Hayden.

The next big thing: Bears

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
12:00
PM ET
The Chicago Bears took care of some of the heavy lifting by signing quarterback Jay Cutler to an extension, in addition to bringing back guard Matt Slauson, cornerback Tim Jennings and kicker Robbie Gould.

The Bears now need to turn their attention to three areas: their own free agents, unrestricted free agency and the NFL draft, with drastic improvement of the club’s struggling defense as the No. 1 underlying factor. In all, the Bears have 25 free agents they’ve got to decide whether to bring back, a group that includes key players such as center Roberto Garza, cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive tackles Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Jeremiah Ratliff, along with backup quarterback Josh McCown, linebacker D.J. Williams and defensive end Corey Wootton.

Limited salary cap space will be the main hindrance to bringing back some of their own, as well as any plans to improve by making acquisitions on the open market. Bears general manager Phil Emery admitted the club’s cap space will be tight, but added the team should still be able to improve the roster.

The club has ways to free up space, such as converting Cutler’s $22.5 million base salary for 2014 into a signing bonus it can prorate over the life of his deal or asking other veterans such as Julius Peppers, who counts $18,183,333 against the cap in 2014, to restructure.
2014 free agents: Josh McCown and Jordan Palmer.

Cutler
The good: Jay Cutler responded favorably to the tutelage of new Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman, and displayed enough growth for the organization to reward him with a seven-year contract worth $126 million. With Cutler and backup Josh McCown at the helm, the offense set franchise records in net yardage (6,109), passing yards (4,281), completion percentage (64.4), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating, in addition to scoring 445 points. McCown set the franchise record for passer rating (109.0), completion percentage (66.5), and finished with the lowest interception percentage (0.4) in club annals. Cutler’s completion of 63.1 ranked as second in franchise single-season history, and his passer rating of 89.2 ranked as a career high for the veteran quarterback.

The bad: Cutler missed five games and portions of two others, yet he still threw 12 interceptions, which averages out to a little more than one pick per game. That number is too high, and works out to an interception percentage of 3.4. In addition, injuries forced Cutler to miss more than 22 quarters of action in 2013, and he hasn’t played an entire 16-game season since 2009, which is somewhat concerning given the financial commitment the Bears just made to the quarterback.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Cutler ($22.5 million) and Jerrod Johnson ($420,000). Cutler’s number is sky-high and a big part of the reason the Bears were just $796,000 under the cap as of last Friday. The good news is a portion of Cutler’s base salary of $22.5 million can be converted into a signing bonus to provide some cap relief if the team needs it. But as it stands now, Cutler is the only quarterback on the roster with any real experience, and the club has expressed a desire to bring back McCown for 2014. But it’s unknown whether the Bears can pull off that deal, because McCown will have suitors in free agency, and he’ll have to weigh family life against what money might be available to him on the market in making a decision to continue playing. If the Bears can’t bring back McCown, Palmer would be an inexpensive option the club has some familiarity with.

Draft priority: Moderate to low. The Bears haven’t drafted a quarterback since 2011 (Nate Enderle) and haven’t taken one in the first three rounds since 2003 (Rex Grossman). Cutler will be 31 when the 2014 season starts, and although he just signed a seven-year deal, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the team to find a young quarterback of the future to groom over the next few years.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/4
Sunday, 9/7
Monday, 9/8