Busy start to negotiating period for Roach

The opening hours of the NFL’s three-day negotiating window before the official start of free agency unfolded as expected for the agent of Chicago Bears linebacker Nick Roach.

As of early Saturday afternoon, Chicago-based Roach representative Josh Wright had fielded inquiries from six interested teams, with more calls scheduled for later in the afternoon. The Bears have already expressed a strong interest in re-signing Roach, as ESPNChicago.com reported last week, but are not believed to have made an official offer.

That seems to be the negotiating strategy of choice for teams this weekend because of a memo the NFL sent to teams Friday evening that stated that clubs and agents were forbidden to even agree to deals in principle before the beginning of the league year. So instead of throwing out hard offers and allowing agents to shop those numbers around until Tuesday, NFL teams have been playing it relatively close to the vest.

What the Bears plan to ultimately offer Roach from a contractual standpoint is unclear, but the versatile linebacker figures to command a bump in pay over the $1.715 million base salary he earned in 2012 plus a $100,000 workout bonus. Judging by the reaction so far during this unofficial start to free agency, certain teams view Roach as a full-time inside linebacker. Of course, if the Bears manage to re-sign Roach and Brian Urlacher, Roach is expected to stick at strongside linebacker, at least on first and second down. But there is a feeling the Bears might consider expanding Roach’s role on defense. The Bears could always opt to leave younger, faster Roach on the field in passing situations at the expense of another player.

With that in mind, the key deal to watch from Roach’s perspective could be what happens between the Ravens and Dannell Ellerbe, one of the consensus top inside linebackers in free agency and heir apparent to Ray Lewis in Baltimore. Although teams cannot sign other unrestricted free agents until Tuesday, they can still lock up their own, so if the Ravens can finalize a deal with Ellerbe -- who, like Roach, is 27 years old -- this weekend, it would go a long way toward setting the linebacker market, which was relatively flat in 2012.

From a production standpoint, Ellerbe recorded 92 tackles in 13 games (seven starts) from his inside linebacker position, compared with Roach, who finished sixth on the Bears with 84 stops. However, Roach spent the bulk of the regular season as a two-down strongside linebacker who came off the field in passing downs in favor of an extra defensive back. In the four games Roach started at middle linebacker in place of Urlacher, he registered 41 tackles, including a career-high 14 in the Bears’ Week 16 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.