When the franchise tag deadline passed at 3 CT on Monday, 21 potential unrestricted free agents had been taken off the market. Here is a quick look at some key players who will now be off the Bears' radar once free agency officially begins on March 13.
1. Cliff Avril, DE, Lions: One of the top pass-rushers set to hit the open market, the Lions made it known early in the offseason the defensive end was a likely candidate for the franchise tag. Still, it's tough to fault the Bears for being interested in Avril, who had a career year in 2011 with 11 sacks and six forced fumbles. Avril would have made sense considering the Bears are looking to upgrade their pass rush and find a stronger compliment to Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers. Most league observers agree the 25-year-old Avril is about to enter the prime of his career, which is why Detroit was willing to pay $10.6 million to retain his services for at least another season.
2. Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs: New Bears general manager Phil Emery spent three years with Bowe in Kansas City, where the receiver posted monster numbers in 2010 with 72 catches for 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns. Bowe followed up that season with a solid 2011 (81-1,159-5) even though starting quarterback Matt Cassel was lost for the final seven games due to injury. Bowe would have been an immediate upgrade for the Bears at wide receiver, where the team needs to find a proven playmaker to pair with quarterback Jay Cutler.
3. Brent Grimes, CB, Falcons: With Tim Jennings, Zack Bowman and Corey Graham about to be unrestricted free agents, the Bears are in need of help at the cornerback position. Although Grimes is listed at 5-foot-10, he is considered a shut-down corner who intercepted 11 passes from 2009-10.
4. Calais Campbell, DE, Cardinals: Even though Arizona employs a 3-4 front on defense, a talented player such as Campbell could fit into virtually any scheme. A 6-8, 300-pound monster, Campbell racked up 72 tackles and 8 sacks last season. Placing Campbell on the same defensive line with Peppers would have been scary for Bears opponents in the fall.
5. Wes Welker, WR, Patriots: There was no chance the Patriots were going to let Welker walk via free agency without any type of compensation in return. The favorite target of Tom Brady, Welker has made a living working out of the slot, eclipsing the 100-reception mark four times in the last five years.
6. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles: Jackson's problems were well-documented last year, but even though he lacks the size many feel the Bears need at receiver, he has proven to be a dynamic big-play threat both on offense and special teams. Jackson probably wouldn't have been the Bears’ first choice in free agency, but he is a top-tier wideout in the league who someday will sign a large, long-term contract with somebody.
7. Robert Mathis, DE, Colts: After the Colts placed the tag on Mathis the two sides eventually agreed to a contract extension, which further puts the veteran out of the reach for likely the next several seasons. Mathis might be 31 years old, but he still led the Colts with 9.5 sacks in 2011 and currently ranks second in club history with 83.5 sacks.
8. Dashon Goldson, S, 49ers: Despite the Bears’ claims they’re sold on the safety tandem of Chris Conte and Major Wright, how could you pass up the chance to kick the tires on Goldson who picked off six regular season passes last year and has 11 interceptions in the past three seasons. Quite simply: Goldson is a ball-hawk. The Bears don't have nearly enough of those in the secondary, and because of that, adding a proven playmaker at safety should be on the list for Lovie Smith in the offseason. Too bad Goldson and several other talented safeties are off the market, because that could have been an area where the Bears made a significant splash in free agency.
9. Michael Griffin, S, Titans: See Goldson.
10. Tyvon Branch, S, Raiders: Not known for creating a ton of turnovers, Branch is an accomplished tackler who led the Raiders with 109 stops last season. He would've been a much better option for the Bears at strong safety than Wright, who should be forced to compete with reliable veteran Craig Steltz for the starting job this summer if the club re-signs the former LSU standout.
11. Fred Davis, TE, Redskins: Davis was suspended for four games last year for failing multiple drug tests, so he would have come with severe baggage. But in the wake of the Greg Olsen trade to Carolina, the Bears could use a pass-catching tight end, and Davis did haul in 59 catches for 796 yards in 12 games.