Free agency Step 1 for Chicago Bears

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Washington wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) scores a touchdown after breaking a tackle by Green Bay Packers strong safety Micah Hyde (33) during the first half of an NFL football game in Landover, Md., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016.

    Washington wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) scores a touchdown after breaking a tackle by Green Bay Packers strong safety Micah Hyde (33) during the first half of an NFL football game in Landover, Md., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016.

 
 
Updated 3/6/2017 8:03 PM

Officially, NFL free agency doesn't begin until 3 p.m. Thursday, but many of the marquee names in this year's crop essentially will be off the market before then.

The NFL allows a "legal tampering" period beginning Tuesday at 3 p.m., when agents can negotiate with teams. Deals done during that period do not become official until Thursday.

 

For the Chicago Bears, the plan is to shore up obvious areas of weakness in free agency so that they have the luxury of taking the best player available in the draft next month.

That means they'll be especially interested in free-agent quarterbacks, cornerbacks, safeties and wide receivers, assuming their own unrestricted free agent, Alshon Jeffery, signs elsewhere and that quarterback Jay Cutler is released.

"Our free-agent board is stacked," Bears general manager Ryan Pace said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "There are options in free agency. There are options in the draft. We've got to see how it plays out.

"I feel extremely prepared for this free-agent process that we're about to enter, and it gives me confidence with all these different scenarios."

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The Bears have more space under the $167 million salary cap -- just less than $55 million, according to Spotrac.Com -- than all but seven teams. Cutting Cutler and other overpriced veterans such as Eddie Royal and Lamarr Houston, would free up even more room.

That doesn't mean Pace will go on a spending spree, but the Bears are expected to be active throughout free agency, and there's a better-than-average chance they will have an early signing of significance.

"There is a delicate balance between being aggressive and being decisive but being responsible," the Bears' GM said. "You can always recover from the player you didn't sign. You can't recover from the player that you signed at the wrong price. We've got to be conscious of that."

There was a palpable buzz at the combine regarding the Bears' interest in Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup quarterback Mike Glennon.

That increased after reports that the New England Patriots would not trade their own backup, Arlington Heights native and former Rolling Meadows High School star Jimmy Garoppolo.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The 6-foot-7 Glennon started 18 games in his first two seasons in Tampa and posted an 83.7 passer rating, but he has thrown just 11 passes since the Bucs drafted Jameis Winston first overall in 2015.

Assuming Jeffery leaves to play for a contender, which the Bears are not, they will have another area of need. A healthy Kevin White would fill Jeffery's shoes, but injuries have limited the 2015 first-round pick to four games in two years. Cam Meredith had a breakout 2016 with 66 catches for 88 yards, but he needs help.

The top two wide receivers on the market are the Cleveland Browns' Terrell Pryor, who has made an impressive conversion from Ohio State quarterback, and Washington deep threat DeSean Jackson. Along with three 1,000-yard-plus seasons in the past four, Jackson's career average per catch of 17.7 yards puts him in elite company.

The Bears' secondary needs are well known, but this year's draft is the best in recent memory for cornerbacks and safeties.

As for the Bears' own unrestricted free agents, aside from Jeffery, quarterback Brian Hoyer is the only one of interest. Hoyer played well last season before a broken arm ended his season after five starts. He should be affordable and could be a competent bridge to whomever the team identifies as its quarterback of the future.

Monday afternoon the Bears re-signed tight end Daniel Brown to a one-year deal and tendered offers to two other exclusive-rights free agents, cornerback Bryce Callahan and wide receiver Josh Bellamy.

Exclusive-rights free agents are bound to their current teams once an offer has been tendered.

Bears 21 free agents

Unrestricted (17)

LB Sam Acho

OT Mike Adams

CB Johnthan Banks

QB Matt Barkley

PK Connor Barth

OL Nick Becton

DB Brandon Boykin

QB Brian Hoyer

WR Alshon Jeffery

OL Ted Larsen

OL Matt McCants

TE Logan Paulsen

S Chris Prosinski

WR Deonte Thompson

DE Cornelius Washington

DL C.J. Wilson

WR Marquess Wilson

Restricted (2)

DB Demontre Hurst

LB Christian Jones

Exclusive rights (2)

QB David Fales

LB Danny Mason

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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