The news will be when a player states publicly that he does not want to be back with his current team. All that accomplishes is shrinking the player’s market by one. So, predictably, D.J. Williams, Roberto Garza, Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman, Josh McCown, Matt Slauson and every other Bear moving toward the Mar. 11 start of free agency expresses the interest in remaining with the Bears.
Not all of them will. And not all of them really want to, but that’s difficult to state unequivocally for them, so that will have to come from them.
Up to two dozen Bears are approaching free agency or will be. Looking at a number of those key pending Bears free agents and other contract situations:
Jay Cutler: One NFL source told CSNChicago.com that the prevailing rumor is that parameters of a multi-year deal are already in place. Nothing is done until it’s done but the expectation since the draft last April that Cutler is the Bears’ starting quarterback. The dollars, guaranteed and total, will be interesting, and those are what matter to Cutler, but the one number that matters ultimately to teammates and the fan base is “years.”
Josh McCown: The NFL’s “dream No. 2” turns 35 in July and played his way into a market. He likes the Bears, likes Chicago and likes playing football enough that he is a virtual lock to be playing in 2014 even as he grapples with not wanting to miss any more of his kids’ growing up than he has to. The market for Jason Campbell last year produced a two-year deal in Cleveland with incentives topping out at $4 million. With salary cap contingencies, the Bears can do a similar structure with McCown, who has bailed them out twice in the last three years. Best guess: They will.
Roberto Garza: The veteran center turns 35 in March. Cutler and he established a connection when Garza filled in at center during the Olin Kreutz contract impasse in 2011 and he was a linchpin in a developing offensive line with two rookies in 2013. One member of the offense told CSNChicago.com this week, “Garz is back.”
Matt Slauson: One of the unheralded signings of last season, Slauson and the Bears already have looked at an extension for the emerging left guard who graded out the highest of the Bears’ starting five in 2013.
Tim Jennings: The veteran cornerback voiced interest in returning but he is a longshot. If Lovie Smith lands a head-coaching job, Jennings’ fit and experience in Smith’s system project to take Jennings out of Chicago.
Charles Tillman: Attempts at a restructuring last offseason went badly. Coming off two injuries this season, Tillman at age 33 is a short-term fix at best and probably not in Chicago.
Julius Peppers: The cap number as it stands now ($18.1 million) is too high for the production (7.5 sacks). Peppers has restructured his contract twice, the second time last September, but finding mutually agreeable ground will be delicate for the team and its defensive lineman who played more snaps than any other.
D.J. Williams: A lot of unfinished business for the veteran middle linebacker who missed 10 games with a pectoral injury after playing just seven games for Denver in 2012. But the injury element and development of Jon Bostic make his fit problematic at age 31.
James Anderson: Anderson struggled right along with the rest of the defense but has the flexibility to play both outside-linebacker spots. Not a top-priority re-signing but he is a fit in the 4-3 program of the Bears.
Major Wright: Through most of the season Wright was playing poorly. He corrected a number of problems late but the Floridian is expected to explore free agency.
Chris Conte: A number of years ago, Bears personnel heads decided that quarterback Cade McNown had “taken on too much water in Chicago” and found a trade partner (Miami) to give him a fresh start. Conte’s year, particularly its finish, positions him for a similar conclusion by Halas Hall.