BY DANNY SHERIDAN
Jerry Angelo is quickly catching up to John Paxson for title of worst GM in Chicago. Even though the Bears are about 30 million dollars under the salary cap, have major needs at several positions and have their pick of a number of short-term productive free-agents that would come pretty cheap, Angelo seems content to build through the draft.
Angelo really can’t think the Bears are “close” after being lucky to finish 9-7 in one of the weakest divisions in football, can he?
With that said, here are 10 moves the Bears should make before they take the field for their season opener, though I would be very surprised to see Angelo pull the trigger on any of the free-agents that I mention.
10. Find a backup for Matt Forte
Whether he’s already on the roster (Kevin Jones, Garrett Wolfe) or out there in free agency (Warrick Dunn maybe), the Bears need to find a change of-pace-back they can trust to compliment Forte. Dunn’s 4.2-yards-per-carry average last season was actually better than Forte’s.
9. Draft a safety in the second round The safety class this year is really weak. It’s likely there will not be a single safety drafted in the first round, which means there will be a run on them starting in the second round. Even though the Bears could go for a defensive end here, guys like William Moore, Louis Delmas and Patrick Chung would be good additions and could compete for a starting spot.
8. Give Nathan Vasher and Mark Anderson one more chance Each of these guys have greatly underachieved these last two seasons. It would be easy to bench Vasher in place of Corey Graham and release Anderson, but the Bears didn’t pay Vasher all that money for him to be a backup and not too many guys get 12 sacks their rookie year like Anderson did in 2006. The Bears need both to bounce back and have good seasons; otherwise the defense will likely struggle for the third straight year.
7. Give Bob Babich as little responsibility as possible Luckily, Rod Marinelli and Lovie will now be sort of like the co-defensive coordinators, while Babich will only be coaching the linebackers. I’m very interested in seeing if the Bears’ struggles on defense were really a result of poor play-calling by Babich or just a sign that guys like Urlacher and Ogunleye are past their primes and Vasher and Harris struggled because of injuries.
6. Re-sign John St. Clair With John Tait set to retire after five solid years as a fixture on the Bears’ line, bringing back St. Clair shifts from a luxury into a necessity. Chris Williams is penciled in at the other tackle spot, but he remains a major question mark after missing nearly all of last season due to injury. There’s been talk recently about the Bears drafting an offensive tackle with their first-round pick, but with St. Clair, Williams and lone free-agent pickup Frank Omiyale, the Bears should be okay.
5. Sign Darren Sharper If the season started tomorrow, Craig Steltz would be the 64th best starting safety in the NFL. Because the Bears didn’t bring back Mike Brown, safety is probably the second biggest need on this team besides wide receiver. Sharper has been around forever, and while his best years are behind him, he still presents a big upgrade over any one else the Bears currently have on their roster for the free safety position. Reportedly, the Bears and Saints top his wish list.
4. Make Danieal Manning the full-time kick and punt returner Hester looked totally lost on his returns last season and clearly isn’t the same guy who brought back 12 kicks for scores his first two years in the league. In just a handful of games late last season, Manning showed he can be one of the league’s better returners. Manning is probably the best athlete on the team, but he’s clueless on defense, so why not utilize his athleticism as much as possible?
3. Sign Jeff Garcia Doesn’t Kyle Orton need a little more competition in training camp than Brett Basanez and Caleb Hanie? Now I understand Angelo is worried that bringing in a veteran might hurt Orton’s confidence, but honestly, who cares? Orton has proved nothing yet in this league. And if Orton isn’t good enough to beat out the 39-year old Garcia, the Bears could at least stop fooling themselves into thinking they finally have a long-term answer at quarterback.
2. Sign either Tory Holt OR Marvin Harrison Right now, there’s not a team that has a worse receiving corps than the Bears. Hester is a number three receiver on a lot of teams, and Rashied Davis and Earl Bennett wouldn’t even play on most teams. The Bears need a reliable veteran who defenses would still have to account for. Holt and Harrison both fit that profile. Either one would help Orton tremendously and take a lot of pressure off of Hester. Holt is clearly the better player, but Harrison would be easier to get considering he’s an actual free-agent.
1. Draft a wide receiver in the first round I’ve seen mock drafts where they had the Bears taking everyone from Larry English to Michael Oher. Wide receiver has to be the first priority though. Even though there is great depth in this year’s receiver class, if the Bears wait until the second round to address it they will be picking from a group of leftovers. I would be happy with any one of these guys with the 18th overall pick; Darius Hayward-Bey, Percy Harvin or Hakeem Nicks. Angelo has a history of not taking receivers in the first round, but that needs to finally change.