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Bears

Arkush: It’s bargain hunting time in NFL free agency

And there are still nice pieces on the clearance rack

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones (95) celebrates with Justin Houston (50) after the Chiefs linebacker sacked Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck during an AFC divisional NFL football game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019.
Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones (95) celebrates with Justin Houston (50) after the Chiefs linebacker sacked Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck during an AFC divisional NFL football game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019.

CHICAGO – It is 3:09 p.m. in Chicago as I pen these thoughts, barely 48 hours after the official beginning of the 2019 league year and free agency, and the party – at least in terms of free agency – feels like it’s already over.

Still, of what’s left of the free agency market, I expect at least five players to make significant impacts in the coming season once they find new homes this spring or summer.

Just for grins, I’d like to share my top five, why they intrigue me the way they do and offer some logical landing spots for them.

1. Justin Houston

Houston is not the force he was five seasons ago, when he came up just a half-sack short of breaking Michael Strahan’s single season record for sacks of 22½.

The main reason is he has awful knees that, along with other assorted injuries, caused him to miss five games in 2015, 11 in 2016, one in 2017 and four last year. However, playing in just 43 games over the past four seasons, Houston still notched 30 sacks, including nine in those 12 games last season and 9½ the year before, and he is no one-trick pony, as he’s excellent against the run too.

My best guess is he’s only still available because of money. Coming off a huge deal in Kansas City that made him a cap casualty, no team is likely to throw a serious guarantee at a 30-year-old with a long injury history, but there’s also no hurry for Houston to jump into a bargain deal.

Ideal fits for Houston include the Patriots, Bears, Colts, Eagles, Panthers, Titans, Browns and Falcons.

2. Ndamukong Suh

Suh disappointed in Los Angeles last year through most of the regular season, but down the stretch and in the playoffs, he was dominant, displaying why he will one day be a serious candidate for Canton. What may be missing from his Hall Of Fame résumé are big-game victories and a ring, which I suspect is why Suh is going to spend a little more time shopping for the deal that best suits him. You can never have too much money, but Suh has made enough that I suspect fit will be as important to him as salary, and he has to know that at 32 there are no long-term deals out there. Ideal fits for Suh include the Rams, Titans, Bills, Seahawks, Eagles and Cowboys.

3. Bryce Callahan

Callahan was one of the best nickels in the league in 2018 before missing the last three games of the season and the playoffs for the Bears after breaking his foot. When healthy, he’s a Pro-Bowl-caliber slot corner, but he’s never played a full season, missing four games in 2017 and five games in 2016. He is undersized, and the biggest concern with him is that most of his injuries are a result of his extremely physical and aggressive play, but if you can keep Callahan on the field, he’s a gem in the slot. Ideal fits for Callahan include the Steelers, Texans, Lions, Broncos, Rams and Chiefs.

4. Breshaud Breeland

When healthy, Breeland is an excellent cover corner, and what’s intriguing about him is that while injuries cost him a $24 million deal in Carolina last year – his contract was voided by a failed physical from an infection in his foot after an offseason golf cart accident, and he missed the last nine weeks of last season with a groin injury reported as non-football-related – it would seem the kid is due for a little better luck and should be a bargain on a one-year prove-it deal. Ideal fits for Breeland include the Steelers, Texans, Lions, Broncos, Rams and Chiefs.

5. Zach Brown

Brown was highly productive his first two years in Tennessee before suffering through two injury-riddled seasons, and he then bounced back with a Pro Bowl season in Buffalo in 2016 and highly productive campaigns for Washington the last two seasons. He’s missed just three games over the past four years, so health isn’t really a question mark, and honestly, I’m a bit puzzled why some 4-3 team hasn’t already picked him up to play outside linebacker. Ideal fits for Brown include the Chargers, Browns, Jaguars, Bengals and Lions.

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