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Bears Look To Rebuild Defense As Free Agency Begins

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Mar 11, 2014 4:00PM

2014_03_bears_logo.jpg The free for all that is the NFL's free agency period, where players are finally allowed to sign with any team, begins Tuesday afternoon. The Bears will dive into the market primarily looking to fortify their defense, which ranked among the league's worst in 2013.

The Bears re-signed a couple of their own free agents ahead of the scrum by inking defensive linemen Nate Collins and Jeremiah Ratliff to new contracts, and the team appears close to keeping linebacker D. J. Williams.

However, the Bears biggest target from outside the organization decided to stay put after defensive end Michael Bennett chose to re-up with the Seattle Seahawks Monday. The team had hoped the idea of Bennett playing on the same team as his brother, Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, might have been enough of an incentive to land the top defensive lineman available. Despite Martellus' heavy lobbying, Michael decided to stay with the Super Bowl champs.

The Bears will now focus their attention to the likes of Cincinnati Bengals' Michael Johnson and Oakland Raiders' Lamarr Houston and still have a couple free agent linemen of their own in Corey Wootton and Henry Melton, who are both question marks following injuries in 2013. Melton was "franchised" by the Bears last year, but the team chose not to go that route again after he played just three games before blowing out his ACL. The injury is likely to keep his value down compared to a year ago.

Safety was the other glaring weakness for the Bears defense last season and they are expected to go after the Bills’ Jairus Byrd and the Browns’ T.J. Ward to shore up their secondary.

A number of questions remain with Bears' veteran players nearing the end of their careers. All-Pro cornerback Charles Tillman is a free agent, and he and his "Peanut Punch" may or may not return. With Julius Peppers in clear decline while collecting massive pay checks, the Bears are exploring trades for the defensive end. With a cap hit of over $18 million in 2014, the Bears might choose to cut the former superstar if he is unwilling to renegotiate his contract.

On offense, the Bears are in much better shape. Backup quarterback is the biggest issue with Josh McCown a free agent. The team locked up QB Jordan Palmer as an insurance policy, which may indicate the Bears aren't feeling too confident about bringing back McCown after last year's big season. However, McCown has indicated he'd like to stay unless another team wants him to start. If that's the case, then the Bears need to spend whatever it takes to keep him as backup for Jay Cutler given Cutler's injury history and McCown's success in Marc Trestman's system.