<
>

Alshon Jeffery, Brian Hoyer headline Bears' unrestricted free agents

play
Should the Bears go all-in on Garoppolo? (1:17)

Tom Waddle believes if the Bears think Jimmy Garoppolo is the answer at quarterback, there shouldn't be a price too high to bring him to Chicago. (1:17)

In a recent letter to season ticket holders, Chicago Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips wrote that the club is "positioned for an exciting offseason with ... one of the best salary-cap situations in the NFL heading into free agency."

NFL teams prioritize re-signing their own players, but the Bears have only one potential unrestricted restricted free agent that cracked ESPN NFL Senior Writer John Clayton's Top 50 list -- Alshon Jeffery at No. 9.

The Bears should focus most of their attention in free agency on bringing in players from the outside, but some in-house deals are bound to get done.

With that in mind, here is the list of Chicago’s notable unrestricted free agents (UFAs) with the new league year less than one month away.

1. Jeffery: Jeffery is about to turn 27-years old. Though not in the same category as Julio Jones, A.J. Green or Dez Bryant, he will be pursued by numerous teams in free agency. Jeffery’s numbers took a hit the past two years because of injuries and suspension, but he combined for 174 receptions, 2,554 yards and 17 touchdowns from 2013-14. The Bears theoretically could use the franchise tag again -- at a cost of about $17.5 million -- to keep Jeffery for another year, but all parties probably prefer a long-term deal. Jeffery’s going to get paid; it’s just a matter of by whom.

2. Brian Hoyer: Hoyer is a logical free agent for the Bears to re-sign if the team drafts a developmental quarterback. Hoyer is a great teammate, who is open to mentoring younger players. But Hoyer can also still play. In six appearances (five starts) in 2016, he completed 134-of-200 pass attempts for 1,445 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions (98.0 quarterback rating). Hoyer also has a strong relationship with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who is back in 2017. Now, Hoyer might not want to return in the event Chicago trades for a veteran starter such as Jimmy Garoppolo. But if the Bears have to use a bridge quarterback until a younger player is ready, Hoyer is a decent option to begin Week 1.

3. Matt Barkley: Barkley can be a strong No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart. He ended last season with 1,611 passing yards, eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions. But those numbers are a tad deceiving. Barkley had some excellent moments in 2016, and he rose to the occasion in several close games. As a backup -- Barkley is a good fit. If Barkley returns, he might face competition from Connor Shaw (restricted free agent), Hoyer, or another quarterback to be named later for a roster spot. But the Bears can do a lot worse than bring back Barkley for another summer and see what happens.

4. Sam Acho: Acho appeared in all 16 games last season and made six starts. He is a quality reserve outside linebacker, who turns 29 in September. Acho also helps on special teams -- an area of weakness the past several seasons. Acho might want to explore his options around the league, but Chicago probably welcomes him back on another one-year deal. That’s not an ideal scenario for any player, but it’s hard to envision Acho consistently cracking the starting lineup -- barring injuries -- with all the resources tied up in Pernell McPhee, Leonard Floyd and Willie Young.

5. Connor Barth: After a couple of early misses, Barth settled in to finish the year 18-of-23 on field goal attempts. He was placed in an uncomfortable situation last season -- replacing the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, Robbie Gould -- but he handled the unexpected kicker transition with class and integrity. No one deserves any bouquets after 3-13, but Barth’s kicking accuracy was on the low end of Bears' concerns in 2016.

6. Ted Larsen: Larsen was temporarily lost in the shuffle after the Bears signed Josh Sitton and moved rookie Cody Whitehair to center prior to Week 1. But Larsen still started eight games because of injuries -- most notably to right guard Kyle Long. The Bears figure to have a logjam inside when Long and 2015 third-round pick Hroniss Grasu return to full-strength. Larsen and fellow UFA Eric Kush held their own much of the season, but spots on the offensive line will be tough to come by in 2017 because of the numbers. If Larsen wants to begin next season as a starter -- it probably won’t be in Chicago.

7. Marquess Wilson: Wilson is talented, but he struggles to stay healthy. He is recovering from another foot injury that he suffered in December. Since 2014 -- Wilson appeared in 10 games as a rookie in 2013 -- the 6-foot-4 receiver has missed 27 games because of injuries. Wilson’s lack of durability is impossible to ignore.

8. Chris Prosinski: Another quality backup. Prosinski is an experienced reserve who made more than 15 special teams tackles the past two seasons. The Bears clearly trusted Prosinski -- a six-year NFL veteran -- to fill in on defense when needed. Those players are not that easy to find.

9. Cornelius Washington: Washington has developed into a sturdy rotational player on Chicago’s defensive line. He seems like a good candidate to return on a one-year deal.

10. Logan Paulsen: Paulsen had more penalties (six) than catches (three). Basically, the Bears need a serious upgrade at tight end in the offseason. When healthy, Zach Miller is a terrific receiver, but Miller got hurt again last season. The Bears have to sign or draft more frontline help at the position. Paulsen played in all 16 games last season, so the Bears clearly valued him. But again, the Bears probably want more production from that spot ... or fewer penalties.

11. Deonte Thompson: Another area that needs to be upgraded: the return game. Thompson averaged only 23 yards per kickoff return in 2016. The year before he averaged 29.2 yards per kickoff return. Thompson did catch 22 passes for 249 yards and four touchdowns, but he’s not on the club because of his pass-catching skills.