Boden: Bears should go after a guard in free agency

Boden: Bears should go after a guard in free agency

March 7, 2013, 11:15 pm
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We all agree the Bears need help on the offensive line as free agency approaches next Tuesday. Saturday is the day clubs can begin discussions with players on the open market before what will likely be another signing frenzy three days later.

Earlier this week, our John Mullin provided an O-Line Free Agency Preview, a great read that probably left the team's fans wondering whether to laugh or cry about the stopgap, patchwork measures that have caused such disarray over the past several years. Towards the end, Moon suggested the route the Bears might -- perhaps should -- take in free agency is the (for lack of a better phrase) "less sexy" one.

In other words, stay away from the hefty pricetags on tackles, and take aim at the less-expensive guard market. Couple a signing there with the hope that one of the first-round caliber offensive tackles might be around when the Bears draft 20th next month, and two spots would be filled.

In the end, we'd be looking at a first-round tackle, a free agent guard to pair opposite Lance Louis (if they can re-sign him), and Roberto Garza. Then see if Aaron Kromer can work his magic with either Gabe Carimi or J'Marcus Webb, and you'd seem to have a decent upgrade.

With Ryan Clady, Will Beatty and Branden Albert off the market on the edge, the tackle collection includes 2008 picks Sam Baker of Atlanta and New England's Sebastian Vollmer. Both have battled back issues in their careers. There's plenty of concern Jake Long's best days are in the rear-view mirror as he aims for a huge payday.

[RELATED: Bears offensive line free agency preview]

I'm not sure if Bears fans have been as underwhelmed by the two candidates from division rivals Minnesota and Detroit (Phil Loadholt and Gosder Cherilus) as me in terms of bang-for-the-buck. Cincinnati's Andre Smith has already stated his lofty pricetag amidst a continuing battle with his weight and a January arrest. That leaves two-time Pro Bowl tackle Jermon Bushrod of the Saints as the most intriguing match (depending on the cost) to potentiallly reunite with Kromer.

But if the Bears instead take aim at the less-pricey guard market and project one of tackles to drop their way in late April, it would be more cost-effective for a team that has yet to announce any restructured deals that will be necessary to even be a factor on Tuesday.

Buffalo's Andy Levitre and San Diego's Louis Vasquez have both started the past four years. Kevin Boothe of the Giants and the Steelers' Ramon Foster have moved into starters' roles the past two years, and the Jets' Matt Slauson has started on the left side the last three. While Levitre and Vasquez are coming off their rookie contracts - no one in this bunch has had a salary cap hit of more than $1.5 million in 2012. Sure, it'll be more whomever they sign with, but highly unlikely to be anywhere close to the $6-10 million annually the tackles may command.

If the Bears are also targeting a tight end come Tuesday, there's the potential to address that position and guard quickly, provided deals for the likes of Peppers, Tillman, etc. are restructured to allow more spending power. That has yet to happen, however.

Perhaps those defensive veterans are waiting to agree on that until they see if their buddy (and apparent workout maniac) Brian Urlacher is brought back (as PFT's Mike Florio suggested Thursday) in another position/question that needs addressing.

There seem to be four or five first round-quality offensive tackles and two elite guards that have emerged after the recent Scouting Combine. There are potentially nine teams who draft ahead of the Bears who have offensive line needs that could be addressed through either the draft or free agency, including Kansas City.

Andy Reid could very well use the top overall pick on Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher to pair with the recently-re-signed  Albert, and to provide the other bookend following the Wednesday release of the expensive Eric Winston.

Who knows whether Phil Emery and company can open up significant salary cap space to spend a huge chunk of it on a comparatively more expensive tackle, when it might be financially wiser to get their guard up in free agency and roll the dice on first-round tackle.