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Plenty of top free-agent talent still available for Bears to sign

Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher leaves field with ball after coming up with an interceptifirst quarter as Chicago Bears defeated AtlantFalcons

Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher leaves the field with the ball after coming up with an interception in the first quarter as the Chicago Bears defeated the Atlanta Falcons 30-12 in the season opener September 11, 2011 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 20, 2013 2:22PM



PHOENIX — Free agency is a week old, and nearly 360 free agents are still looking for jobs.

About 160 veterans signed, but only a handful — most notably receiver Mike Wallace, guard Andy Levitre and tight end Jared Cook — signed premium contracts, and the market is only getting softer.

Let the bargain shopping begin.

“As the dust has settled, there are still some very quality players out there,” Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “We realize where the market is right now, and you can get some very sound football players who can help and be legitimate contributors.”

Since signing two of the most coveted players at their positions — left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett — the Bears have closed the proverbial vault, adding defensive tackle Nate Collins and cornerback Zack Bowman to minimum contracts.

League sources indicate that the Bears have offered modest deals to a handful of their own free agents. But the Bears already lost some of them, including Nick Roach to the Oakland Raiders and Geno Hayes to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Other Bears free agents include Jason Campbell, Josh McCown, Jonathan Scott, Lance Louis, Israel Idonije, Amobi Okoye, Kelvin Hayden and, most notably, Brian Urlacher.

With $5.4 million in salary-cap space, the Bears can add to their roster, but they have to do so judiciously.

But coming off a 10-win season, the Bears could be an attractive option for veterans who are willing to sign one- or possibly two-year deals in a buyer’s market.

Here are two lists of players the Bears should sign if they can get a discount:

JENSEN’S LIST

1. LB Brian Urlacher —Despite his declining play, the Bears defense broke records last season with him manning the middle.

2. CB Antoine Winfield — The Bears have one of the best starting cornerback tandems in the NFL, but the three-time Pro Bowl corner would be a marked upgrade in the slot.

3. DE Israel Idonije — He’s consistent, he’s versatile, and he’s a rock star in the community.

4. G Brandon Moore — The one-time Pro Bowl guard has at least one more good season in him and is coming off a strong 2012 when he rated among the best in the league.

5. QB Josh McCown — Hard to imagine Jason Campbell wouldn’t get a better offer after making $3.5 million last year, and McCown is well thought of by starter Jay Cutler.

6. LB Daryl Smith — An underrated player, he knows Mel Tucker’s scheme and he’s versatile enough to play inside or outside.

7. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey — He’s 6-2, and he ran a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. Could be worth a look.

8. S Tom Zbikowski — Who doesn’t like a good hometown story?

JAHNS’ LIST

1. G Brandon Moore — Gabe Carimi may turn out to be a stellar guard and the Bears are high on James Brown but another body, especially an experienced one, should alleviate concerns about depth.

2. T Eric Winston —It may be a stretch and may take some salary-cap maneuvering, but if Winston is still available several days from now, the right tackle might be anxious to sign.

3. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey — GM Phil Emery said at the combine he was looking for receivers after Johnny Knox retired, and Heyward-Bey has the speed that can stretch defenses.

4. LB Michael Boley — The Bears need to replace Nick Roach and Boley could be an experienced fill-in. He used to be adept at coverage on the weak side, but may be able to handle the strong side.

5. LB Brian Urlacher — His teammates are tweeting for his return and one more year (at the Bears’ price of course) may ensure he goes out a Bear, which should appease some fans.

6 DB DeAngelo Hall— The Bears need depth at defensive back and also someone to handle nickel. Hall may come cheap, if he can get over himself.

7. QB Kevin Kolb — The Bears still have Matt Blanchard, who figures to take the next step in his development. But experience counts and it looks like Jason Campbell might be competing to be a starter elsewhere.

8. DL Israel Idonije — The draft is supposed to be rich with defensive linemen, but Idonije’s ability to play inside and outside is valuable – at least for another year or two. It helps that he wants to retire a Bear.



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