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Bears can find out what Michael Bennett, T.J. Ward are demanding

Chicago Bears' Julius Peppers warms up before an NFL football game against PhiladelphiEagles Sunday Dec. 22 2013 Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt

Chicago Bears' Julius Peppers warms up before an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) ORG XMIT: _2MR8619

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Updated: March 8, 2014 12:06AM



A key period marked by phone calls, emails and text messages gets underway Saturday.

The NFL’s three-day negotiating window, which allows the agents of pending unrestricted free agents to speak with other teams, opens at 11  a.m. It’s the second year of the league’s so-called legal tampering period, but contracts can’t be signed until Tuesday. Of course, pending free agents are still allowed to sign with their current teams before Tuesday.

For the Bears, who’ve been busy signing many of their own free agents since the end of the season, it’s an all-important time to find out how much highly sought-after free agents such as defensive end Michael Bennett (Seattle Seahawks) and safety T.J. Ward (Cleveland Browns) are demanding.

But it’s also the time when the market values for quarterback Josh McCown, cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive tackle Henry Melton and linebacker D.J. Williams, whom the Bears have interest in retaining, are established.

Lots of competition for McCown, Tillman and Melton, who have expressed a desire to stay with the Bears, is anticipated.

Defensive end Julius Peppers’ future with the Bears also could be determined at this time, if it hasn’t happened already.

The Bears might be looking for more salary-cap space, and one widely speculated route is renegotiating Peppers’ contract again or releasing him because of his $18.2 million cap hit for 2014.

But as erratic as Peppers was last season, releasing him without signing a replacement would be hasty, especially with the defense in full rebuilding mode. Starting Saturday, the Bears should get a better idea of what is viable via free agency.

Last year, the Bears didn’t release tight ends Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth until Martellus Bennett was signed. Like general manager Phil Emery said at the combine, “Decisions are made when they need to be made.”

“There’s a pool of money available under our cap every year,” Emery said. “We’ll just continue to work through that and to collectively sign the best players available that we can work out through that pool, through that cap, to produce the best team possible.”

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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