Chicago Sun-Times

Four Down Territory, Feb. 16: Free-agent possibilities at right tackle

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We're running behind again today, but the mail has arrived in time to deliver Four Down Territory. Let's get into it.

Q: It looks to me like Max Starks or Vernon Carey is going to be the Bears' No. 1 free-agent target. Why you ask? Well for starters John St. Clair mentioned in a recent article that the Bears have not contacted his agent yet to start contract negotiations. I doubt if John Tait thinking about retirement is a surprise to them so if you know Tait and his salary are leaving, it's logical to assume the Bears would want to pursue the best possible replacement. St. Clair played a good left tackle last year but Starks and Carey are probably much better right tackles than St. Clair. Both also fit the the mold of the guy I have been wanting them to have that of a road grader run blocker. Replacing Tait with a free agent makes more sense to me than drafting a rookie right tackle and having both your starting tackles with virtually no NFL experience. The Bears have the cap room to sign Starks or Carey the question is will either of them want the Bears and how far are the Bears willing to convince them moneywise this is the place for him to play. I also heard that Ray Willis of the Seahawks is a free agent. Can you tell me if you also believe the Bears will pursue a free agent for right tackle and how do you hear Starks, Carey and Willis rate against each other?

Tom P., Parts Unknown

A: Let's get one thing straight, Jerry Angelo hasn't called yet to share his free agency plan with us.

Second, the Bears are going to have to get two tackles, whether it's through the draft, free agency or both. Right now, Chris Williams and Cody Balogh, who was on the practice squad all last season, are the only tackles under contract. So, if the Bears re-sign St. Clair, a possibility, or go after another veteran in free agency, they still have to find another tackle because you have to have three.

Now, to the rest. We're not going to pretend to be able to give you a detailed breakdown of the specific players you've asked about. We don't see them play on even a semi-regular basis. Carey is considered one of the top available linemen but we're not going to be able to completely zero in on this until Thursday's deadline for teams to place the franchise tag on players passes. Carolina is working to re-sign Jordan Gross, reportedly, and shopping season doesn't begin until Feb. 27. Carey is an interesting guy. He'll turn 28 before the season starts. Here's something to keep in mind with him--he's represented by the same agent who has St. Clair.

Starks is one of a couple linemen in Pittsburgh that are up, another being Marvel Smith. I wouldn't rule out Smith as a possibility either. How the Bears approach this will be interesting. Do they go for someone to keep the seat warm for a high draft pick or do they get someone they project to start for several seasons? Willis did a decent job at right tackle in Seattle and is also a free agent. Mike Lombardi of the National Football Post puts together a nice primer on free agency and the position.


Q: Would there be any chance the Bears would move Rashied Davis to cornerback given the fact that he has been an inconsistent receiver? With depth low on both positions I think that could be a possibility especially if Charles Tillman moves to free safety. Then the Bears could draft some receivers and sign some through free agency.

Andrew B., Silvis, Ill.

A: That's the kind of outside-the-box thinking we appreciate here at Inside the Bears. That being said, it's a move that is unlikely. Davis joined the Bears in 2005 after being a two-way star for the San Jose Sabercats in the Arena League. He was first tried as a cornerback--you might recall he originally wore No. 21--but the seeds for a move were planted before that end of that season. Certainly this past season probably didn't go the way Davis would have liked. He was plagued by some dropped passes and then seemed to go invisible over a long stretch where he made six catches in seven games late in the season.

Davis made 12 starts and a case can be constructed that part of his shortcomings are due to the fact that he was misused. At 5-9, 187 pounds, with both the quickness and toughness to excel in the middle of the field, he's probably best suited to be a slot receiver. Lining him up outside as the Bears did for much of the season might have taken him away from the spot where he could have made the greatest impact. That's how the teams that considered him as a restricted free agent viewed him--as a slot receiver--and yet he wound up outside much of the time. Davis was one of the more reliable blockers on run downs and that led to him being on the field a lot until season's end when he had time taken away. His greatest asset would be as a slot receiver and his days as a cornerback have come and gone.


Q: What is the workout schedule for players at the combine?

Mark B., Des Moines, Iowa

A: Team executives, coaches and the first wave of players will arrive in Indianapolis on Thursday. The first workouts in Lucas Oil Stadium will begin Saturday. Here is the schedule:

Saturday--Offensive linemen, tight ends, specialists Sunday--Quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs Monday--Defensive linemen, linebackers Tuesday--Defensive backs

A complete list of schedules is here and NFL.com will provide pretty thorough coverage of the action as well.


