ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter's report Tuesday regarding the expected changes to free agency was music to the ears of three Bears in particular.
Safety Danieal Manning, linebacker Nick Roach and cornerback Corey Graham received restricted free agent tenders prior to the lockout, but if the requirement for reaching unrestricted free agency reverts back to four accrued seasons (it was six seasons in the uncapped year of 2010) in the new CBA, then all three will hit the open market once free agency technically begins.
Will any of the three re-sign with the Bears? Here is a quick look at each of the three players' individual situations and likelihood of staying in Chicago.
Danieal Manning - Five years of NFL service - The Bears made a half-hearted attempt to re-sign Manning during the 2010 season by offering the versatile defender an extension worth just $6 million over three years. There mere fact the offer was so low proves the Bears aren't interested in paying serious money to retain Manning, a 2006 second round draft choice who finished fifth on the team in tackles last year with 85. It's unclear exactly what kind of money Manning will command as an unrestricted free agent, but teams should be interested in a starting caliber defensive back (56 career regular season starts), capable of playing both safety positions, nickel back and cornerback, who also moonlights as one of the most productive kickoff return men in the league. Bears head coach Lovie Smith seems content to move forward with second-year safety Major Wright, which means Manning is expected to find a new home and hopefully a better situation in 2011.
Odds of staying: Slim
Corey Graham - Four years of NFL service - Graham wants to be in a situation where he has a legitimate chance to play cornerback. That will not happen in Chicago under Smith. Even though Graham played well when he made nine starts at cornerback in 2008, the former fifth round pick out of New Hampshire has been lost in the secondary shuffle the past two years. Instead of sulking after being slighted multiple times the last two years, Graham turned himself into arguably one of the best special teams players in the league and led the Bears with 25 special teams tackles in 2010. Unlike Manning, the Bears certainly want to keep Graham on the roster, but it might be too late. Graham wants to be more than a special teams ace, he wants to compete for a starting job on defense. The odds of that happening in Chicago don't look promising.
Odds of staying: Slim
Nick Roach - Four years of NFL service - Here's a major difference between Roach and Manning/Graham: Roach wants to keep playing for the Bears. The Northwestern product, who just turned 26, has already made 30 combined career starts at strong side and middle linebacker, and tied for the team lead with 10 tackles for a loss in 2009. When you consider the Bears only have two veteran linebackers currently under contract -- (Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs) -- bringing back Roach seems like a prudent move. Obviously, Roach, who's also a valuable special teams contributor, has dealt with a variety of minor injuries during his career and staying healthy is key, but at that age, with all that experience and athletic ability, the Bears are better off spending a little extra cash to keep Roach in the fold.
Odds of staying: Good