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updated: 1/1/2014 8:10 PM

No free time for Bears brain trust

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  • Bears coach Marc Trestman, left, and general manager Phil Emery, who both will meet with the media Thursday morning, have plenty of roster decision to make.

      Bears coach Marc Trestman, left, and general manager Phil Emery, who both will meet with the media Thursday morning, have plenty of roster decision to make.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

One of the realities of the NFL is that no franchise will have the same team from one year to the next, and that will be especially true for the Bears in 2014.

Even after signing kicker Robbie Gould and fullback Tony Fiammetta to contract extensions last week, there still are 28 players on the roster who are scheduled to become free agents on March 11. Of the 28, there are 18 on defense, eight on offense and two on special teams.

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According to Bears general manager Phil Emery, teams generally retain only 30-40 percent of their free agents.

So the Bears team that reports to Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in late July for the start of training camp will look much different from the 2013 team that finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.

Priority-wise, at the top of the list is determining whether to go all in on quarterback Jay Cutler by signing him to a multiyear deal, use the franchise tag to lock him up for one year at roughly $16 million, or let him walk.

As far as prioritizing the other free agents, Emery is unlikely to drop any hints when he addresses the media Thursday, but here's an early look on what the pecking order might be.

The future looks bright:

•QB Jay Cutler: Common sense says he will take a little less than market value from the Bears, who have bestowed a wealth of weapons upon him, and there's a definite connection between him and Trestman.

•RS Devin Hester: He wants to break a tie with Deion Sanders and become the NFL's all-time leader in return touchdowns, and he wants to do it with the Bears. Now that he's exclusively a return specialist, the market for his services has diminished.

•OG Matt Slauson: In his first year with Bears, he was a major player in an improving offensive line that should only get better if kept intact. Slauson often graded the highest among Bears O-linemen. Four-year starter who's still just 27.

•DL Corey Wootton: Showed versatility when he was switched from DE to DT to help team through injuries, and he held his own despite playing out of position. Just 26 years old.

Probably part of the future:

•OL Eben Britton: A versatile veteran who saw extensive action as a sixth OL in some formations. Britton stepped in when rookie ORT Jordan Mills was hurt early in Week 17 and played better than the starter in the opinion of many.

•C Roberto Garza: He will be 35 before training camp starts, so he's unlikely to command a multiyear deal even on the open market. Still a valuable line leader who helped a new group jell, but how much does he have left?

•CB Zack Bowman: Starters Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman also are both UFAs, and it's highly unlikely the Bears can afford both, so Bowman could return as a bargain backup with starting experience.

•S Craig Steltz: Steady backup who lacks great skill set but always has done what's asked and is a key special-teams guy.

Part of the future if the price is right:

•LB James Anderson: Solid but not special. He started all 16 games and led the team in tackles, but the eight-year veteran is 30, and the Bears want to get young LBs Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene on the field.

•DT Nate Collins: Missed out on an opportunity to establish himself after Henry Melton was lost for the season; two games later he suffered a torn ACL as well, ending his season. Unlikely to attract much attention coming off serious injury but is only 26.

•LB Blake Costanzo: Special-teams tackle leader with 18 and spiritual and emotional leader as well, but he doesn't figure in the plan beyond special teams.

•CB Kelvin Hayden: Would have been last year's nickel corner had he not suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. Age (30) is not in his favor, but with five UFA corners some have to be back, and Hayden won't break the bank.

•CB Sherrick McManis: Another special-teams stalwart who could provide depth on defense at an area that could take a major hit in free agency.

•DT Jeremiah Ratliff: After a long injury layoff, he flashed the form that made him a four-time Pro Bowler and, at times, was the Bears' most effective D-lineman. But he's 32 with a lot of miles.

The future is uncertain:

•CB Tim Jennings: He lacks Charles Tillman's size, but the Bears may consider him the more valuable player because he's likely to be more affordable, and he's two years younger and much healthier than Tillman. But he won't come cheaply.

•LS Patrick Mannelly: He's considering retirement after 16 seasons, but it would be nearly impossible to replicate his consistency, leadership and longevity.

•QB Josh McCown: He could be a hot commodity. A much-more-than-capable backup who knows his role and proved in 2013 that he's a young 34; capable of playing at least another 2-3 years. Like Cutler, McCown would be hard-pressed to find a better supporting cast elsewhere. But could the Bears afford him after paying Cutler?

•DT Henry Melton: He won't get an annual salary in a long-term deal that's anywhere close to the $8.5 million he made last year as the Bears' franchise player after he missed the final 13 games with an ACL tear. And his recent alcohol-related arrest in Texas won't help.

•TE Dante Rosario: He has a role in Marc Trestman's offense, if he's content to be an afterthought in the passing game.

•CB Charles Tillman: Longtime cornerstone who may be beginning to break down from wear and tear after 11 exceptional years. May be looking for one last big payday but probably won't get it from Bears.

The future is bleak:

•DT Landon Cohen: Started three games, but only because of injury epidemic.

•OT Jonathan Scott: Inactive in all 15 games he spent on the roster as insurance that was never needed.

•LB D.J. Williams: His situation is similar to Anderson's, but he's older and he played just six games before landing on injured reserve.

•S Major Wright: As the last line of defense, he and FS Chris Conte probably took more blame than they deserved. But a major makeover is in order, and a change of scenery is likely.

rlegere@dailyherald.com

Bears free agents

LB James Anderson

**C Taylor Boggs

CB Zack Bowman

OL Eben Britton

DT Landon Cohen

DT Nate Collins

LB Blake Costanzo

QB Jay Cutler

**LB Jerry Franklin

C Roberto Garza

CB Kelvin Hayden

RS Devin Hester

CB Tim Jennings

LS Patrick Mannelly

QB Josh McCown

CB Sherrick McManis

DT Henry Melton

**DE Cheta Ozougwu

DT Jeremiah Ratliff

TE Dante Rosario

OT Jonathan Scott

OG Matt Slauson

S Craig Steltz

CB Charles Tillman

*S Anthony Walters

LB D.J. Williams

DL Corey Wootton

S Major Wright

*Restricted free agent. A player coming out of contract with three years' experience. After four years, players become unrestricted free agents.

**Exclusive rights free agent: A player coming out of contract with less than three years' experience.

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