Q: Can you go over the cap space that the Bears will have after John Tait retires, the Marty Booker release and the Marcus Hamilton $9 million to $10 million credit? It is getting a little confusing. Seems like there are different numbers being reported. Is it true that the Bears will have $37 million to $38 million available like it is being reported by some people?

Jacob, Parts Unknown

A: Tait has yet to officially retire so the Bears haven't cleared the $4.85 million in cap room that move will create. That estimate you have is higher than the club has or will have. The Bears currently have $105 million committed toward 2009. As we mentioned last week, Hamilton restructured his contract on Dec. 6, lowering the not-likely-to-be-earned incentive to $9.7 million. Combine that credit with savings from Tait and you'd be looking at roughly $32 million in cap room. That figure is before you factor in any bonus money that was earned from this past season that needs to be applied. So, again that figure is high.

We've written it before and we'll write it again, there are two numbers that matter now. Cap space and cash available. The Bears have more cap space than they will ever need this offseason. They're hardly alone with excess cap room. It used to be many teams ran right up against the cap and there were cap casualties as well as teams that were bystanders in free agency because they were in salary cap jail, so to speak. That's no longer the case. So whether or not the Bears were coming in at $20 million in room or $32 million in room, it's really not significant. They could make major signings with much less and still have room to fit all offseason moves in. The bottom line is their cash available for free agency will dictate moves more than their available room. It's that way pretty much everywhere and there are teams with more than $40 million in available room.

Thanks for all of the participation and thanks as always for reading. We'll hit two more Four Down Territories for the week before taking the operation to the combine.

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12 Comments

So the bonus money Angelo said he was going to give Harris is basically going to be a wash with the money Tait gets. Briggs also will probably get a bonus. Plus a few other guys will probably get bonuses and escalator clauses for games played.

Oh and I hope all you Chris Williams fans paid attention to what Lombardi wrote: "Marvel Smith, 30; 6-4, 320; 5.27; Ken Zuckerman — If his back was OK, he would be signed, but back injuries and tackles don’t mix well."

Chris Williams over 3 years and has herniated the same disk twice plus he strined his back last year. Thats 3 back injuries over 3 years. Will he make it four and prove that you don't draft guys with bad backs as a rule of thumb. Oh and notice rule 11. Must do more than slide. What is Williams known for? His kick slide. Were did he struggle, in the running game probably do too lack of a hand punch, you can also beat him inside. I got a rule he should throw in there, don't draft an offensive tackle with a herniated disk.

Offensive line draft picks by Angelo sense 2003

2003 he drafted Bryan Anderson G 7th rd
2004 He drafted ZERO OLP's
2005 He drafted ZERO OLP's
2006 He drafted Tyler Reed G in rd 6 (thats it)
2007 He drafted Josh Beekman G rd 4 and Aaron Brant rd7
2008 He drafted Chris Bad Back Williams OT rd1, Chester Adams G rd7 and Kirk Barton OT rd7.

That is the fewest offensive line players drafted by any team over that period of time. I believe only 2 of these players are still on the team. The Bears have also only gotten 16 starts out of all there offensive line picks and that was buy (Beekman this year). It's ok if you want to bring in some free agents to suppliment the team, but it's really not a good idea to try to build your line with them. You might get a good year or two out of aging players but that is usually about it plus it cost more. Yet here they sit about to do it again.

Now you know I do not like the Offensive line drafts by Angelo, but in all fairness you should list the Free Agents he picked up as well, as they took us to the Super Bowl, there's no way Rex wins that game or Jones/Ced run good enough to win w/o those FA Olinemen that JA picked up.
Now as far as Drafting - yeop, he s..... and is `Offensive Lineman Mentally Challenged'
ands in my opinion he should have grabbed a FreeAgent last year as how could he not know Tait etcc.. were over the hill then.

I'd love to see us sign V. Carey to start at RT and then trade down in the first round. Pick up H. Nicks at WR from UNC and either a safety or DE with the pick we get in the deal. IF we don't sign Carey, then still trade down and get Nicks and either Britton or Loadholt at tackle.

I think Angelo will go after a tackle in FA, that will be his big splash. Forget QB, there isn't much out there better then what we have in the draft or FA. I still really think Hanie has that "it" factor that the position has lacked in Chicago for years.

Sign Carey and O. Atogwa from the Rams at FS. Trade down in 1st round and get Nicks and a pass rusher. Then draft for depth at OL, LB and WR. This solidifies our line, Atogwa is a decent FS with range and Nicks is the perfect complement to Hester. He's been talked a "Michael Irvin type".

