Bears GM Emery busy, and he’s not done yet

And Bears GM not done reworking roster

Despite a flurry of activity in the first two weeks of free agency, Bears general manager Phil Emery hasn’t finished shuffling the deck.

But the whirlwind of activity already has reshaped the 2013 roster on both sides of the ball.

The Bears ended the 2012 season with serious shortcomings on the offensive line and at tight end, both of which were addressed immediately with marquee players. While tight end appears set, the O-line remains a question mark still under construction.

Free-agent defections and the split with eight-time Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher created a gaping hole at linebacker, but that was addressed and possibly even strengthened before fans had time to fret.

The Bears have so far retained four of their own free agents, most important being defensive tackle Henry Melton, who was given the franchise tag.

But they have not re-signed some others who were key players last season and could play significant roles in the coming season.

At least a couple still could be back at bargain prices, considering most of the big money around the league already has been spent and players are scrambling to find landing spots.

Emery’s opening salvo on Day 1 of free agency brought two-time Pro Bowl offensive left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett. That addressed problems 1 and 1A.

Nine days later the Bears added another tight end, role player Steve Maneri, a former offensive lineman whose primary value is as a blocker.

Bushrod’s addition solves one of the Bears’ biggest problems. But last year’s best offensive lineman, unrestricted free agent Lance Louis, remains unsigned. Since he’s coming off a torn ACL, Louis’ marketability is less than ideal, and the Bears should be able to retain him at a reasonable price.

Even with Louis back, the Bears will strongly consider using a high draft pick on an offensive lineman. Center Roberto Garza turns 34 today, and youngsters like J’Marcus Webb, Gabe Carimi and James Brown, who started the last three games last year at left guard, still have much to prove.

Jonathan Scott was re-signed Monday, creating a three-way competition between him, Webb and Carimi for the starting right-tackle job. The odd men out could compete for a starting guard position, especially if Louis doesn’t return.

“He will have opportunities at both tackle and guard and we’ll see what’s the best fit for Gabe,” Emery said. “I’m excited to see how he comes back and competes at that spot so that we can find the best five to put together.”

Three of last season’s top four linebackers won’t be back. But if ex-Bronco D.J. Williams steers clear of additional suspensions and off-the-field problems, he should be an upgrade over Urlacher.

Former Panther James Anderson is expected to replace former strongside starter Nick Roach without any drop-off in productivity.

But Briggs is 32, Williams will be 31 before training camp starts and Anderson turns 30 early in the season. Both of the new guys have one-year deals, so an infusion of youth via the draft is a possibility.

Adding hometown favorite Tom Zbikowski to the mix at safety gives the Bears competition and depth at a critical position.

But there isn’t much of either at cornerback behind starters Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, which makes re-signing nickel back Kelvin Hayden a priority.

The defensive line isn’t a concern for the Bears. But no position in this year’s draft is deeper, so it’s possible the best player available at No. 20 is a defensive lineman the Bears can’t afford to pass up.

They were pleased with the progress Corey Wootton made last year, when the 2010 fourth-round pick from Northwestern wrested the starting left-end spot from Israel Idonije.

Shea McClellin, last year’s first-round pick, showed flashes as a pass rusher, but it remains to be seen if the 260-pounder can anchor well enough against the run to be an every-down player.

Right end Julius Peppers had a team-best 11½ sacks last season, but he’s 33, and how much longer can the Bears afford his salary? His base salary for next season is $12.9 million, and it’s $13.9 million in 2014.

Melton will make the $8.45 million this year that comes with the franchise tag if he cannot reach a long-term deal with the Bears by July 15.

At nose tackle, 2011 second-round pick Stephen Paea has played well at times, but at 6-feet-1 and 300 pounds he lacks ideal size for the position.

Behind the top three ends and the two starting tackles, there isn’t much quality depth, although the Bears re-signed tackle Nate Collins and acquired end Turk McBride.

ŸFollow Bob’s NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at

Bears re-sign offensive right tackle Scott

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