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
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.