The deadline for applying the franchise tag came, and while there were a handful of big names that were slapped with the tag, it’s always important to look at the players who weren’t retained by their teams.
There were a few names that could potentially entice the Bears, including defensive linemen Lamarr Houston, Michael Johnson and Michael Bennett, brother of Bears tight end Martellus Bennett.
But could the Bears address the safety position with soon-to-be free agent Jairus Byrd? The Bills announced on Monday that they would not tag their three-time Pro Bowl safety, but were hoping to sign him to a longer deal soon, something that the franchise has been trying to do for over a year.
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So when March 11th comes and Byrd potentially remains unsigned, will the Bears be one of the teams to call the safety? The Buffalo News’ Tim Graham thinks so:
When the Bears fired head coach Lovie Smith a couple years ago, much of Smith's staff received pink slips, too. That included Byrd's father, Gill Byrd. But the Bears are a big-market team with a playoff-caliber offense and some defensive holes, especially at safety. Free safety Chris Conte was wobbly last year, and strong safety Major Wright is a free agent.
The key for the Bears would also have to be clearing up some cap space for Byrd. He’s likely to demand a large contract, potentially higher than what Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson got last year (5 years, $41.25 million). Releasing defensive end Julius Peppers would give the team a cap savings of $9.8 million. Also, the higher-than-expected 2014 salary cap could also help the Bears, who are expected to have just over $9 million in cap room, make a push for the safety if he was their top target.
Safety T.J. Ward could also be a less expensive option for the Bears if the team misses on Byrd. Ward did not receive the franchise tag from the Browns on Monday and expects to hit the open market.
In the end, it’ll come down to how much Bears GM Phil Emery likes the defensive back talent in this year’s draft class. If he sees a potential fit at pick No. 14, he could pull the trigger on a player like Louisville safety Calvin Pryor or Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. But if not, then Byrd might find himself getting a call from Emery on March 11th.