18 of the 19 Bears’ free agents are unrestricted. GM Phil Emery has said DE Israel Idonije, G Lance Louis, T Jonathan Scott will likely be first in line for new deals.
Defensive tackle Henry Melton appears is if he will be back next season likely being stamped with the franchise tag. A long-term deal isn’t out of the question at this point, but he will likely command a big contract.
Linebackers Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach and Geno Hayes are all free agents. Roach will likely be retained, while the team has a much tougher decision to make on the 35-year old Urlacher.
Other free agents: RB Kahlil Bell, CB Zack Bowman, QB Jason Campbell, CB Kelvin Hayden, K Olindo Mare, QB Josh McCown, CB D.J. Moore, S Troy Nolan, DT Amobi Okoye, G Chilo Rachal, G Chris Spencer and DT Nate Collins (RFA).
With roughly $10 million in cap space for the Bears they will have to spend their money wisely this off-season.
They might ask a couple key players to restructure their contracts including 33-year old Pro Bowl DE Julius Peppers, who has a cap number of $16.383 million in 2013.
Melton will be priced at $8.3 million if indeed he is retained with the franchise tag. That would make him one of the five highest paid defensive tackles in the NFL and the Bears would get more time to work on a long-term deal with Melton.
About one third of the team’s salary cap would be devoted to just four defensive players if Melton is slapped with the franchise tag. Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs each already have big contracts.
The 26-year old Melton is a top player at his position and with new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker coming in, a three-technique defensive tackle like Melton is perfect for the Cover-2 scheme that they will have in place.
He has 16 sacks in three seasons with the Bears including 43 tackles, six sacks, 24 QB pressures and two forced fumbles last year.
The Bears placed the franchise tag on RB Matt Forte last season and then reached a long-term deal with him before the season. GM Phil Emery will likely be figuring out a same type of a deal with Melton.
For defensive end Israel Idonije this will be his fourth contract with the Bears if he is re-signed. He signed a four-year deal worth $2.2 million as a part-time player in 2006, then he signed a two-year deal worth $7 million in 2009.
Last year he signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million which included a signing bonus of $1.5 million.
The 32-year old defensive lineman has added 148 tackles, 21.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in the last three seasons in Chicago.
He will likely split time in the rotation with up-and-coming defensive end Corey Wootton who added seven sacks last season.
His new deal should figure to range around $2-3 million a season. It should be a short-term deal likely his last.
NFL free agency officially starts March 12th. The Bears will have plenty of decisions to make.
Bringing back Idonije and Melton should be at the top of the Bears’ plans this off-season. Both defensive linemen are an integral part to the team’s success on defense.
Strength of Schedule:
The Bears rank in the middle of the league when it comes to strength of schedule. Their 2013 schedule ranks 16th in the league. Their 2013 opponents went 128-127-1 in 2012. They will host the Cowboys, Giants, Saints, Ravens and Bengals in 2013 while visiting the Eagles, Redskins, Rams, Browns and Steelers. Of course they will play two games a piece against their NFC North opponents (Lions, Packers and Vikings).