Going over the Bears' 80-man roster right now, one position of need really jumps out at you. We're not covering any new ground when we write that they are banking on considerable production from multiple unproven players at wide receiver in 2009. Donald Driver beat us to the punch on that already.
Earl Bennett is a projected starter with zero NFL catches. Rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox are being counted on and the Bears are hoping they don't require a "redshirt year'' that some in the organization say Bennett had. Then you have starter Devin Hester and veteran slot receiver Rashied Davis. Brandon Rideau could also figure in the mix and he has virtually no NFL experience.
But if Lovie Smith could make one personnel move right now, import one player to his roster, would it be a receiver? Maybe. But think back to five years ago when Smith was first on the scene. The Bears went to training camp at Olivet Nazarene University and before they got out of there Smith made up his mind, he needed a pass rusher to make his defense go. We've heard Smith say it every year as the draft approaches, he can never have enough players who can get to the quarterback.
Well, the price for an elite pass rusher just went up. A lot. All of a sudden you've got multiple pass rushers (Dwight Freeney's $72 million contract is standing up just fine) making more money than some top passers, a trend that is sure to change and maybe before the Bears get around to doing a deal for Jay Cutler. Consider the joy among edge rushers this week:
*** Terrell Suggs beat the deadline that comes with the franchise tag to sign a longterm contract in Baltimore. He bagged $63 million over six seasons, the same money Matt Cassel got in Kansas City this week. According to reports, Suggs will receive $38 million guaranteed and his total bonus money in the first two years of the deal is $33.1 million, just shy of the $34 million in bonus money Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning had in his contract.
*** Julius Peppers didn't get that same kind of security in Carolina. Instead, he'll player under the tag this season and what a windfall that will be. Peppers will earn $16.7 million. He's coming off a career-high 14 1/2 sacks and if he can replicate that production at 29, he'll be in line for a major deal or a second franchise tag that would bring him more than $20 million in 2010. If he can prove he's healthy, Shawne Merriman will be angling for a new contract. DeMarcus Ware in Dallas is also in the hunt for new paper.
The Bears answered Smith's wishes for a pass rusher by trading for defensive end Adewale Ogunleye in the 2004 preseason. Ogunleye will be out of contract after this season as will fellow end Mark Anderson, leaving reliable veteran Alex Brown, swing lineman Israel Idonije and rookie Henry Melton in place. The Bears could re-sign Ogunleye, but he will be 32 this season meaning he'll be 33 before he plays his first down under a new contract. He's a solid two-way player but probably not an elite pass rusher at this stage of his career. However, we're not going to bet against him in a contract year.
The bottom line is the Bears, who don't have a first-round pick in the 2010 draft, will probably be looking for a pass rusher in the near future, maybe more than they're searching for a receiver. Remember, general manager Jerry Angelo has rarely used high picks on wideouts. Smith can't have enough quarterback hunters but finding one on the open market will be an expensive proposition.
*** The AccuWeather.com long-range forecast for Bourbonnais on July 30? A high of 77 with a chance of a thunderstorm.