<
>

Bears should focus on A.J. Bouye in free agency

Here are the moves the Chicago Bears should consider when free agency opens at 4 p.m. ET Thursday, March 9:

Get a quarterback: The Bears have to fix their quarterback issues -- plain and simple. Chicago must explore all options. New England's decision to hold onto Jimmy Garoppolo means the Bears have to turn their focus to signing a bridge quarterback (Brian Hoyer?) before taking one in the draft. The Bears may not solve all their quarterback woes in one offseason, but they have to dig out from the Jay Cutler era, which netted the franchise just one playoff appearance (2010) in eight years.

Go after Bouye: The draft is deep at cornerback and safety, but with tons of available cap room, the Bears should make a play for free-agent cornerback A.J. Bouye. Bouye had a breakout year for the Texans in 2016, and he’s only 25. That’s a player worth investing in. Bouye has the size (6-foot, 192 pounds) and traits of a lockdown cornerback, and would fit perfectly in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme. Veteran Tracy Porter is a gamer, but he turns 31 in August. Former first-round pick Kyle Fuller has been a disappointment. Chicago is hopeful 2016 fourth-round choice Deiondre' Hall will eventually develop, but Bouye immediately would raise the level on defense. Adding a shutdown cornerback to the mix would make an already formidable Bears pass rush even more dangerous.

Find Jeffery's replacement: With Alshon Jeffery a candidate to sign elsewhere, the Bears better find reinforcements at wide receiver. The list of available options includes Terrelle Pryor, Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Kenny Stills. None may be better long-term than Jeffery, 27, but Chicago has to move quickly. The only proven young receiver currently on the roster is Cameron Meredith, who had a career year in 2016. Kevin White, the Bears’ first-round pick in 2015, has appeared in just four career games because of two separate injuries to the same leg. White’s future is up in the air. Veteran Eddie Royal definitely can help, but he has fought injuries and is due $5 million in 2017 -- none of it guaranteed. The Bears have to dip their toes in the free-agent waters for a receiver, and draft one later in the spring. But rebuilding the position begins on March 9.