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March 10, 1:00 PM ET
Chat with Michael Wright

Michael
  (1:02 PM)

Hello everyone. Thanks for coming by to chat. With free agency quickly approaching, I know you've got tons of questions. I'll do my best to answer with the limited info available to me right now. The Bears are playing it very close to the vest this year.

Cullen (Oak Park)

Chris Conte? Will the Bears be keeping him, or going their separate ways?

Michael
  (1:05 PM)

Cullen, the Bears are keeping him. Coach Marc Trestman said at the combine that they full expect to bring Chris to training camp. And why now? Conte has a very cap friendly deal, and it's not like he's become a totally player after a bad season. I think he's still salvageable. I think he's going to bounce back big next season.

shaun (Wisconsin)

Has Charles Tillman gotten much attention yet?

Michael
  (1:09 PM)

I haven't heard a ton about Tillman's free-agent prospects thus far. But I have heard that the Bears really want to bring him back badly. I know the team has told agents for other players they're negotiating with that there's a real effort to try to re-sign Tillman for 2014. I know he's been linked to Tampa Bay too because of the Lovie Smith connection. But I don't think the Bucs are in the market for corners at this point.

Chris (Northbrook)

Mike, how do you see the Peppers situation playing out? Does Emery try to land a big name FA like Bennett and then if he does cut Peppers? Its hard to imagine cutting peppers without a solid, proven replacement ready to take over. Also, would love to get Aaron Donald in the draft.

Michael
  (1:13 PM)

So far the Bears haven't asked Peppers to take a pay cut and they haven't told his camp they're going to release him. Now, as Phil Emery and Marc Trestman have said: those decisions will be made when they have to be made. But, it's worth noting that once the new league year starts, the Bears have to be cap compliant. Even if they sign someone like Bennett to big money, they could still keep Peppers on the roster (remember they used a little more than $5 million in cap space on signings last year). If they release Peppers, it will be with that June 1 designation so they can spread out the cap hit over two years instead of it all hitting them at once. Let me add however that Adam Schefter is reporting that Seattle is now the favorite to land Bennett. In fact, he said an announcement could come today.

Brian, Albuquerque [via mobile]

Although it's remote chance at best, do you see Peppers restructuring and staying?

Michael
  (1:15 PM)

Brian, I'm not sure it's as remote a chance as you think. I think a lot depends on what Peppers thinks he can get on the open market. But let's say the Bears wait until all the money dries up in the first wave of free agency and then ask Peppers to take a paycut and restructure the deal. What's he gonna say to that? Because at that point, it's not like he'll be able to hit the market and get even what he'd likely receive in a reworked deal.

raul texas [via mobile]

Is melton staying or is he Dallas bound?

Michael
  (1:16 PM)

Raul, the Cowboys are only about $2 million under the salary cap at this point. So I'm not sure they can afford him.

Jeff (Tampa) [via mobile]

How much space do the bears actually have to work with this year? I know they need to keep a certain amount open for draft signings and random roster bonuses through the season, but if we assumed every bears free agent didn't re-sign, how much space would we have to reload our roster?

Michael
  (1:18 PM)

Jeff, sorry it took a minute. I wanted to go into our research database to give you an exact figure. That exact number right now is $8,344,726.

Bill (Budapest, Hungary)

Are the Bears discount shoppers at safety this year? I know Major Wright is a free agent, but any chance they get in on a Mike Mitchell or T.J. Ward? I'm guessing Byrd is too pricey.

Michael
  (1:21 PM)

Bill, the Bears don't have to be discount shoppers. Remember, they landed a pretty nice haul in Jermon Bushrod, Michael Bennett and Matt Slauson with less cap space than they have available right now. I know the Bears have shown interest in Giants S Ryan Mundy, and he's intrigued about the opportunity to come in and compete for a starting job. But I'm not sure the Bears would be interested in going after one of the more expensive options in free agency.

Frank (Chi)

Is the fact that Wooton had surgery this offseason actually a blessing for the Bears? Does it make it more likely that hes back next year?

Michael
  (1:22 PM)

Frank, I don't think so because Wootton's surgery was only an arthroscopic procedure. So I don't see it hurting his value much in free agency because he should be ready by the start of training camp.

Mo (Jersey)

Can McCluster be a cheaper/younger option to replace Hester?

Michael
  (1:23 PM)

Mo, I definitely think so. But Kansas City is actually focused on trying to bring back McCluster. Interestingly, Hester is believed to be Kansas City's Plan B.

Gary (Antioch)

If the Bears lose out on Bennett, is Johnson the target then?

Michael
  (1:25 PM)

Gary, I could see that. The Bears reached out to Michael Johnson as soon as the window for negotiations opened up, according to my esteemed colleague Jeff Dickerson. So I think the Bears anticipated possibly losing out on Bennett, which is why they put in a call to Bennett. But remember this about free agency: Nothing's ever a done deal until it's a done deal. So even though it appears Bennett is going to re-sign with Seattle, I think you've just got to let it play out. Deals can and always do fall through at the last minute. You never know what will happen.

Pierce (Denver)

I actually think the Bennett news is good news for the Bears. Overpaying a 28 year old can be a recipe for disaster down the line. How about Lamarr Houston? He's younger and most likely cheaper and also has an element of versatility to his game.

Michael
  (1:29 PM)

Pierce, my issue with Bennett is he's a guy who has never posted double-digit sack totals in six years in the NFL. He had 8.5 sacks last season, and is supposedly the hottest DE on the market. Well, Peppers finished last season with only one fewer sack after back-to-back seasons of 11-plus sacks. But now all of the sudden Peppers is washed up and Bennett is the hot new thing? I'm not buying it. Now as for Houston, I think he's an underrated guy that is very versatile like you said. I think he'd be a decent addition, actually.

Alex (El Paso)

Do you have any updated info on D.J. Williams returning? Who else could be in play for the Bears at MLB?

Michael
  (1:30 PM)

Alex, both sides are definitely interested. It's only a matter of striking the deal. I know the sides were expected to continue negotiating throughout the weekend. So based on what I know, it looks like the Bears will wind up bringing Williams back.

Michael
  (1:31 PM)

Oh man, time went by quickly. I've got to get going. But I appreciate you coming by to chat. Keep checking in on ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com for Bears news as we get ready for what should be a wild ride into free agency.