Versatile, veteran offensive lineman Eben Britton became the 17th Bear to be re-signed since the final week of the 2013 season when he agreed to terms Thursday on a one-year contract.
The 6-foot-6, 308-pound Britton was used extensively as a sixth offensive lineman/extra tight end last season, when he started four games and played in 13. He provides experienced depth behind an offensive line that started the same five players in each of 16 games in 2013.
The 26-year-old, five-year veteran was signed by the Bears last April as an unrestricted free agent after playing his first four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He played most of the 2013 season finale at right tackle after rookie Jordan Mills suffered a foot injury. Britton was drafted by the Jaguars in the second round in 2009 and started 30 games in four seasons, including 23 at right tackle and seven at left guard.
He is the 29th player the Bears have signed since late last December, including nine unrestricted free agents from other teams, three street free agents and 17 of their own free agents.
Surgery for Conte:
Incumbent and maligned starting free safety Chris Conte was already facing an uphill battle to retain his job next season after the Bears signed three unrestricted free agent safeties last month.
The three-year veteran, who started all 16 games last season but struggled with missed tackles all season, will also have to work his way back from shoulder surgery in late March. His rehabilitation is scheduled to run 4-5 months according to the Bears' website.
That means, best-case scenario, the 6-foot-2, 203-pound Conte could be ready to go by the start of training camp in late July. But he could be sidelined until just days before the start of the regular season.
"I know I'm going to have to compete for my position on this team," Conte told the team's website. "I am prepared to do that and felt having this surgery was the best way to be 100 percent healthy and be the best player I can possibly be."
Conte finished third on the team with 95 tackles last season and intercepted 3 passes, but he and strong safety Major Wright were frequent scapegoats for one of the league's worst defenses. Wright remains an unrestricted free agent who is not expected back. He visited Tampa earlier in the week and could be reunited with former Bears coach Lovie Smith, now the Bucs' head coach.
To upgrade last season's disappointing safety play the Bears have brought in three new players; former Green Bay Packer M.D. Jennings, ex-New York Giant and Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Mundy and former Dallas Cowboy Danny McCray.
"Whenever you don't have a good season you do some soul searching," Conte said. "You find the reasons why you love the game. Competition is a big part of why I love playing football. I knew they would be bringing in players to compete. It doesn't bother me. It will only make me better."
The Bears have also re-signed veteran Craig Steltz.
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