The NFL’s period of actual free agency starts this Wednesday, Mar. 9. But the “real” free agency opens at noon on Monday when teams may legally begin talking to prospective free agents still under contract to their current teams, according to this memo from the league to its teams and obtained by ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio. Here is the nub of the deal:
“During the two-day negotiating period, all clubs may negotiate all aspects of an NFL Player Contract with the certified agent of any prospective UFA. However, a new club may not execute an NFL Player Contract with a prospective UFA until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 9, when the player’s 2015 contract expires.”
Of course, myriad teams have already had exploratory talks with agents for players; that’s what the Scouting Combine and telephones are for. The talking time was cut from three days to two since everyone knew by two what the deals were going to be anyway.
Regardless of when the de facto window for talks and deals opens, and irrespective of how good or bad the pending market may be, the Bears have had their targets identified long ago. GM Ryan Pace is a veteran of the pro personnel side of the game (beginning with the New Orleans Saints), meaning it has long been his job to have scouted current NFL players for game-planning as well as free agency purposes.
Put another way: Pace, his staff and by extension the Bears coaching staff knew before the end of last season who would look very good in Bears uniforms.
But from the dozens of current NFL players poised to become available, several make more sense than others at the specific need areas within the Bears’ roster.
Note: Because of the Bears’ intent to reshape the roster down age-wise, free agent rankings stayed generally sub-30.
Pace and coaches believe Shea McClellin’s arrow is still pointing up but Christian Jones, others were not answers.
1. Brandon Marshall, Denver, restricted free agent: Broncos could match offer; No. 2 in Broncos tackles.
2. Jerrell Freeman, Indianapolis: No. 2-ranked ILB by ProFootballFocus.com.
LB/DE edge rusher
Bears have Lamarr Houston in place with hefty contract plus Pernell McPhee but want – and need – more from short list.
1. Oliver Vernon, Miami: Dolphins transitioned him so they can match offer, but 29 sacks over 4 years...
2. Bruce Irvin, Seattle: Bears targeted him in ’12 draft before Seattle picked; solid if unspectacular.
Eddie Goldman is youth at NT but the DE/5-technique role is wide open. Jarvis Jenkins would be a quality re-sign.
1. Jaye Howard, Kansas City: Mauled Bears early in ’15 meeting with Hroniss Grasu; low mileage, high upside.
2. Akiem Hicks, New England: Massive (6-foot-5, 345 pounds) anchor alongside Goldman; drafted by Saints while Pace in New Orleans
3. Malik Jackson, Denver: Do Bears really want to get into this bidding war?
Matt Slauson is a fixture now but RG suffered when Kyle Long moved and Slauson gives flexibility. Bears see Charles Leno at LT.
1. Kelechi Osemele, Baltimore: Best OL on market can play guard or tackle.
2. Alex Boone, San Francisco: Nobody looks too good after 49ers’ 2015 but Boone is a two-time Pro Bowl alternate who can play tackle.
3. Jeff Allen, Kansas City: Quality blocker with versatility at age 26.
4. Brandon Brooks, Houston: Huge (335 pounds) mauler has started 30 games.
Bears hit with Tracy Porter, missed with Alan Ball, need to settle a key spot opposite Kyle Fuller, whom Bears control for 3 more yrs.
1. Janoris Jenkins, Los Angeles: Elite corner money could cost Bears needs elsewhere; how aggressive will Pace be?
2. Sean Smith, Kansas City: At 6-3, 210, may be best UFA corner, and KC may need too much money for others on good defense.
3. Casey Hayward, Green Bay: Notches below top two but solid; luring a Packer of of Green Bay never bad thing.
Martellus Bennett situation throws TE situation into turmoil. Zach Miller a good re-sign but injury history means more needed.
1. Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Indianapolis: Colts not expected to have money to keep both. Both with upside, Allen better blocker but some injuries, Fleener a better receiver.
2. Ladarius Green, San Diego: Big upside to understudy to Antonio Gates, if Chargers let him walk.
Bears hit on Adrian Amos via draft but Antrel Rolle age, health now are issues.
1. Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland: Some ankle issues in ’15 but ball-hawk’er has 14 INT’s in 4 yrs., including 1 of Jay Cutler.
2. George Iloka, Cincinnati: Overshadowed by Reggie Nelson, has size (6-4, 225); out of Boise State with McClellin.
3. Rodney McLeod, Los Angeles: Smallish but a proven hitter from physical program.