I'd also see if we could get a 3rd rounder for Vasher. Someone has to still like him.

Jerry needs to make a few moves in free agency, and every one of them needs to be centered around the offensive line. We are desperate at tackle, but that doesn't mean we don't need help at guard as well. Maybe that help is on the roster in a combo of moving Beekman to RG, and Buenning in at left guard. But considering that our projected tackles are essentially guys who have never played the position for this team, we are going to need stouter play from the interior line. Kreutz and the guards are going to have to be able to handle everything that comes at them inside, since the tackles are going to need help from the backs and tight ends.

I think Brad is right in that we will still need to draft OL help even if we line up a winner in free agency. This is an old offensive line, and thin on top of it. Tait is retiring, Miller is not in the plans, and Metcalf has got to be considered a long shot to get back in the mix, unless he gets back into the competition for LG, which would move Beekman into the competition at RG. Tyler Reed is a non-factor, and we don't know whether Chester Addams will be back at all. Kreutz is only signed through 2010 (I think), and likely he will not be back for another tour after that, so we need to have our center position under consideration for this offseason so we can develop someone. Novel concept for this coaching staff, but it's time to step up and make some of these young players into future starters and solid contributors.

I would be satisfied with 4 OL additions this offseason through FA and the draft. We need a starting RT, a swing tackle, a G, and a C for the future. Hopefully Buenning can re-capture his form from early in his career, where he was a solid LG, and we would have our veteran guy there to help Chris Williams. Then we can work with Beekman and Buenning at our guard spots, with Garza as the primary backup at all 3 interior spots, and a rookie to round out the group.

Several mocks I have seen show the Bears taking Unger in the second round, which would be interesting, and could sew up the center position for the future. St. Clair or another free agent needs to be the first choice for RT (I am not a St.Clair fan, so I would prefer another direction), unless we are set on a guy like Oher or Britton at 18, which may be reaching in both cases. But even if we do go that route, having two tackles with zero experience is not a great option. If we are as close as Lovie thinks, then we need experience at the RT spot, which means established free agent. God help us if that guy is Fred Miller, but I would be happy with Gross, Carey, or Willis. The guards in this draft appear to be dropping like rocks, especially after Duke Robinson struggled in the bowl game, and Levitre did not look great in Senior Bowl practices. We could get one with the comp pick for Berrian, or our regular third rounder. So to recap, that means Unger in 2, Guard in 3.

That leaves us with our first and a third (assuming we get a third as compensation for Berrian) for the other pressing needs. WR, OT, S, LB, QB, DE, all could be up for discussion . Maclin, Nicks, or Heyward Bey would be the WRs early, and maybe a guy like Robiskie in 3? OT-wise, we have a shot at Britton and Oher, but if we wait until 3, the pickings are slim. There was mention of Andrew Gardner in a Scouts Inc. article as a solid guy who is coming off injury (right up Angelo's alley, right?), but he would be a 4th or 5th rounder I think. As far as safety, this is a weak class overall, so that might be a free agent thing, or 4th round or later choice. What about Corey Chavous, who was released by the Rams? If nothing else, he is a smart enough player to fill in the QB of the defense role we lost with Brown. LB is going to be a pretty deep group, but if we go for that early, we are making a mistake in my opinion, unless we are transitioning Urlacher out of the picture. DE should leave us some interesting options early as well. QB may be off the list with Basanez being signed, but Freeman is not off the radar for me, because of Jerry's fascination with the strong-armed developmental prospects, a la Joe Flacco last year.

For a team that's close, we sure do have a lot of needs. Jerry will be earning his paycheck this offseason, and hopefully he will be as busy as we think he needs to be to not only patch the holes in the roster, but start re-making this team for the future.

Many saw this question yesterday but I am taking Creighton's advice and posting it here in 4 down country.

Brad: How many teams have started a season with 2 rookie bookends and how did they finish? Williams may be in year 2 but he is still a rookie. With this being a possibility please answer this one.

Jackson, you are absolutely dead on with what we should be doing come draft time. Wide receiver and right tackle has distinguished themselves as the 2 positions that we need to address first. With the 18th pick in the draft, we are not going to have a chance at Crabtree and Maclin might not be there either. If Maclin is there, we would have to at least consider if because the thought of Hester and Maclin lined up opposite of each other is very scary. After Crabtree and Maclin, there is a bunch of receivers who are all going to grade out similarly. Hayward-Bey, Nicks, Kenny Britt and Robiskie are all over 6 feet tall and are more possession receivers that would fit nicely opposite of Hester. The issue is that the 18th pick in the first round is a bit early for these receivers. My guess is that Angelo will try to move down into the mid 20s and pick up an extra 3rd round pick in the process. Now we have the flexibility to go with a Right Tackle (we are known to like Loadholt from Oklahoma)or even take a shot at Freeman, the physical specimen at Quarterback from Kansas State, if he doesn't jump up the board like Flacco did last year.

