Although the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis will be the center of popular viewing and talk this weekend, the real action will be behind the scenes as teams chat with agents, not so much for the NFL hopefuls, but for the pending free agents, including several from the Bears.
These talks go on every year even though, in this case, the official kickoff for negotiations isn’t until Mar. 8 and signings to follow beginning at 3:01 p.m. CT on Mar. 11.
The Bears are expected to begin talks regarding re-signing defensive end Corey Wootton, coming off minor hip surgery in January but a key part of the defensive plan going forward. Attention has been directed at defensive tackle because of so many unsigned (Nate Collins, Henry Melton, Jeremiah Ratliff, Landon Cohen, all of whom started at one point last year) but with Shea McClellin ticketed for linebacker, Wootton’s importance as an edge pass rusher and nickel rushman inside might be overlooked. It shouldn’t be.
The Bears will remain a 4-3 defense; Wootton, who had a 7-sack 2012 despite not starting until the final seven games, played both end and tackle for them last season; and “he’s a guy that transcends scheme for us,” GM Phil Emery said after the season, in one of the more glowing and far-reaching endorsements of a player’s value to the organization.
Wootton’s sack total (3.5) reflected his stints inside last season. But he also delivered five pass deflections, tops among Bears defensive linemen, and 4.5 tackles for loss, tied with Stephen Paea among Bears linemen.
“He knows that we’re going to work through it and I know he’s going to have options,” Emery said. “We’re going to be very thorough, like we are with all our evaluations. I’m sure that we’ll continue to talk to him.”