While Henry Melton, Charles Tillman and D.J. Williams float as names the Bears would like to re-sign for at least another season in Chicago, several other names prominent in that past couple seasons and beyond are conspicuously absent from the conversation.
Defensive end Julius Peppers’ return for another year has been problematic since last season when his production and consistency declined precipitously, below the standard for someone with an $18 million salary cap number. But others are expected to be quietly gone when free agency opens next week.
When Phil Emery was asked during the recent NFL Scouting Combine about the season of Devin Hester, the Bears’ GM spoke only in the past tense: “He was productive. He was a productive kick returner. He did a good job.”
Nothing beyond that, nothing about 2014. The question may have been directed only at last season but the absence of anything hinting at a hope to have Hester back was noted.
[Rapoport: Bears won't attempt to re-sign Devin Hester]
And not that it is any official indicator, but in the Bears’ “2013 Season Review,” wide receiver/returner Chris Williams, signed in the final week of the season but inactive for the Green Bay game, was included with photo and game-by-game results, even though there weren’t any.
Hester last season became one of only seven players in NFL history with 3,000 punt return yards and 5,000 on kickoffs. He ranked sixth last season in return average on kickoffs (27.6 yards) and fourth on punts (14.2), although he did not return the requisite minimum of 20 punts. That was a reflection of the problems on defense, since opponents simply didn’t have to punt terribly often. The Bears received an average of 46.5 punts over the previous six seasons. In 2013, Hester fielded 29 (18 returns, 11 fair catches) and Eric Weems one.
Williams was a standout in the CFL when coach Marc Trestman was leading the Montreal Alouettes. His addition to the roster with a three-year contract was a foreshadowing of Hester’s departure at age 31 and after eight distinguished seasons as the greatest returner in franchise history and one the NFL’s best ever.
Anderson’s time in Chicago arguably came to an end when he failed to pick up a fumble in the Green Bay game, allowing Packers receiver Jarrett Boykin to pick up what Anderson and others thought was an incomplete pass and take it 15 yards for a touchdown. The Bears lost the game 33-28 and with it the NFC North to Green Bay by a half-game.
He started all 16 games at strongside linebacker and led the Bears in tackles with 129.5. But the one he didn’t make and the total of two at Philadelphia overshadowed much in his year.
The 2010 third-round pick appeared to be settling into the strong-safety position last season, after starting all 16 games in 2011. But the problems on the defensive line reopened flaws in Wright’s game despite a TD return of an interception at Pittsburgh.
Chris Conte has a year remaining on his rookie contract, meaning that the Bears need do nothing more than have him begin competing for his job when offseason camps and workout sessions commence. Wright, however, is expected to be gone, possibly to Tampa Bay and a reunion with coach Lovie Smith.