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Bears check tags before shopping for free agents

Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd (31) Team Rice during third quarter NFL Pro Bowl football game AlohStadium Sunday Jan. 26

Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd (31) of Team Rice during the third quarter at the NFL Pro Bowl football game at Aloha Stadium, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

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Updated: April 5, 2014 6:29AM



The Bears did not designate a franchise player by Monday’s deadline but did watch their offseason shopping list come into focus.

Two top safeties, the Bills’ Jairus Byrd and the Browns’ T.J. Ward, figure to test free agency starting on March 11 after neither was tagged.

The Bears could turn to Ward or Byrd, probably in that order, if the price fits their defensive overhaul. The Bears have not spoken with free agent Louis Delmas (formerly of the Lions), a team source said.

Byrd, who figures to demand a higher salary than Ward, has been linked to the Browns as Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine was his coordinator in Buffalo.

Of course, the Bears need pass rushers, too. Three of Pro Football Focus’ top 12 4-3 defensive ends are likely to reach the free-agent market.

The Bengals didn’t tag Michael Johnson, who had 3½ sacks last season after posting 11½ in 2012. At 27, he still represents elite production at a relatively young age.

Nor did the Raiders tag 26-year-old Lamarr Houston, who had six sacks last season.

And, as the Seahawks said two weeks ago, they did not tag Michael Bennett, 28.

Bears tight end Martellus Bennett has been lobbying his brother to sign with Chicago.

Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo was tagged Monday and will remain with Washington.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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