The 2014 Bears are undoubtedly more talented than the 8-8 club that couldn’t get a fourth-down stop against the Packers to earn a trip to the postseason in Week 17. General manager Phil Emery again impressively navigated free agency, identifying his club’s greatest needs, devising a specific plan to correct those weaknesses and executing. It’s too early to grade Emery’s most recent draft – or 2013, for that matter – but there’s a lot to be excited about.
Although it’s true the three biggest windows for team building have closed – pre-draft free agency, the NFL draft and the furious wave of undrafted free-agent signings – all good GMs approach every day as a chance to improve the roster.
Emery proved in his first two full offseasons that he’s always in roster grinding mode, scanning the waiver wire and exploring trade scenarios. Four current Bears – defensive end David Bass, tight end Dante Rosario, fullback Tony Fiammetta and defensive tackle Nate Collins – latched on with the Bears between the draft and the start of the regular season.
We’re aware these aren’t necessarily household names, but they’ve had defined roles and are squarely in the mix for similar contributions in 2014.
So what positions could Emery still target?
If you guessed safety, check behind Door No. 1 to see what you’ve won.
The problem there is that there aren’t enough good starting safeties to go around, much less guys who can be found on the street. Nonetheless – and admittedly, predicting which guys might be served their walking papers is never fun – a quick scan of the clubs that added safety help in the draft includes one, the Eagles, who could cut their losses later in the summer.
Second-year safety Earl Wolff is one name to file away. He struggled as a rookie and doesn’t have the length Emery covets, but Wolff logged six starts and is surely feeling the heat after the arrival of veteran Malcolm Jenkins and fourth-rounder Ed Reynolds.
The Bears passed on addressing the backup tight end position in a lackluster draft year at the position. Good call; Emery landed Rosario last summer for a seventh-rounder, and players of his ilk figure to come free again. Rosario, Fendi Onobun, Zach Miller and Matt Mulligan offer little as pass catchers, however, and Martellus Bennett could be even better with a second receiving threat for two-tight formations.
After drafting Eric Ebron with the 10th overall pick, the Lions released young Matt Veldman. The Packers could be preparing to make a similar move with Andrew Quarless or perhaps Ryan Taylor, now that Richard Rodgers is in the mix. Hardly dynamic pass catchers, but just two examples – and more will arrive later in the offseason.
The Cardinals released former second-rounder Ryan Williams, a running back who couldn’t get out of the training room and onto the field in the desert. Williams has medical red flags, but expect more recognizable names at a devalued position to surface. Will they be deemed by Emery as a better No. 3 option than Michael Ford, Shaun Draughn or Jordan Lynch? It’s certainly possible.
One team’s releases to monitor, at running back and almost every other position, is the Niners. With Marcus Lattimore and now Carlos Hyde fighting for Frank Gore’s table scraps, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James are intriguing.
One more position to consider is middle linebacker. Jon Bostic lacked instincts for the spot in Year One, and D.J. Williams hasn’t played 16 games since 2010.
Perhaps the two best post-draft signings a season ago were linebackers, Arizona’s Karlos Dansby and Baltimore’s Daryl Smith. Could the Bears, who’ll be down to roughly $2 million in cap space after rookie signings, pounce on someone like oft-injured Pat Angerer or troubled Erin Henderson? It’s more likely they’ll see what transpires over the waiver wire over the coming months, but rest assured, Emery and his personnel department will exhaust every option.