Bears need LB's veteran presence
NFL general managers are required to use their heads, not their hearts, when it comes to targeting potential free agents. That is why re-signing veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams is a necessity for the Chicago Bears in 2014.
Granted, he doesn't have the equity built up in Chicago like popular former Pro Bowlers Charles Tillman and Henry Melton, but Williams' absence this season because of a season-ending torn pectoral muscle hurt the defense as much as any other injury the unit suffered over the course of 2013.
The Bears wanted Williams to be their middle linebacker in 2013, not rookie second-round draft choice Jon Bostic, who despite flashing his considerable speed and athleticism on occasion, predictably struggled at times to figure out where he needed to be on a given play.
Williams has been in the NFL for 11 years. To put it simply, he's seen it all on the football field. If Williams had been able to stay healthy, the Bears defense would have been more organized and therefore more efficient, particularly in the area of stopping the run.
Williams had health issues in 2013. He suffered a severe calf injury at the beginning of training camp, and while he returned in time to start Week 1 of the regular season, he failed to regain his old form until right around the time he was placed on injured reserve with the pectoral injury.
Williams is a health risk.
But he's also a veteran who is likely to re-sign for one year at a league minimum price. That is important when you consider how much cap space the Bears already have allocated to free-agent re-signees Jay Cutler, Tim Jennings, Matt Slauson and Robbie Gould. With Williams back in the fold, the Bears can move Bostic to strongside linebacker, a position he seems better suited for, according to general manager Phil Emery.
Williams, Bostic and Lance Briggs give the Bears a solid starting linebacker trio on paper.
To recap: Williams wants to return, the Bears need him, and he comes at a discounted price.
If that's not the definition of a no-brainer, I'm not sure what is.
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.
DE a good mix of talent, character
Known previously for ending Brett Favre's career, the Northwestern guy doesn't have a signature move, or even position. And he suited up for the worst defense in Bears history.
But Wootton is a keeper for a variety of reasons, and the Bears would be well-suited to sign him quickly.
He won't cost a fortune, and he has proved to be a variable defensive lineman, playing end and 3-technique. He's the kind of guy you want on your side in that metaphorical dark alley. Not that the Bears are worried about the locker room, or should be at this point, but he's a perfect mix of talent and character. He's the kind of guy you want around.
Without Melton (who didn't have a great start before going out) and fellow defensive tackle Nate Collins, the Bears had slim pickings for the meat of the defensive line. As anyone can tell you, the middle of this defense is the most important, and their loss was the first domino in what turned into, again for emphasis, the worst defense in Bears history. Wootton helped stabilize the unit somewhat by sliding inside.
The Bears should re-sign Wootton and newcomer tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, then draft a young run-stuffer or an end with either of their first two draft picks.
Regardless of what kind of scheme they play, and I favor an attacking hybrid style, the Bears need to address the front. It would help to have a blend of old and new players as the team transitions in younger players.
As with everything, this decision will come down to money. Melton made $8.45 million through the franchise tag, and will still command a decent price on the market. Wootton will too, which is why the Bears should lock him up now and start adding more talent for the future.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.