Now comes NFL free agency, or as it’s known at Halas Hall, “Where my offensive tackle?’’
Even before Tuesday’s 3 p.m. kickoff to free agency, the Bears were one of several teams mentioned in the Jake Long sweepstakes. Previously, the Bears had been linked to Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod. I hope one or both rumors are true, and for several reasons:
First, Long and Bushrod are two of the tackle prizes in free agency, and second, even if Long and Bushrod go elsewhere, at least the Bears see the same mess we see.
The good news for the Bears is that the tackle vineyard in free agency is deeper than Long and Bushrod.
You might remember Andre Smith from a viral video of his 40-yard dash at the scouting combine several years back, but the Bengals’ right tackle was arguably the best in the game last season.
Sebastian Vollmer makes just about every list of top-10 free agents. Playing tackle in front of Tom Brady gives you motivation and credibility.
The Vikings have hurt themselves pretty good by dealing wide receiver Percy Harvin, a move decried by Adrian Peterson, but if the Bears wanted to compound Minnesota’s pain, they could sign Phil Loadholt. He's a road grader-type who’s better against the run, but I’m sure one of Peterson’s enforcers would look solid in front of Matt Forte. And again, you’d hurt a team in your division.
Same deal, hurting a different division rival with Detroit’s Gosder Cherilus. You know how much the Lions throw the ball -- 10,000-plus yards the last two seasons combined -- so for Cherilus to allow only four sacks is probably all you need to know.
The Falcons also let Sam Baker get to the street. Some characterize him as shaky, but given how much the Falcons throw, even All-Pros will look shaky at some point.
You could argue that the Bears don’t need to overpay for tackles because new coach Marc Trestman’s West Coast-style offense involves short drops and quick throws that can make even mediocre linemen look good. Maybe, maybe not, but why settle when it comes to protecting the most important player on the field?
For those of you tardy to class, protecting Jay Cutler is the first priority.
Again. Still. Always.
That’s why I’m inclined to make choices from the football out when it comes to free agency over the draft. Teams don’t always have that luxury, but in this case, I’d rather sign an experienced free-agent lineman and then draft a tight end, if that’s the way it plays out.
An experienced tackle figures to play better while adjusting to a new team and a new line than a rookie tight end who has to start with a new league that is faster, smarter and better than anything he has ever faced.
Put another way, you already see what happens when faster, smarter and better players line up against J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi. Raise your hand if you’re sick of that.
Look, this might be Cutler’s last season as Bears quarterback, but at least give him the best chance to finish it upright.
Tackles are expensive in free agency and the Bears don’t have a lot of salary cap space. But they can make some.
Check that: They had better make some.
I don’t care if the Bears let all of their potential free agents hit the market. Sorry, Brian Urlacher, I loved your Hall of Fame career, but an offensive tackle is more important than an aging, injured linebacker.
I value defensive end Israel Idonije and might gamble on right guard Lance Louis’ return from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, but my first choice is landing an adult on either end of the offensive line.
As for players the Bears could just flat cut, if the Bears tell Devin Hester and Kellen Davis to hit the street, well, good. Davis will have someone to help him after he trips over the curb.