In the midst of the NFL Combine and a potential lockout, the Chicago Bears' pending dip into free agency -- once there's a new CBA -- hasn't received much attention.
So keep an eye out for Philadelphia Eagles guard/center Nick Cole in the future as a potential target in the team's efforts to revamp its porous offensive line. NFL sources say the Eagles have decided not to tender Cole a contract, and will let him test the market in free agency.
So once Cole starts searching for a new team, the Bears could be one of the teams that end up pursuing him.
Bears coach Lovie Smith discussed the offensive line at the Combine as one of the team's position groups in need of improvement.
"It's one of the areas we would like to improve, yes," Smith said. "That was an area where we looked to improve during the course of the season and I felt like we did. We had a lot of different combinations that we used. [Offensive line coach] Mike [Tice] at least got the guys in a position that gave us the best chance to win. We're evaluating our offensive line like we're evaluating other positions."
A five-year veteran, Cole (6-0, 339 pounds) is just 26 and has played in 77 games with 29 regular-season starts, including 23 over the last two seasons. In addition, Cole has shown tremendous versatility. In the past two seasons, including the playoffs, Cole has logged 16 starts at right guard, six at left guard and three more at center.
In addition, Cole plays special teams and lined up at times for the Eagles at fullback and tight end during short-yardage situations.
Given the uncertainty along the Bears offensive line -- veteran Olin Kreutz is an unrestricted free agent, and the team is still trying to determine whether Chris Williams is a better fit at tackle or guard -- headed into the 2011 season, the club might look to bring in a young, experienced player who won't break the bank such as Cole to compete with other players on the roster such as Edwin Williams and Lance Louis.
With Cole still under contract, though, league rules prohibit teams from contacting him until the start of free agency, which won't begin until there's a new CBA in place.
So we're just letting you know that Cole could easily wind up on Chicago's radar as a potential low-cost, low-risk acquisition in free agency.
"I'm presuming you're going to ask particularly about the offensive line, I know that has been a hot issue," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said last week at the Combine. "We aren't going to know how that's going to shape up until we get through free agency and we get through the draft. We're going to take our time. We're going to take advantage of that time."