The 2009 NFL free agency period kicks off at 11:01 p.m. Thursday night — which is Friday morning Eastern time — and it’s highly unlikely the Bears will be making immediate headlines like they did in 2005 when they signed free agent wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad in the wee hours of the morning.
In fact, I don’t think you’ll see or hear the Bears’ name in the media as seriously pursuing any free agent for the first week or two. Basically, that means you can forget about names like Kurt Warner, Albert Haynesworth, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Marvin Harrison.
I liken the Bears’ free agency approach to that of a tiger in the weeds. They’ll lie low while all the commotion goes on, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be stalking their prey. When the timing is right — which, typically, is when the big-named players are off the board and things begin to cool down — they’ll pounce on a player or two at bargain prices.
I can’t imagine the Bears enter the draft with just Chris Williams and Cody Balogh as their two tackles under contract. John Tait is said to be considering retirement and John St. Clair hits the open market. The Bears need to either re-sign St. Clair or get another veteran offensive tackle in free agency before drafting one or two.
Another position I think they need to address in free agency is safety. They’ll be losing Mike Brown this year and they need to replace his veteran leadership with another veteran. If they think they can fix the problems at safety through the draft alone, they’re sorely mistaken. And if they feel they’re set at the position with the players they have, they’re delusional.
Jerry Angelo recently said he felt it was not a particularly strong draft for free safeties. But he refused to address the position as an area of need.
“We have [Craig] Steltz, so to say [free safety] is a need is premature,” Angelo said. “We do have somebody. We like Craig. I thought he did a nice job when he did play last year. He did a very good job on special teams. Why do I bring special teams up? Because players that usually show on special teams, when their number is called, usually play well, too.”
I seem to recall Steltz getting run over for a touchdown in a game last year and also missing several tackles sporadically throughout the season when given the chance to play. If Angelo thinks the Bears will be fine with Steltz and Kevin Payne as their starting safeties, he’s got another thing coming. The Bears will regress defensively even more than they have the past two years.
Finally, a third position of need that they must address in free agency is the quarterback. We all know Chicagoans hate Rex Grossman — fairly or not is up for debate. However, a recent poll on ChicagoTribune.com asks if Grossman was treated fairly and I was surprised — shocked, really — to see that the majority of fans who voted — 62% to 38% — said that no, he was not given a fair shake from the fans or media in his six years with the team.
I will be dismayed and dumbfounded if the Bears do not sign a veteran quarterback to replace Grossman on the roster. If Angelo’s “veteran” acquisition was Brett Basanez, then the Bears will really be in trouble if Kyle Orton suffers a more serious injury than he did last year.
Plus, the quarterback crop in this year’s draft is weak, so, finding a legitimate, long-term piece seems like a long shot.
As it stands right now, the quarterback position is in worse shape than it was with Grossman on the roster. So, how ironic would it be if the Bears did not add a veteran signal-caller to the mix after Angelo stressed multiple times this off-season that stabilizing the position was a high priority?
With less than 24 hours to go until free agency kicks off, we have not been given any signs that would indicate the Bears feel they have holes to fill. In fact, Angelo has spent more time addressing the coaching staff — also a need, but not the only one — and preaching that they have the pieces in place to win than he has identifying areas of need.
Hopefully, for our sake and theirs, he was just throwing up a giant smoke screen. Because if he’s not, and if they don’t at least address the offensive line, safety, and quarterback through free agency, the Bears will be closer to mediocrity than the Super Bowl, despite what Lovie Smith might have said and thought.