The Chicago Bears definitely need an overhaul on the defensive side of the ball, and their two biggest areas of need are defensive tackle and safety, with cornerback also looking like a position of need (Charles Tillman is unlikely to return). Both needs are must-fix ones for the Bears, and it will be interesting to see if they add an elite safety with guys like T.J. Ward and Jairus Byrd set to hit the free agent market.
Asked about it in today’s Twitter mailbag, ESPN Chicago’s Michael C. Wright doesn’t think the Bears will go after Cleveland Browns star strong safety T.J. Ward, because he will likely be deemed too expensive. It’s a perfectly logical statement, because the Bears will have just $5 million in cap space this offseason. Even if they release other players to clear cap space, they probably don’t have the flexibility to go after a guy who is regarded by some as the league’s best SS and will want to be paid like it, too.
Wright believes that a player like Roman Harper, who was recently released by the New Orleans Saints, would be a more likely option at safety in free agency. While he is just naming a veteran safety as an example of a low-cost alternative, it would be upsetting if Phil Emery and the Bears decided that Harper is an adequate upgrade. Quite frankly, Harper is a below-average player, and there’s a reason why the Saints released him. The $3 million he was owed wouldn’t have been an issue if he were good, and Harper is a tremendous liability in coverage. All he can do is cover the run and blitz in the box, and the Bears simply can’t afford to sign such an older, limited player when they are in need of a massive upgrade at the position, regardless of whether or not this player is a FS or SS (it depends on how much faith they have in Chris Conte, who was a train wreck last season after a decent 2012).
Harper isn’t the answer, but a solid veteran safety sounds like a logical add for a Bears team that probably doesn’t have the capital to go gunning for a Ward or Byrd. That said, they absolutely have to sign somebody who can effectively cover, because a pure run-defender at safety isn’t going to cut it. They need help in run defense, but they need safeties who can ideally cover and defend the run, especially since CB is shaping up to be a need as well.
What makes Ward potentially landing in Chicago an even more unlikely scenario is the fact that the Browns will most likely slap the franchise tag on him, because he is a huge priority for them.