In response to Creighton's post about Chris Williams, Williams didn't miss one game at Vanderbilt and allowed only two sacks in 3 seasons as the starter at LT in the tough SEC. If he was that hurt, how did he play for 3 years straight, play at a high level and not miss a game?

And how do you know you can beat him inside? How many Vanderbilt games have you watched? Did you see Williams play at the Senior Bowl? I'm just curious as to where you're getting your information from since a lot of us haven't seen Williams play at all.

Yes, I know Williams is known for his kick slide, we saw that in the one on one drills at the 2008 Senior Bowl. All I know is, Williams is a talented kid, with good feet and athleticism. We have Rusty Jones to work with him on his strength and conditioning. Hopefully he comes back stronger than he ever was.

Randy it would have made the post to long but I did mention the free agents and what they did.

2004 John Tait he was 29. This has been Angelo's best free agent signing sense being with the Bears.
2004 Ruben Brown he was 32 and was plauged by injuries
2005 Fred Miller he was 32 and earned the nickname Drive Killer Miller
2005 Roberto Garza a below average guard.

Mike, Williams said he had a herniated disk at Vandy, so did Angelo, he said he knew it when he drafted him, read a paper and catch up with your Bear players, are you saying Williams and Angelo lied. He herniated the same disk twice it's common knowledge. You can get footage of Williams playing at Vandy at Youtube and at NFL.com. You can also see footage of his Senior Bowl drills, were he consistantly got beat inside and showed no hand punch. When every expert in the country says he can be beat inside, I'll take there word for it. Who did Williams go up against and Vandy? What DT'S and Ends did he face? Don't tell me teams tell me players. What was Vandy's record with him playing there. In fact the team had it's first winning season under Johnson after Williams and Bennett left. You can get away with a lot in college that won't slide in the NFL. You say Williams is talented, and maybe he is, you have to wait and say though cause he already missed all of his first season with a Back injury. But I never said he didn't have talent or good feet, in fact I have said for over a year he has nice feet, what I said is you do not draft a player with a bad back. Now I said this last year before they drafted as many people on this board will tell you. If I was wrong about his back why did he just sit out his first season with a back injury? Oh and yes I did see him play at the senior Bowl. Bryant a nobody DT abused him. Again if I am wrong about his back why did he sit most of last season with a back injury. A herniated disk is one of the worst injuries you can have as Linemen. Because it is permanant condition, that disk will always be a problem, any doctor will tell you when you herniate a disk, it time to take good care of your back. Taking care of your back and player Tackle in the NFL don't mix.

Next time you question me maybe you could at least do me the respect of looking up your facts. He has had 3 back injuries all documented and spoken about by the Times, Trib, Williams and Angelo. How much more proof do you need and want that he had a bad back?

The stars are aligning like they are going to have to overpay somebody to get a starting FA tackle. As we all know, the Bears are not big on over-paying players. However if you WERE going to do that, an offensive tackle in his mid-20s wouldn't be a bad choice. That's essentially what they did with Tait, back in the day.

Creighton does your employer deny you paid sick days or is there something in your life that makes you upset at people who are hurt? The reason I ask is that you are constantly critical of both the player and management when somebody misses games or loses production because they are injured. That always seemed like piling on to me?

Everything I know about the NFL, or any big league professional sport, tells me that they have the best doctors, trainers, and physical therapists that money can buy. Their livelihood depends on it. If a player is hurt, it's to everyone's benefit that they heal as quickly and completely as possible. Nobody signs or trades for a player unless they have a no-nonsense physical. If the physical shows a current injury or history of injuries, they don't make a move without a serious medical opinion saying it is not a problem for the player on the field.

In any job employees get hurt and get sick. It's part of the game and part of life. Is there something about that you take personal?


Creighton, with all due respect, I do read up on the Bears every single day...I've seen footage of Williams on Youtube and NFL.com, but those are just his highlights. Anyone can make a video of a player and make them look good. I'm just saying it's tough for any of us to know what he can do since he's barely played in the NFL. We have limited footage on him.

I'm not disputing the fact that he had or has a bad back. I'm saying he's played with the injury, and he's played well. Hopefully the surgery he had this past year will have repaired the problem and he can move on and be the player we drafted him to be.

