BY NEAL MALONE
The NFL free agent period is now open and for those of you unfamiliar with the Bears situation, this is their draft. The Bears will not select until the third round in April’s draft, so an active offseason in the free agent market is imperative.
One thing on the Bears side is the fact that the league is entering an “un-capped” year, which is to say that any team can spend as much or as little as they want. For the Bears, that is music to their ears because they know they have a lot of needs and the money that it takes to pursue them.
It didn’t take long for the Bears to sign a player, though, as they inked veteran tight end Brandon Manumaleuna (say that five times fast) to a 5-year contract this morning. Manumaleuna has played under Mike Martz’s offensive system before and is familiar with head coach Lovie Smith. While Manumaleuna has been known to catch a few balls, he’ll primarily be used as a blocking tight end to shore up the Bears running game and pass protection.
Manumaleuna is expected to be the first of many free agent signings for the Bears this offseason. Perhaps the next player could be none other than former Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers. Locally, WGN Radio’s David Kaplan has reported that the Bears are going to have the first shot at signing Peppers and that a deal is likely to get done. Nationally, ESPN’s Adam Schefter says that his sources are saying the Bears should sign Peppers by this afternoon. If those accounts are correct, it looks like the Bears have won out in the race for what could be the top free agent this offseason.
Peppers’ skill set combines great quickness and brute strength, which allows him to go around and/or push over opposing tackles with some regularity. He recorded 10.5 sacks last year in what was a miserable year for the Carolina Panthers. I think Peppers more than most will benefit from a change of scenery. I would expect him to come out of the gates at a furious pace next season, which is exactly the kind of mentality the Bears need in their pass rush.
As for others the Bears could be eyeing, well…it’s hard to say. But I do know that they’d like to fill the safety position. Cornerback, offensive line and wide receiver are also areas of focus. As I posted about earlier in the week, Antrel Rolle from the Cardinals is an extremely attractive player for Chicago because of his experience playing both safety and cornerback. I read somewhere that the Bears had a confirmed interest in Rolle. Another player I have in mind is veteran NFL cornerback Lito Sheppard, who was released earlier this week by the Jets.