CHICAGO – Go deep.
It’s a fundamental philosophy in football.
Go deep to catch a pass. Go deep in the playoffs. Go deep into NFL history.
For the Bears to bounce back from a narrow playoff miss in 2012, they’ll need players who can race down the field with turbo speed. They’ll need other players who can block for Jay Cutler while the speedsters get open. They’ll need others who can zip around on defense to keep pace with speedy opponents.
The good news is that Bears general manager Phil Emery will have a chance to fill any or all of those categories starting this week. The NFL’s free-agent signing period opens Tuesday, and next month’s draft offers another chance to bolster the roster.
A position-by-position outlook is below. You might disagree with some of the opinions – notably the one regarding a certain No. 54 – and you might be correct. Much like play-calling and draft projections, free agency often is a guessing game.
However, we all can agree on one thing when it comes to free-agent season – it’s approaching.
Best available: Jason Campbell (Bears)
Best fit: Rex Grossman (Redskins)
Bottom line: When Jason Campbell is the best available quarterback on the market, it’s clear that we’re dealing with a shallow pool of free agents. Rather than overpay for Campbell, why not re-sign Rex Grossman to return to Chicago as Cutler’s backup? Either way, it would be a good idea for the Bears to spend a mid-round pick on a young quarterback for new head coach Marc Trestman to develop.
Best available: Steven Jackson (Rams)
Best fit: Felix Jones (Cowboys)
Bottom line: The Bears boast an elite, all-around running back in Matt Forte and a bruising short-yardage runner in Michael Bush. A speed-burner such as Felix Jones would be a perfect addition to round out the group. Jones is not the lone possibility in a crowded field of free-agent running backs, but he has a connection to new Bears running backs coach Skip Peete, who was Jones’ position coach in Dallas.
Best available: Mike Wallace (Steelers)
Best fit: Devery Henderson (Saints)
Bottom line: Much like at running back, the Bears need speed at receiver. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are great big-bodied targets, and Earl Bennett is as tough as they come across the middle, but the offense could use someone to stretch the field like Johnny Knox did before his injury in 2011. Devery Henderson has wheels, but a mid-round draft pick might be a cheaper option.
Best available: Martellus Bennett (Giants)
Best fit: Delanie Walker (49ers)
Bottom line: One of the Bears’ top priorities will be to upgrade the tight ends, whether it be through free agency, the draft or both. Although Delanie Walker might not be known as well as free agents such as Martellus Bennett, Dustin Keller and Jared Cook, he is a terrific blocker and capable pass-catcher who thrived behind Vernon Davis in San Francisco for the past seven seasons.
Best available: Jake Long (Dolphins)
Best fit: Jermon Bushrod (Saints)
Bottom line: Although former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long would be ideal, the reality is that he will command a budget-busting contract. A two-time Pro Bowl player such as Bushrod also will be costly, but less so than Long, and he could be trusted to protect Cutler’s blind side. Bushrod blossomed in New Orleans under Aaron Kromer, the Bears’ new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
Best available: Cliff Avril (Lions)
Best fit: Israel Idonije (Bears)
Bottom line: The Bears already made their big splash on the defensive line by placing the franchise tag on Henry Melton, a rising star at defensive tackle who registered six sacks to go along with two forced fumbles in 2012. Idonije is a trusty 10-year veteran who could sign an affordable, short-term deal and provide a great example to younger teammates such as Shea McClellin.
Best available: Paul Kruger (Ravens)
Best fit: Daryl Smith (Jaguars)
Bottom line: Clearly, the popular sentiment will be to re-sign Brian Urlacher to a short-term deal so he can finish his Hall of Fame career with the Bears. That might be what happens, and the defense will be OK if it does. But the fact is that Urlacher has lost his speed, which is what made him so great. Why not start fresh with an underrated player such as Daryl Smith, who spent the past four years in Jacksonville with new Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker?
Best available: Aqib Talib (Patriots)
Best fit: Kelvin Hayden (Bears)
Bottom line: The Bears have a pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, so they can afford to focus elsewhere in free agency. One wise move would be to re-sign Hayden, who supplanted D.J. Moore at nickelback last season and can start at cornerback if either Tillman or Jennings goes down with an injury.
Best available: Dashon Goldson (49ers)
Best fit: Charlie Peprah (Cowboys)
Bottom line: Major Wright and Chris Conte are in line to return as starters, and 2012 third-round draft pick Brandon Hardin will receive an opportunity to play after spending his rookie season on injured reserve. Peprah, who spent the bulk of his career in Green Bay before signing with Dallas last season, is a nice role player who would provide depth in the secondary.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.