A couple of weeks back, we detailed the offseason schedule in which Ryan Pace & Co. need to finalize answers on their offseason checklist, well before they focus on their second draft. The questions circled particularly around three offensive weapons: free agents Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, and outspoken Pro Bowl-caliber tight end Martellus Bennett.
The Bears general manager made his official call on Forte's future Friday, and it won't take long to learn how they feel about Jeffery. The overriding belief is they won't let a homegrown guy who'd be the best wide receiver in free agency to even hit the market. We could find out as soon as Tuesday, the first day of a two-week window in which they can place the franchise tag on their 2012 second round draft choice. There's a belief Pace is aiming to work out a long-term deal with Jeffery, with his participation in just nine games this past season (only seven of which he was truly a factor) due to leg injuries was an aberration, not a definition. But Tuesday allows them to lock him in for at least 2016 if a multi-year agreement proves elusive. If that tag doesn't happen, however, it's a clear sign there are management concerns that could be bigger than health.
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Then there's Bennett. He's as productive a tight end as the Bears have had in his first three seasons here after signing a four-year, $20 million deal in 2013. He's played through a lot of physical issues, so his toughness shouldn't be questioned even though some wonder about focus during the course of game week. He made renegotiation statements (despite having new bosses) by staying away from non-mandatory Organized Team Activities last spring. We'll soon find out how that outspokenness sits with this regime, and whether the catch machine outweighs the quote machine. If they think a holdout looms, he'll be shopped, starting three weeks from Sunday (if not sooner) when a three-day window begins for teams to negotiate with representatives for free agents who'll hit the market Wednesday, March 9. And while Zach Miller finally stayed healthy and lived up to his potential, can his injury history be trusted, and just, exactly, how much will he be asking for as he also heads into free agency? If they commit to Miller and trade or cut Bennett, figure they'll need another solid tight end on standby.