How will Bears handle mayhem to come once NFL lockout ends?
NEIL HAYES ON THE BEARS July 16, 2011 3:54AM
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo will have to decide if he wants to re-sign center Olin Kreutz (inset, left) and defensive tackle Anthony Adams. | M. Spencer Green~AP
Updated: October 29, 2011 12:35AM
Now Jerry Angelo, Tim Ruskell and Cliff Stein know what it must’ve felt like the night before the Oklahoma land rush. Only in the case of the Bears’ general manager, director of player personnel and director of football administration, the gun won’t sound until the lockout ends.
The Bears’ brain trust never has had so much work to do and so little time to do it, but they and their colleagues across the NFL remain in a holding pattern, awaiting a collective-bargaining agreement that will begin a flurry of activity the league has never seen before.
Once the new rules are in place, there will be designated periods for teams to sign rookie free agents, their own free agents, restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents and draft picks. The Bears have 47 players on their roster. If training-camp rosters are expanded to 90, as speculated, Angelo, Ruskell and Stein must sign 43 more in a frantic few days.
As daunting as that task might be, only so much can be done beforehand. Angelo and Ruskell likely have watched so much film that they have fallen in and out and back in love with several free agents. How many times can they double-check to make sure their BlackBerries are fully charged?
The best and most experienced front offices will have an edge when sparks start flying from cell-phone towers.
If there’s ever an advantage to having two front-office executives with experience as general managers, it’s now. Angelo and Ruskell will have a chance to redeem themselves after their bungled draft-day trade with the Ravens resulted in bitter feelings in Baltimore and red faces in Chicago.
Now that it appears an agreement could come any day, the Bears’ troika is awaiting final instructions from the league before tackling a mountainous to-do list.
Keeping their own
Angelo has to decide which of his free agents he wants to sign. He has had plenty of time to mull it over. Anthony Adams and Olin Kreutz are priorities. Adams does the dirty work inside with energy and enthusiasm. The aging Kreutz remains valuable not only for his leadership but because he’s the only experienced center on the roster. Rashied Davis, Brian Iwuh and Corey Graham are priorities for their special-teams play alone. Nick Roach is a simple solution for a team in dire need of linebackers. Punter Brad Maynard had a disappointing season but has been Mr. Reliable.
With money to spend and positions to strengthen, the Bears must decide which players they want to target in free agency. If J’Marcus Webb isn’t ready or able to move to left tackle, the Bears could be right back where they started at a critical position. Unfortunately, there might not be an obvious upgrade available. The Bears might be better off going after a guard.
Expect to hear a lot about the receiver class even if the Bears aren’t likely to address the position in free agency. Santana Moss is the best fit but likely will stick with the Redskins. While intriguing, Randy Moss, Braylon Edwards, Terrell Owens and Plaxico Burress don’t fit offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s disciplined scheme.
The Bears also could add a defensive lineman such as Brandon Mebane or Cullen Jenkins.
Undrafted free agents
General managers can’t afford to overlook undrafted rookies in the rush to sign big-name free agents. This is especially true of the Bears, who must continue to improve their depth. Fifty-one rookie free agents made opening-day rosters last season. Nearly three times that number had been signed by season’s end. This is an opportunity for Angelo to do more than add to his draft class. Five undrafted free agents started more than five games for their respective teams in 2010. Rookie free agents Sam Shields and Frank Zombo helped the Packers win a Super Bowl.
Trades and other additions
The Bears aren’t in the market for a quarterback such as Kevin Kolb or Donovan McNabb, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be looking to acquire players via trades or pick up players released by other teams. Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith wants to be traded to a contender and cleaned out his locker at Bank of America Stadium. He had the worst statistical season of his career while playing for the league’s least-productive offense last season. At 32, his best years are probably behind him, but he fits Martz’s offense, and the Bears have firsthand knowledge of how big an impact he can make. If Smith can be added for a third- or fourth-round pick, Angelo shouldn’t hesitate.
Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi, Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea, California safety Chris Conte and the rest of the 2011 draft class must be signed — posthaste. This will be the most straightforward of the tasks and likely will be simplified by the new rookie wage scale. Stein has excelled at getting rookies signed and into camp quickly.