As far as him playing in the SEC and the DE's he had to face while at Vandy. Well let's see, here's a sample list of the type of NFL talent DE's he had to face. I'm not much into the DT's he faced because he's a LT and the majority of the time he'll be going up against RDE's, or 3-4 OLB's.

Tyson Jackson (Projected as a 1st or 2nd round pick in '09)
Charles Johnson (Panthers 3rd round pick in '07)
Quentin Moses (Dolphins 3rd round pick in '07)
Derrick Harvey (Jags 1st round pick in '08)
Jarvis Moss (Broncos 1st round pick in '07)
Greg Hardy (Should be a high pick in the '10 draft)
Jamaal Anderson (Falcons 1st round pick in '07)
Lamar Woodley (Steelers 2nd round pick in '07)
Shawn Crable (Patriots 3rd round pick in '08)
Quentin Groves (Jags 2nd round pick in '08)
Robert Ayers (Projected late 1st-2nd rounder in '09)

Obviously, I know that in the NFL, he will face a really good DE each and every week. Which is why you have to look at his physical skills to see if he can matchup with the best of the best week in and week out. And when looking at Williams' physical talents, there's nothing about him physically that would say he can't (injuries aside) or couldn't compete with some of the best DE's in the game. He's got natural LT feet to use his kick slide, and can bend his knees. He can work on technique more once he gets into the offseason conditioning program.

If in fact it's one of his weaknesses, getting beat inside is something he can learn to improve on with coaching, hard work and discipline. Same with getting stronger and using a better hand punch.

The tools are there, the only question mark about him is what you alluded to, his back. Hopefully it's something we can all move on from.

I think Tait is a class act, and Bears management knew of his decision for awhile. By not locking up St. Clair by now, i'm guessing we are going to see a FA splash @ tackle on the the 27th for us.
draft-wise, if Maclin falls ..we'll grab him. if not , look for a trade down to get another extra pick. O-line will definetely have to be addressed in the first 2 picks regardless.

Actually he didn't play against all those guys and some of them are not any good. I didn't ask who was on the teams he played against. I asked who he lined up against. Look you put Hardy up there but he would have been playing what his first year against him. How is that a good comparison, or Harvey who sucks, Jackson is a LE so they probably didn't square up and Jackson is not even a Pass rusher. Charles Johnson is a backup, Moses is a backup, Moss is a backup in Denver and you got suck to be a backup on that line, how Did Williams do against Anderson, did they even matchup? Didn't Woodley get a sack off Williams and pressure the QB all day in 2006. I believe he did. Ayers??? Your talking about Ayers, he had two hurries and a tackle for loss against Williams and had only 4 sacks in 2007. Not a bad player but common. Groves has 2.5 sacks in the NFL. Thanks but that doesn't impress me.

Again you asked me how I new he was injured I answered it. I never said he didn't have talent. I said you don't draft Linemen with a herniated disk and Mr. Lombardi agrees with me and so does just about every team in the nfl. Again you and Ms think I have a problem with Williams. Williams is just a symptom of a problem. I have said it a dozen times over I hope he plays well and has a good career. I just wouldn't bet on it happening sense he has herniated a disk twice and plays OT in the NFL, that puts just a little pressure on your back. I don't blame Williams for getting hurt, I blame Angelo for drafting a guy he knew had a herniated disk. You don't do it, it is a huge risk, Angelo took it and look what happened.

If you want a break down of Williams, he has nice size a great kick slide and nice feet, he is also very smart and knows how to get knock downs. But he has a bad back, his arms are a little short, he is weak for his size, he has no hand punch, he can be over powered by a guy with a decent bull rush and tends to grab onto guys instead of trying to push them. He is a pass blocker and not a run blocker, he also struggles to get to the second level.

Just remember Albert and Otah were both on the board when the Bears picked Williams. Albert was my pick Brad Biggs was all about Otah, and Angelo drafted a guy with a herniated disk. Thats a big risk with the 14th pick and when your team is desperate for a LT and the risk blew up. Thats another first round mistake. Do you see yet how it's about Angelo and not Williams? I don't to go over all of his mistakes I don't want to argue a fact, ok. I am sick of the stupidity. Did he have back problems? Yes? Was it a bad pick? Yes?
Did he start a single game last year? No. Did they waste a roster spot having him sit almost the entire season on the bench? Yes.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on February 16, 2009 10:56 PM.

Dollars and sense: The Basanez contract was the previous entry in this blog.

Safety issue: Cornerback Tillman will not make switch is the next entry in this blog.

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