Free agency kicks off soon, so let’s count down the top 10 Chicago Bears’ players set on March 10 to hit the open market:
Lance Briggs, linebacker.
2014 pay: $5.5 million ($4.75 million base salary, $500,000 roster bonus, $250,000 workout bonus).
By the numbers: Played 453 snaps in 2014, collecting 65 tackles, including three for lost yardage, an interception, two pass breakups and a pair of quarterback pressures in addition to forcing a fumble in eight starts. Briggs missed three games because of a rib injury and another game with a groin injury before going on injured reserve on Nov. 28, causing him to miss the last four games.
The case for keeping him: Briggs could serve as an experienced, veteran bridge player for the team at one of the inside linebacker spots as the Bears transition into a 3-4 scheme. Sure, Briggs hasn’t played in a 3-4 system in the NFL, but several coaches believe he possesses the smarts and physical skills to excel at inside linebacker in this scheme. Briggs racked up triple-digit tackle totals for nine consecutive years before his production dipped to 87 and 65 tackles over the last two years. So Briggs isn’t the same player he’s been in the past, but he’s plenty capable of contributing respectable numbers from an inside spot in a 3-4. He’s also an indispensable leader who has basically seen it all in the NFL.
The case for letting him walk: There’s no way the Bears pay Briggs anything close to what he’s become accustomed over the years because he’s no longer a premier player. Briggs also needs to get over the departure of Lovie Smith. While Briggs speaks on record often about his desire for a return to Chicago, we’re not sure that’s truly the case as he could be looking for a fresh start in Tampa Bay, Atlanta or New Orleans. Perhaps the new regime believes it’s time to purge the roster of all the longtime Bears and start anew.
Prediction: Briggs won’t be a commodity in the first wave of free agency, and it’s expected he’ll sign once all the big money dries up. Any team that signs Briggs, including the Bears, would likely bring him aboard on a one-year, prove-it type of deal somewhere in the $2 million range. At this point, it appears he’s more likely to sign with another team in free agency than return to Chicago as the Bears, according to CSNChicago.com, aren't interested in bringing him back in 2015.