Henry Melton (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
The Vikings will have a lot of decisions to make in free agency, but perhaps no team in the NFC North will be as affected by roster changes as the Chicago Bears, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.
With the 2012 NFL season officially over, the focus of the NFL now turns to free agency and the NFL Scouting Combine. The Combine will provide teams with a first-hand look at college’s top players (and an opportunity for Manti T’eo to tell his story) and free agency will help better define a team’s needs heading into draft weekend. Some free agents will be signed. Others will be lost. The two will combine to help determine the fate of a franchise.
The Vikings’ foray into free agency is going to one of the least painful of any team in the NFL. Only two teams – Philadelphia and San Francisco – have as many or fewer pending free agents as the Vikings. The Vikings have 10 unrestricted free agents, and most of the players the Vikings really want to sign, they likely can. The same can’t be said for everybody. Some teams are going to be remade by force, not choice. Among them will be the Chicago Bears. With the firing of Lovie Smith at the end of the season, Marc Trestman was brought in and change is in the air in Chicago.
Whereas the Vikings head into the 2013 with a young core of talent, the Bears enter free agency with more questions than answers on both sides of the ball. The Vikings have important decisions to make on a handful of players like Phil Loadholt, Jasper Brinkley, Erin Henderson, Jerome Felton and Jamarca Sanford, but the new Bears coaching staff and front office have numerous decisions to make on both sides of the ball.
The Bears still have QB Jay Cutler, but both of his backups – Jason Campbell and Josh McCown – are unrestricted free agents. Trestman has no choice but to go with Cutler, but, unless his O-line improves, the odds of Cutler pouting his way through 16 games are almost impossible. It will force the team to make some hard decisions as it pertains to the No. 2 QB – simply because the problems up front make it hard to believe Cutler can hold up for another full season in front of a patchwork front.
Speaking of the offensive line, there’s no doubt that change is coming – several key linemen are free agents and the one most likely not to be back as a starter (left tackle J’Marcus Webb) is currently under contract.
Starting from the premise that Webb won’t be back as the starting left tackle creates one vacancy, and guard Chilo Rachal, who famously got salty when he lost his starting job and quit, makes two spots that need filling.
Starting right tackle Jonathan Scott is an unrestricted free agent. So is guard Lance Louis, who was starting at guard when Jared Allen smoked him with a big hit following a turnover and ended his season. For much of the 2012 season (especially during the effective part), those two were quite important. Chris Spencer, the top backup at both guard spots, is also an unrestricted free agent. For a line that was a mess when it was at full strength, the new coaching regime will have plenty of holes to fill – like doing dental work on a middle-aged hillbilly who has never owned a toothbrush. There are a lot of problems there.
The bigger issue, however, may be on the defensive side of the ball. Lovie Smith was a defensive-minded head coach and had the respect and admiration of all his veteran defensive players – of which there are many on the Chicago roster. Will the new coaching staff engender that same level of respect and “buying in” to their vision? It may be a hard sell, which could make signing some of their defensive free agents a little more problematic.
That’s a significant problem, because the Bears have several key players on defense that may opt to hit the open market and put their toe in water rather than re-up for a hometown discount.
Up front, defensive tackle Henry Melton is an unrestricted free agent. Backup DE Israel Idonije and DT Amobi Okoye are both free agents. While neither will likely be penned in as a lead-pipe-lock starter with another team, they will likely sign with a team that will give them a chance. If nothing else, the Bears will need to add depth along the D-line, because they may only end up with one of their three free agents coming back on the defensive line.
Two of their three starting linebackers – future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach – are free agents. So is top OLB backup Geno Hayes. Lance Briggs may find himself surrounded by a completely different cast of characters in 2013 and, even if Urlacher comes back, he’s not the Urlacher that terrorized the NFL in the previous decade. Change is coming here as well.
The Vikings have some big decisions to make in the next couple of months – who they opt to re-sign before free agency begins in March and who to go after once the bell rings and buying and selling begins. However, thanks to having most of their core players signed for 2013, their problems are minimal compared to what other teams are facing. In a four-team division, all one can hope for is to have the other teams in the division have a more difficult time in free agency than your team does. One thing the Vikings can take solace in is that Chicago has it worse … much worse.
REPORT: VIKINGS SIGN DB
The Vikings have signed former Edmonton Eskimos defensive back Rod Williams, according to the Edmonton Journal.
Williams, 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, played three seasons with the Eskimos after his time at Alcorn State, the alma mater of Vikings coach Leslie Frazier.
In three years with the Eskimos, he recorded 111 tackles and 11 interceptions and gained all-star recognition in 2011.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.