With free agency on the horizon it’s time to revisit a feature I did last off-season, my wish list. Every fan has his or her own idea of what the Bears need to do to improve for next season and I will share my thoughts. With new offensive and defensive coordinators as well as new offensive position coaches, the Bears have their work cut out for them this off-season in order to become contenders for the upcoming season.
Here’s my checklist — in no particular order:
Sign Torry Holt.
If I were Mike Martz, I’d continue to give the front office an earful about signing veteran wide receiver Torry Holt, and I’m sure Martz has been doing that since Holt was cut by the Jaguars. Holt was a Pro Bowler under Martz’s leadership in St. Louis and he recently said he thought he would be a perfect for the Bears. The excuses for not bringing him in are tired and pointless. I don’t care if he’s lost a step — or two or three — at his age, he’d easily be the best wide receiver on the roster and would be a dependable target for Jay Cutler. Martz’s offense is complicated to learn and the Bears don’t exactly have the sharpest knives in the drawer currently on the roster at the receiver position. He’s not going to command a lot of money, particularly since he wants to come to Chicago. And if Jerry Angelo gives the same fabricated nonsense about how they’re pleased with the development of their young receivers, then he’s really pressing his luck with his job security. Yes, the wide receivers were the most consistent position group on the team last year. Doesn’t mean they’re ready to handle Martz’s offense and it doesn’t mean there’s a Pro Bowl caliber player among them.
Move Frank Omiyale to right tackle.
There have been quite a few moves made by the front office and the coaching staff over the past few years that have left me scratching my head, but perhaps none more perplexing than what the Bears did with Omiyale last year. The Bears scouted Omiyale, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, and watched him play well at left tackle for a few games. They were aggressive when free agency opened and agreed to terms with the big-bodied tackle on the first day. Then they inserted him into the starting lineup during minicamps because John Tait retired and the Bears only had two other tackles on the roster at the time — Chris Williams and Cody Balogh. Then what happened? They signed Orlando Pace and tried to insert Omiyale at guard, because, as Lovie Smith likes to say, they were trying to get on the field the players that “gave them the best chance to win,” even if one of those players was out of position. How do you scout a tackle, let him practice at tackle, and then move him to guard? This isn’t a video game. You can’t switch a guy’s position and expect him to be as effective as you thought he’d be. Omiyale would probably be the best fit at right tackle right now and would improve the quality of the line while playing there.
Sign a left guard.
I like Josh Beekman, but he’s only a marginal player at guard. He’s supposed to be the eventual replacement for Olin Kreutz at center, and who knows how many years Kreutz has left. The aforementioned Omiyale played poorly at guard and he belongs at right tackle. This position is a tricky one to fill, so I won’t blame management too much if they botch it. Ideally, you’d like a mauler, a guy who is a beast at run blocking and can help improve a run game that was woeful last year. At the same time, you would like somebody athletic who can pull much like Ruben Brown used to do while lead blocking for Thomas Jones back in the day. You’d also like the guard to be a good pass blocker because if he can’t do that, Cutler will get pummeled in Martz’s pass-happy offense. It’s kind of difficult to get an all-around great guard because those types of players are already under contract on most teams and the collective bargaining agreement will reduce the number of available unrestricted free agents. But if the Bears don’t at least try to upgrade this position, shame on them.
Sign and draft a defensive end.
Defensive end is a position that requires improvement whether or not Smith’s tenure as head coach lasts beyond this year. While the Cover 2 scheme requires a steady pressure from the defensive line, no team will succeed in the NFL without a consistent pass rush. The Bears recognized this and tried to remedy that by acquiring Gaines Adams last year. Tragically, Adams passed away leaving the Bears in the same position they’ve been for a couple years. The team will most likely re-sign Mark Anderson, but he’s certainly not an every-down player and probably never will be. Adewale Ogunleye is a free agent, but aside from his career-high 15 sacks with the Dolphins, he’s never been a great pass rusher. If the Bears are going to look for a defensive end on the wrong side of 30, they should probably look elsewhere. The three names thrown around most have been Julius Peppers, Aaron Kampman, and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Of the three, I like the idea of Kampman best because Peppers will demand too much money and we all know the Bears won’t pony up to get him. In addition to signing a free agent that can fix the team in the present, the Bears should explore drafting one in the middle rounds of the upcoming draft to help for the future. They also have Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton to compete for playing time.
Step up the pressure on Tommie Harris.
Tommie Harris is done. Clarification: he can still play a little football and will have a job as long as he stays healthy. But his time as one of the NFL’s best defensive tackles has come and gone so quickly and lasted a meager three years. I’m tired of people saying, “if Tommie can only stay healthy” or “if Tommie can only return to the player he once was.” I’m having déjà vu from when the same things were being said about Mike Brown. For the Bears’ defense to work, it requires a dominant three technique, something Harris is not. The Bears need to send a message loud and clear to Harris either by increasing the rotation with the young players already on the roster, or looking outside the organization for competition. The defense will continue to struggle without rectifying this position.
Re-sign Pisa Tinoisamoa.
It’s a shame that the injury bug bit Tinoisamoa before Bears fans could get a true understanding of what kind of player he is. The guy is a head hunter and flies to the ball. What I remember most about Tinoisamoa was in the preseason during the game against the New York Giants. The defense, ever a finesse unit that has always had trouble tackling, was getting run over by the truck known as Brandon Jacobs. It takes two or three players from most teams to take Jacobs down. I remember one play vividly where Tinoisamoa pursued Jacobs nicely and stuck him — by himself — at the line of scrimmage for no gain. The fact that he’s a willing and disciplined tackler is a nice refreshing thing to watch. I know the Bears are high on Jamar Williams, Nick Roach, and Hunter Hillenmeyer, but it would be a good idea to give Tinoisamoa another chance.
Cut ties with Nathan Vasher.
Talk about another player who has fallen from grace. A one-time Pro Bowler who had a nose for the football and was nicknamed “The Interceptor” has looked lost out on the field since suffering multiple injuries in recent years. Vasher was probably best remembered last year for stumbling and failing to keep up with wide receiver Greg Jennings on the game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass in an opening-night loss to the Packers. In fairness to Vasher, he failed to receive safety help over the top, but he also looked awful during that game. It wound up costing him his job in favor of Zack Bowman. The Bears’ secondary is hardly stable and it may be questionable to cut ties with a player from a position of weakness, but he has a big salary and that money might be better spent elsewhere.
Sign and draft a cornerback.
Whether or not the Bears cut Vasher, they’ll still need to improve the cornerback position. Bowman had his ups and downs last year and has had a history with injuries since his days in college. Charles Tillman can still be reliable, but he’s been struggling with injuries for the past few years as well. D.J. Moore is undersized and untested and it’s hard to judge Corey Graham on his body of work. The Bears have to at least explore all options on the free agency market, which, again, figures to be thin, and they also need to look to address the position in the draft.
Sign or draft a free safety.
Free safety, like defensive tackle, is one of the key cogs of the Cover 2 defense and the Bears haven’t had a decent one since Mike Brown. Instead, they’re constantly rotating strong safeties into the free safety role and are experiencing poor results. Regrettably, there are not a lot of options available to them and I don’t see them rectifying this position in this off-season. Whether they sign one or draft one, getting this position fixed is of the utmost importance.