The one-week extension agreed to Friday afternoon fuels expectations that an NFL labor settlement could happen in the not-too-distant future. It also provided the nearly 500 free agents currently in limbo a faint glimmer of hope that they can test the market sooner rather than later.
And, with the restructuring of Julius Peppers' bonus money giving the Bears $8 million more of wiggle room under whatever the salary cap will be set at, they could be more active in free agency. But they won't spend nearly as much money as they did last year on Peppers.
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This year the offensive line has to come first, and there are a lot more quality guards than tackles available. The Bears could use both, but tackles -- especially those who can play on the left side -- are more difficult to find.
In addition to the linemen, the Bears will find some big wide receivers who could help and maybe even a veteran backup quarterback or some help at defensive tackle.
Bucs guard Davin Joseph and offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood are both five-year veterans who have been longtime starters. Both suffered through injury-plagued seasons in 2010 but could help the Bears, especially Joseph, who is clearly the better player.
Marc Bulger is the kind of veteran quarterback offensive coordinator Mike Martz was looking for last year when he had to settle for Todd Collins, who won't be back this year. Bulger played five seasons under Martz with the Rams and, at 33, he's six years younger than Collins and would be an upgrade as long as he's still interested in playing, which was a bit of a question mark last year. But, like Collins, Bulger's best days are about five years behind him.
And Bulger still might not be a better option than Caleb Hanie, who was tendered at the low level of $1.2 million, meaning the Bears don't think he'll have many suitors as a restricted free agent, but they still retain the right of first refusal. Hanie impressed with his NFC championship game performance, but he doesn't seem to have gained the confidence of offensive coordinator Mike Martz yet.
The Chargers' Malcom Floyd is exactly the kind of big (6-foot-5, 225 pounds), field-stretching wideout who would complement the Bears' other receivers. He has averaged over 17.0 yards per catch in each of the past three seasons.
With four years' experience, Houston's Jacoby Jones may or may not be unrestricted, depending on the structure of a new CBA, but he would be the biggest receiver on the Bears' roster at 6-2, 210, and he's coming off his best season (51 catches, 562 yards).
The Jaguars' Mike Sims-Walker was non-tendered, even though the 6-2, 214-pounder had 7 TDs on 43 catches last season. That was a disappointment considering he caught 63 passes for 869 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2009.
Sims-Walker would be a huge upgrade for the Bears over their own non-tendered wide receiver Devin Aromashodu, who flopped last year after coming on strong at the end of 2009. Aromashodu had just 3 catches for 38 yards in the last 10 games of 2011. He caught 22 passes for 282 yards and 4 touchdowns in the final four games of '09.
In addition to Aromashodu, running back Garrett Wolfe and linebackers Rod Wilson and Brian Iwuh did not receive offers.
In addition to Hanie, the Bears have tendered contract to three other players -- cornerback Corey Graham, safety Danieal Manning and linebacker Nick Roach --
who could be restricted free agents but might also be unrestricted, depending on the terms of the next CBA. Roach and Graham both have four years' experience, which was enough to qualify as an unrestricted free agent under the previous CBA. But last year, in the uncapped season, players needed six years to be unrestricted. With five years' experience, Manning is almost certain to be unrestricted.
The Bears also tendered one-year offers to two exclusive-rights free agents, running back Kahlil Bell and offensive lineman Edwin Williams.
Bears free agents
DT Anthony Adams (8)
WR Devin Aromashodu (4)
S Josh Bullocks (6)
TE Desmond Clark (12)
QB Todd Collins (16)
WR Rashied Davis (6)
CB Corey Graham (4)
QB Caleb Hanie (3)
LB Brian Iwuh (5)
C Olin Kreutz (13)
S Danieal Manning (5)
P Brad Maynard (14)
LB Nick Roach (4)
LB Pisa Tinoisamoa (8)
LB Rod Wilson (5)
RB Garrett Wolfe (4)
Potential free agents who could help the Bears:
QB Marc Bulger, Ravens (10)
OT Rashad Butler, Texans (5)
OT Tyson Clabo, Falcons (6)
WR Malcom Floyd, Chargers (5)
DT Aubrayo Franklin, 49ers (8)
OG Robert Gallery, Raiders (6)
WR Jacoby Jones, Texans (4)
OG Davin Joseph, Bucs (5)
OT Sean Locklear, Seahawks (7)
DT Brandon Mebane, Seahawks (5)
WR Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars (4)
OT Jeremy Trueblood, Bucs (5)
Note: Number in parentheses represents years on NFL service