BEARS CAN UPGRADE DE WITH OTHER OPTIONS; NEED NO. 1 RECEIVER
Let's get this out of the way: Mario Williams would be a tremendous score for the Chicago Bears in free agency. The mere thought of having to block Williams and Julius Peppers at the same time would lead to sleepless nights for offensive lines around the league. Every NFL defense would benefit from adding such a young, elite pass rusher. But while Williams is certainly the best available defensive end, other options might exist that could potentially allow the Bears to upgrade on the edge while still pursuing wide receiver Vincent Jackson.
Two names that jump out are the Indianapolis Colts' Dwight Freeney and the Oakland Raiders' Kamerion Wimbley, who are being asked to restructure their current deals. Trading for either player would be foolish, given their current cap numbers, but if one or both end up being released, the Bears could be a potential suitor. Both come with a certain amount of risk -- Freeney is 32 years old, and Wimbley is an outside linebacker in the Raiders' 3-4 scheme -- but might end up being more cost effective while still strengthening the Bears' defensive end spot.
If either of the two hit the open market, Freeney or Wimbley would have to be considered a strong second tier for defensive ends, much stronger than the second tier of wide receivers the Bears would have to pursue if they passed on Jackson.
Will the Bears overpay if they land Jackson? Yes. That's the price you pay for drafting poorly and failing to adequately develop the wide receiver position. But Jackson is so far and away the best available wideout on the market, the Bears can't pass up the chance to try to sign a legit No. 1 receiver.
Jackson isn't perfect, but he can step in and help the offense right away. Can you really say that for sure about a rookie draft pick or a second-tier free agent? Plus, Jackson would make Jay Cutler happy. The Bears quarterback has been vocal about adding a big target. Jackson is that big target with a proven track record of success.
If a team such as the Washington Redskins blows out the market and offers Jackson a ridiculous sum of money, then so be it. But the Bears need to try to land Jackson, and do so at the very onset of free agency, even before they pick up the phone to call Williams.
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.
SPEND ON BEST TALENT -- WILLIAMS -- REGARDLESS OF POSITION
It's no secret the Chicago Bears need to focus energy on finding a legitimate wide receiver (by legitimate, I mean not a converted kick returner or a small-school project), but you can't ignore the defensive line, the lifeblood of the Lovie Smith defense.
It sounds a little foolish, from a salary cap standpoint, to add free-agent defensive end Mario Williams to pair with Julius Peppers. You need to allocate money across the team, not just one position, but there is no more important position in the NFL, especially with the Bears, than pass rusher. One good thing about the salary cap is you can restructure and renegotiate deals in creative ways, and Cliff Stein is known as one of the best.
There is a saying that the best teams draft for best available talent, not for need. In this case, the Bears need to spend their free-agent dollars on the best available talent, and that's Williams over Vincent Jackson.
If they can sign Williams -- and why wouldn't he want to come to Chicago, unless Dwight Howard is giving him career advice? -- new GM/Head Grinder Phil Emery should plan for taking a wide receiver in the first round of the draft, whoever's the best left, be it Michael Floyd or someone else. If you see an opportunity to trade up, don't be afraid.
Jackson has more snaps than any rookie, but is he more mature? With the maturation of college offenses, I have no doubt in the readiness of rookie wideouts.
Change is hopefully in the air at Halas Hall, but with Smith in charge, you have to give his needs their fair due. And he needs a pass rusher to make his defense excel. This is still Chicago, where defense reigns.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.