I’d have to be the first to admit the idea of going out and getting any free agent over the age of 30 doesn’t sit well with me at all. That said there are reasonable exceptions to this rule that I am capable of living with. Especially given the amount of youth at some of the positions on this team and the need for a stabilizing veteran presence.
What type of player is a stabilizing veteran presence? Well mostly certainly not Terrell Owens, or anyone with a questionable character or team wrecking back ground. Certainly not someone that has shown severe decline in their production, well at least for not average to good NFL money. Someone who might need a change of scenery for a team he has been on. Perhaps a chance to shine with a little bit lowered expectations heaped upon him that he had with his previous team.
One thing is certain the Bears don’t need one receiver they realistically need two because the depth has been so bad. Plus if they do draft a receiver and don’t do it in the first round the possibility he’ll come up with a mystery injury and be placed on IR is pretty high too. Bears coaches have been notorious lately for red shirting their rookies. Earl Bennett did so last year and Jamar Williams and Micahel Okwo are others who red shirted as rookies.
These free agent targets appear in no particular order. I am not writing this in order of importance as to who I’d like to land in Chicago. I’m simply tossing around these guys in my head doing a little research and then following it up with a preview. I am advocating the Bears target these free agents, but not in any order of importance or excitement for the possibility of landing them. It’s all just something to chew on.
So who fits into as a possibility as a free agent target? For some reason I like the idea of Reggie Williams from the Jacksonville Jaguars. While not a perfect option he is a big receiver who can be physical. At one time Williams looked like a Larry Fitzgerald clone, but that was when he was playing for Washington. Williams is 6-foot-4 212-pounds and has always had respectable speed for his size.
In 2007 Wiliams scored 10 touchdowns so the potential is there. Plus given that Williams is under 30-years old is another big plus. He could be had given that there likely won’t be a major bidding war for his services. Plus to say that he never reached his potential in Jacksonville may not be terribly fair given that Jacksonville has always had a strong running team and had only two productive seasons from the QB position, coincidentally the year Williams tallied his ten scores.
If you’re an under performing player still in your rookie contract as Williams was the best thing that could happen is to get a fresh start somewhere else. Just look what it did for Thomas Jones’ career after he left the Arizona Cardinals. The best time to target Williams would be right out of the gate while other teams are attempting to bid over T.J. Houshmandzadeh a war the Bears don’t need to get involved in given the amount of needs they have elsewhere.
On the opposite end of the size spectrum is receiver Shaun McDonald. He has had a decently productive 6 years in the NFL. While not a #1 receiver option McDonald is a lunch pail guy with no history of character problems and one pretty good season in 2007 where he grabbed 79 receptions for 943 yards albeit in a Mike Martz designed offense where receivers seem to flourish. Given that the Bears got essentially ZERO production from their WRs last year save some good development from Devin Hester the last six game of the season McDonald is another option.
In the interest of full disclosure I am an Arizona State fan and McDonald is a Sun Devil alumni so it is fair to say I have a soft spot for McDonald. That being said I am able to look beyond my bias and see youth and potential in Shaun McDonald. Which is what the Bears need in the first place rather than age and greed. Plus I am looking at free agents that aren’t likely to break the bank and McDonald fits that modl. Even though is is around the 5-foot-8 range McDonald has always been productive for his size.
Another receiver who fits the mold of an under performer ready for a change of scenery is Michael Clayton from Tampa Bay. Clayton is another 6-foot-4 physical receiver. I myself am biased towards bigger receivers but even still it’s not as if the Bears really have a big receiver on the roster right now. Devin Hester and Earl Bennett don’t crack the 6-foot mark, both around 5-10. So a nice red-zone target for fade routes would help this offense become more productive.
Clayton had a monstrous rookie season with 86 receptions and 1,193 yards and 7 TDs. So there is potential there if he wants it. From then on however Clayton hasn’t played a full 16 game season so his production drop could be attributed to injuries. Given that he is finally out of his rookie deal and may want the opportunity to stick around in this league Clayton may be the type of player to target. A modest one to two year deal to prove himself in Chicago may help motivate him to be productive, it will also keep Devin Hester motivated knowing he will be challenged by young guys who are more natural receivers.
Another guy under 30 years old who has stuck around because he has reliable hands and decent size at 6-1 200-pounds is Jabar Gaffney. He’s not going to the light the world on fire with his ability and stats but he’s good for depth and effort. Hester may not be the most durable guy if he gets a good lick, so any free agent with potential to contribute is a must for the Bears. The Patriots may try to keep him around so if they think is worthy of being on their roster it’s someone the Bears should look at.
Bryant Johnson was just on the market last year and was considered an option then. He bombed in San Francisco so he’s likely to be back on the open market. But what receiver hasn’t bombed lately in San Fran with the lies of Alex Smith etc throwing the ball. Johnson has been fairly reliable throughout his career. His stats are not awe inspiring but they are solid for where he stands. A good options for the Bears because he won’t come expensive to attain and he has the aforementioned size that would fit will into the Bears’ offense 6-4 214-pounds.
So that rounds out a small list of the receivers the Bears might consider targeting in this year’s free agent market. Guys who have been productive shown flashes are under the age of 30 and could be a solid stabilizing force. The Bears don’t need a top of the line play maker in free agency, they need solid contributors. Would they benefit if there was a deeper free agency pool with a game-breaker that they could target? Most certainly they would go for a true #1 option with proven experience and talent.
What does work best for building a team though is getting guys who can contribute, have a history of contributing and still have some tread on the tires. This definitely could be a smart group of options for Jerry Angelo to ponder.
Every team wants the big free agent catch who make make an instant impact but the Bears need to help take the heat off of their defense by moving the chains and help to take some of the offensive workload off Matt Forte. These players give the Bears that option.
Tags: 2009 NFL Draft, Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Chicago Bears Draft, Chicago Bears free agency, Detroit Lions, Devin Hester, Jabar Gaffney, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jerry Angelo, Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Forte, Michael Clayton, NFL, NFL free agency, Reggie Williams, Shaun McDonald, Sports, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, wide receivers