With a new CBA expected to take effect later this week, it will provide NFL teams a slim window in which to re-sign their own unrestricted free agents.
So the Bears will be busy in the days immediately after a new deal becomes official.
They have 15 players who are classified as unrestricted free agents under the parameters of the new CBA — same as the old CBA — at four years of experience.
Add to that the signing of undrafted rookies, draft choices and other teamsí free agents, and this will be the most frenzied period of personnel transactions in the history of the NFL.
The Bears have just 61 players on their roster, only 47 of whom are under contract.
It is believed that teams will be allowed to bring 90 players to training camp, so there is around-the-clock activity on the horizon for Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, director of player personnel Tim Ruskell and lead contract negotiator Cliff Stein.
Several of the Bearsí unrestricted free agents are players who have started for them in the past, including center Olin Kreutz, defensive tackle Anthony Adams, linebackers Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa and safety Danieal Manning. Several others are vital role players.
Kreutz is easily the most essential, considering the unsettled state of the offensive line. The line was the teamís most glaring weakness last season, when it allowed a league-worst 56 sacks.
With the possibility that JíMarcus Webb will move to left tackle from right tackle, where he started last season as a rookie, and that this yearís first-round pick, Gabe Carimi, will be plugged in at right tackle, there is a serious need for the continuity and stability that Kreutz provides, even in the twilight of his career.
In the above scenario, Roberto Garza is likely to remain the starting right guard, while converted tackles Chris Williams and Frank Omiyale could compete for the left guard spot.
Next on the Bearsí to-do list should be defensive tackle Adams, a reliable if unspectacular presence who can play on the nose and at the 3 technique if necessary. He started all 16 games last season at nose tackle.
Because the Bears have just two linebackers under contract (Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher), re-signing Roach and/or Tinoisamoa is a logical move.
Rashied Davis provides reliable depth at wide receiver and is an outstanding special-teams player, as are defensive back Corey Graham, running back Garrett Wolfe and linebackers Brian Iwuh and Rod Wilson, all of whom also are unrestricted free agents.
Graham was clearly the best of the bunch. His 25 solo tackles on special teams were more than twice as many as the next Bear, and he has started 10 games at cornerback and can play safety and nickel back.
Manning also has been a productive special-teams performer, especially on kickoff returns, and he started 16 games last season.
But the Bears are hoping 2010 third-round pick Major Wright plays well enough to claim the starting strong safety spot next to free safety Chris Harris.
If not for the four-month work stoppage, coaches might already know if Wright is Mr. Right. Given the uncertainty, Manning could return.
As for other teamsí free agents, the Bears wonít be looking to land another big fish like Julius Peppers.
But they should be in the market for a big wide receiver, an offensive lineman to upgrade their starting lineup or at least challenge for playing time, and a proven backup running back.
Chester Taylor was supposed to be that guy last year, but at 31 his production dropped precipitously, and there is no other proven producer on the roster behind starter Matt Forte.
BEARS UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Pos, Player Yrs. NFL starts Bears starts
C Olin Kreutz 13 183 183
DT Anthony Adams 8 70 34
WR Rashied Davis 6 15 15
LB Nick Roach 4 30 30
CB Corey Graham 4 10 10
S Danieal Manning 5 56 56
LB Pisa Tinoisamoa 8 95 12
LB Rod Wilson 5 51* 43*
P Brad Maynard 14 223* 159*
LB Brian Iwuh 5 4 1
WR Devin Aromashodu 4 5 4
S Josh Bullocks 6 53 4
RB Garrett Wolfe 4 50* 50*
TE Desmond Clark 12 105 99
QB Todd Collins 16 21 1
BEARS RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
QB Caleb Hanie 3 4* 4*
*Wilson, Maynard, Wolfe and Hanie have not started any games. Their asterisked numbers refer to games played.
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