The Chicago Bears have quietly put together a very solid off-season. They added LT Jermon Bushrod and TE Martellus Bennett out of the gate on the first day of free agency.
Bennett, 26 has made 48 starts in five seasons, while Bushrod, 28, has made 62 starts in six seasons.
The Bears got two players who were needed desperately. A tall and speedy tight end like Bennett who can stretch the field and give Jay Cutler some extra help. Bushrod finally gives Cutler a solid blocker on his blindside which can help take some pressure off of him.
In an off-season where many big-name players have changed teams including Wes Welker from the New England Patriots to the Denver Broncos, the Bears have done a good job at building depth to their roster.
“We are up against the cap. So we are going to have to be to slow and methodical and make sure that every decision that we make is going to the best,” said Bears GM Phil Emery via Chicagobears.com.
The Bears have had to make some tough decisions, but overall they have done a solid job at adding depth to a team that is in a so-called “transition.”
Bennett and Bushrod were obviously the big splashes. Before free agency started the Bears announced they were going to franchise tag DT Henry Melton, who made the Pro Bowl last season.
They are looking to free up some cap space by locking Melton up on a long-term deal.
DT Nate Collins and CB Zack Bowman both will provide depth at their positions. Bowman shined on special teams when he returned to the team during the middle of the season in 2012. He should get a chance to earn some playing time as the Bears’ fourth or fifth cornerback. Collins added a nice pass rush from the middle of the line and should get a shot to be the third or fourth tackle behind Henry Melton and Stephen Paea.
DE Turk McBride provides depth at defensive end. He has the ability to play to defensive tackle as well. He isn’t a lock to make the team, but he could be insurance just in case Israel Idonije decides to play elsewhere. The Bears are still working on a deal with Idonije.
TE Steve Maneri replaces Matt Spaeth and should provide a nice touch to the Bears run attack. He joins a revamped tight end unit which should see second-year Temple product Evan Rodriguez get plenty of opportunities to shine.
Linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson have some big shoes to fill. Williams replaces lifetime Bear Brian Urlacher in the middle and Anderson replaces Nick Roach at strongside linebacker. Anderson can play all three linebacker positions and is comparable to Roach. Williams will have to stay healthy and stay out of trouble off the field to prove to be an upgrade over Urlacher. The Bears found two solid linebackers rather quickly after things didn’t look to good for them at the position.
Tom Zbikowski gives the Bears even more depth in the secondary. Major Wright and Chris Conte are penciled in as the starters at safety, while second-year man Brandon Hardin will fight for playing time and Craig Steltz will be a solid backup once again. The safety position has plenty of athleticism for the Bears for the first time in a while.
T Jonathan Scott and CB Kelvin Hayden both re-signed this week. Scott will compete for the starting right tackle gig with J’Marcus Webb. The 30-year old Texas product started seven games last season for the Bears at right tackle. Hayden will likely be the Bears nickelback with D.J. Moore now in Carolina. The Bears need to add more depth to the cornerback position, but the starters seem to be locked in.
LB Geno Hayes bolted for Jacksonville the first day of free agency and he might have made a mistake. He likely would have been the starter on the strongside if he was re-signed.
G Lance Louis and QB Jason Campbell leaving town really hurts the Bears. Louis was by far the most consistent lineman on the team a year ago. Coming off a devastating knee injury, Louis is still a question mark because of it. He will have to be replaced with another veteran. The Bears have been linked to 32-year old Brandon Moore who played very well with the New York Jets last season.
Of course the Bears really couldn’t afford Jason Campbell, but it would have been nice to bring him back considering how thin the quarterback market is. They could choose to bring back Josh McCown once again to backup Cutler.
Overall, the Bears have done a very good job at adding depth to their team. They made moves that made sense for them. Letting Urlacher go was certainly tough, but it was just a matter of time. Losing Lance Louis and Jason Campbell was the toughest and the Bears will have to fill their shoes with some crafty veterans.
Bringing back DE Israel Idonije, adding a veteran guard and veteran quarterback should be what the Bears focus on for the time being.
DT Henry Melton - re-signed to a one year, $8.45 million deal (franchise tag) on March 12.
TE Martellus Bennett - signed a four year, $20.4 million deal on March 12.
LT Jermon Bushrod - signed a five year, $35.96 million deal on March 12.
DT Nate Collins - re-signed to a one year, $715,000 deal on March 14.
CB Zack Bowman - re-signed to a one year, $780,00 deal on March 15.
DE Turk McBride -signed a one year, $715,000 deal on March 20.
TE Steve Maneri -signed a two year, $1.55 deal on March 21.
LB D.J. Williams - signed a one year, $900,000 deal on March 22.
S Tom Zbikowski - signed a one year, $715,000 deal on March 23.
LB James Anderson - signed a one year, $1.25 deal on March 24.
T Jonathan Scott - re-signed to a one year, $780,000 deal on March 25.
CB Kelvin Hayden - re-signed to a one year, $905,000 deal on March 27.
RB Armando Allen - re-signed to a one year, $480,000 deal on March 28.
LB Geno Hayes - signed a two year, $1.95 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars on March 13.
TE Matt Spaeth - cut by Bears on March 13. Signed a one year, $750,000 deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers on March 15.
TE Kellen Davis - cut by the Bears on March 13. Signed a one year deal with the Cleveland Browns on March 22.
LB Nick Roach -signed a four year, $13 million deal with the Oakland Raiders on March 15.
CB D.J. Moore - declared a free agent March 12. Signed a one year, $715,000 deal with the Carolina Panthers on March 18.
QB Jason Campbell - signed a two year, $3.75 million deal with the Cleveland Browns on March 26.
G Lance Louis - signed a one year deal with the Miami Dolphins on March 27.
Top needs: G, DT, CB, QB, LB, WR.
Jake Perper is the owner and head writer for Bearsbacker.com. Follow him on Twitter, @Bearsbacker and on Facebook for up to the minute news about the Chicago Bears.