Signings give Bears some draft flexibility

Phil Emery has more options in the NFL draft after addressing tight end and left tackle in free agency. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- In addition to addressing major needs, the free-agent acquisitions Tuesday of offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett provided the Chicago Bears with much needed flexibility in April's NFL draft.

"It really opened us up to not be so much driven to particular positions," Bears general manager Phil Emery said. "I'm really excited about what these two selections in the UFA market did for our draft. It allows us the opportunity to trade back. We didn't have as much flexibility before these two young men got into the Chicago Bears organization."

Prior to bringing aboard Bushrod, the Bears needed to upgrade along the offensive line, namely at left tackle. But that would have proven almost impossible with the Bears holding the 20th pick in the draft because the best left tackles typically come off the board in the first half of the order. Before signing Bennett, the Bears also needed help at tight end, which would have been an easier proposition because top prospects such as Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and Stanford's Zach Ertz would be more likely to be available at 20.

But with the latest move, the Bears can now possibly trade back, gain a pick, and still be able to upgrade at other need positions such as linebacker -- where there's a good chance they'll lose at least one starter between Nick Roach and Brian Urlacher -- receiver, or one of the interior line spots. The club could also opt to add another right tackle to compete for the starting job with J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi.

"Being able to add at those two positions will open up the draft for us, and the draft process to also add to the weapons on our team and the players on our team to upgrade the talent base in our effort to win championships," Emery said.

While offensive tackle, linebacker, tight end and receiver appeared to be the team's biggest needs headed into the offseason, the Bears knocked out two Tuesday in Bushrod and Bennett, and moved into better position to fill other needs with prospects capable of contributing immediately.

Cornerback could also be perceived as a need for the Bears considering Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are set to enter the final year of their respective deals with little depth behind them on the current roster.

In sizing up the 2013 draft class, Emery mentioned "there are a number of corners in this class that can play and help teams as a 1,2, or 3,"

and said the offensive line class "has strength on the front end when you look at it from tackle, guard, and center all the way through there are a number of players who would be in the mix as starters."

So in Emery's estimation, Chicago's latest moves in free agency certainly put it in the best position to land them. Now it's up to the general manager, the personnel staff, and the coaches to complete the job.