I am not for spending sprees in NFL free agency. More often than not the more money spent by an organization in March, the more time they end up spending in the salary cap penalty box for years to come. But Phil Emery’s execution a year ago – landing Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett and Matt Slauson – proved to me the Bears GM knows how to approach the veteran flea market and add the right pieces at the right prices. (Pay too much for the starting left tackle, save a boat load on the starting left guard.)
But this offseason, coming off one of the worst defensive years in Bears history, Emery must attack that side of the ball. That starts Wednesday with free agency and runs right up through the signing of undrafted free agents in May. Emery must be aggressive, must believe that while injuries were greatly responsible for the downfall they were not the only element of culpability. The players on the roster were not good enough. Simply bringing them back is not an option.
Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward, Linval Joseph, Lamarr Houston…etc. You can walk around the internet for the next hour and read the positives and negatives on all the defensive talent headed to the marketplace. Byrd is a star but can cheat in coverage. Houston is a brilliant run defender but his sack totals are not representative of a top tier pass rusher. Joseph’s first name is Linval.
They are all upgrades. Significant upgrades. And other than the positions occupied by Tim Jennings and Lance Briggs, the Bears should take upgrades wherever they can. And as Emery learned with Bushrod a year ago, sometimes you pay a bit more out of necessity, not desperation.
The Bears offense is championship caliber. The Bears defense is not and the organization can’t afford to take chances with draft picks at pivotal positions when all that’s needed is an incremental climb in the defensive rankings to leave second place in the NFC North behind and join the collection of contenders at the top of the conference. The Bears can play a young safety if he’s paired with Byrd/Ward. The Bears can start a rookie defensive end if Houston is providing steadiness on the other side. The Bears can put a guy like Aaron Donald in there day one as part of a rotation that includes Joseph.
Will Emery make the move? I think he will. I think he knows fans expect it. I think he knows the locker room needs new veteran blood. And I think both he and Marc Trestman are invested in Mel Tucker’s success at defensive coordinator. That means toys to play with.
Free agency starts Wednesday.