The 2012 NFL free agency period is set to kick off at 3 p.m. Central time on Tuesday and there have been multiple reports stating that the Bears could be in pursuit of defensive end Mario Williams and wide receiver Vincent Jackson.
Obviously, if one of the two signed with the Bears, the other would be a longshot given that each player is the top free agent at his respective position and will command a rich contract. But the Bears organization recognizes the need to not only add a highly sought playmaker at wide receiver for Jay Cutler, but also give Julius Peppers help along the defensive line in order to improve a pass rush.
So, given the choice — and there’s no guarantee the Bears will sign either player — which free agent would make more sense to sign?
We’ve heard the arguments from both sides. Regarding Jackson, he’s a 6-5 receiver who would be the biggest player the Bears have had at the position in a long time. The Bears thought they had added that piece to the puzzle last offseason with the addition of Roy Williams, but unlike Williams, Jackson has soft hands and can stretch the field.
Another argument for addressing the receiver position is that the Bears have so much money invested in Peppers that it would seem problematic moving forward to have two highly-paid defensive ends. Plus, Cutler has not had a suitable wide receiver in his three seasons with the team, and he provided a glimpse of what kind of quarterback he could be with some added weapons during the Bears’ five-game winning streak last year before he was lost for the season with a thumb injury. The Bears offense was among the highest scoring in the league during that stretch and Cutler’s numbers were through the roof.
With as great as Jackson would look in a Bears uniform, I’m going to argue the opposite point and say that with a premier pass rusher like Williams on the market, you attack that option. It’s not every year that a player with his caliber becomes available, and it’ll be easier to find some second-tier receivers than added help along the defensive line.
The New York Giants have been showing us for years the formula for winning games. Sure, they had a trio of good receivers in Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham that helped engineer a Super Bowl victory in February. But you’d be kidding yourself if you thought their defensive line wasn’t more instrumental.
The Giants’ pass rush was so fierce and to have players like Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora (not to mention, Michael Strahan for many years) getting after the quarterback was such a luxury. The best teams in the NFL will win the most games with a good quarterback and a strong pass rush. The Bears have the former, but they need to add to the latter, because for as good as Peppers has played the past two seasons, he needs more help along the defensive front.
Whether the Bears sign either one of these two stud free agents or if they go in another direction entirely remains to be seen, but wide receiver and defensive lineman are arguably the two most important areas to upgrade if the Bears want to make one more run at a championship within this aging team’s window.