Draft dominoes will start before draft day

Draft dominoes will start before draft day
February 17, 2013, 11:15 pm
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With the annual NFL Scouting Combine beginning this week in Indianapolis, the Bears and the rest of the NFL will be taking a next step toward draft decisions the last week of April.
But other decisions will come first and likely have a major influence on the Bears’ flexibility in the draft. Best-case scenario is taking a “need” off the critical list and leaving the Bears in the draft-ideal position of being able to truly opt for the best player available.
The Bears, for example, are expected to make aggressive moves in free agency (they were prepared to last offseason) to land an offensive tackle. Part of the reason is that waiting to find one in the draft is problematic at best.
“I think their real, true need is to find that tackle that’s eluded them the last several years and some of the mistakes the organization has made in the past,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, who ultimately gave the Bears Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te’o not because of Te’o’s fit to replace Brian Urlacher, but because what the Bears would most want for their offensive line is likely to be gone.
“I had trouble with the Bears because of that, because the left tackles like [Texas A&M’s] Luke Joeckl, [Central Michigan’s] Eric Fisher and even Lane Johnson from Oklahoma could all be off the board when the Bears come on the board at No. 20.”
What the Bears do, or are unable to do, in free agency and before with their own players ultimately factors heavily into draft plans. Filling needs with established players can be expensive but typically a better route than reaching on draft day to fill a position.
Team-building: Two approaches
The ever-present issue is money and a salary cap expected to be flat or even slightly down from 2012.
The late Mark Hatley was of the thinking that teams could realistically “buy” one side of the ball; offense or defense, not both. One side was going to need numerous hits in the draft.
Jerry Angelo had the “core position” approach: that you could pay one quarterback, one running back, maybe two offensive linemen, one wide receiver on offense; on defense, a franchise pass rusher, no more than two linebackers, one cornerback, and ideally a second defensive lineman.
Follow the money
The Bears have top-shelf money in Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall on offense. OK so far. Center Roberto Garza comes in at $2 million, and guard James Brown and tackles Gabe Carimi and J’Marcus Webb are all on their rookie contracts. Chris Spencer is going out of contract and will not be back at the $3.25 million of last year. Guard Lance Louis’ market value took a hit with his late-season torn ACL and his best offer likely will come from the Bears and not break their cap.
The punch line: Whether from a “core position” or “one-side” standpoint, the Bears are structurally in a place to move on one of the upper-echelon left tackles, barring a market that retains an element of sanity.
The current-contract money in Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman puts the squeeze on either a franchise tag or long-term deal for tackle Henry Melton. Extending contracts to lower or adjust cap hits is a route for the Bears.