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2013 NFC North Free Agency Preview: The Chicago Bears

The Bears have a large number of veteran free agents who could depart this off-season, leaving some major holes on the defense and the offensive line.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 Chicago Bears were expected by many to be serious contenders for the NFC North title and a playoff spot. Ultimately, their postseason dreams were squashed by a defense that stopped forcing turnovers in the second half of the season and by the Minnesota Vikings' emergence as a legitimate contender in the division. All was supposed to be solved on offense with the addition of Jay Cutler's favorite target, Brandon Marshall; while Marshall had an All-Pro season, he couldn't solve the Packers' defense and the rest of the offense failed to get a major boost since few other weapons were threatening to opposing defenses. This offseason, the Bears will have to look to improve their aging defense, which could lose several key contributors to free agency.

Free Agents

QB Jason Campbell
QB Josh McCown
RB Kahlil Bell
WR Johnny Knox
T Jonathan Scott
G Lance Louis
G Chilo Rachal
G Chris Spencer
DE Israel Idonije
DT Nate Collins (RFA)
DT Henry Melton
DT Amobi Okoye
LB Geno Hayes
LB Nick Roach
LB Brian Urlacher
CB Zack Bowman
CB Kelvin Hayden
CB D.J. Moore
S Troy Nolan
K Olindo Mare

Potential Free Agent Targets

Nick Barnett

This could be an interesting match of need and value. Barnett was valued as one of the better 4-3 outside linebackers last season in Buffalo, and he could certainly bring another veteran presence to a Bears defense that has relied on technically sound veteran players in recent years. With Roach and Hayes potentially leaving the Windy City, that will leave the Bears without their top two options at strong-side linebacker. One option would then be to bring Barnett in to play on the weak side and shift Lance Briggs back to the strong side, where he played in 2009 and 2010.

The other potential reason that Barnett could be valuable would be if Brian Urlacher does not return to Chicago. Barnett is a few years removed from playing middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense - he hasn't played that position since he was in Green Bay in 2008 - but it's a position he knows and could be effective in again. It seems like Barnett would be a strong possibility for the Bears regardless of what position he would need to fill.

Chris Canty

Melton is one of the better young tackles in the game, and is likely to be brought back either on the franchise tag or with a new contract. However, Canty is an intriguing name as a versatile defensive lineman who could contribute as a tackle or even take some snaps at defensive end. Since the Bears like to run a steady substitution across the defensive line and since they tend to use players at multiple positions, Canty's versatility and experience playing in various schemes at various positions could make him an intriguing possibility.

Andre Smith

Yes, Devin mentioned the big tackle for the Vikings, but with the revolving door that has played at left tackle in Chicago the past few years, the Bears would be making a mistake to not at least look to improve that position this season. J'Marcus Webb hasn't been doing Jay Cutler's career any favors and it appears clear that Gabe Carimi won't be playing left tackle at a competent level in the NFL any time soon. Unless the Bears feel comfortable with finding a starting-caliber tackle at the 20th pick (which is possible), they'll need to land a free agent to try to keep Clay Matthews and Jared Allen away from Cutler.

The other option depends on the Bears' opinion on Carimi. If they see him as a better fit at guard (a position where they're faced with multiple free agent losses), they could let Carimi focus on the interior and slide Smith in at right tackle. While playing on the right side in 2012, Smith graded out as the highest-ranked free agent tackle by Pro Football Focus (tied with Ryan Clady of Denver), and that may even be a better option for the Bears if they want to give Webb one more shot on the left side.

With Marc Trestman as the Bears' new head coach, the team's identity remains to be seen. It also will be interesting to see what second-year GM Phil Emery's strategy will be for building the team - will he allow many of his talented but aging players to leave in free agency, leading to a rebuild through the draft? Or will he try to bring back some free agents to keep some continuity on the roster? We shall see in a few short weeks.

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