Dan, even with the additions of two starting linebackers, the team has zero depth at the position. Unless they plan to draft three linebackers, it's still the biggest need position on the roster. Is there any chance, maybe after the draft, that Brian Urlacher discovers that the Bears were offering his current market value, and comes back home? Do you think Emery would re-structure someone's deal and sign him at that point? -- Mark Early, Arlington, Va.
You'd never say never on something like this until Urlacher's signature is on another team's contract. I would not completely rule it out because I have no doubt the Bears legitimately wanted Urlacher on the team, and he legitimately wanted to be a Bear. It was clear the Bears were waiting for an answer for him before they started signing other players -- they were saving that $2 million for him. And still, the best place for Urlacher to be is in Chicago, and the best middle linebacker for the Bears probably is Urlacher. The problem, as I see it, is there are some hard feelings now. Emotions got involved. Pride can be a powerful force in contract issues. So for Urlacher to return to the Bears, ego would have to be completely subjugated. And seeing that the Bears have gone on a spending spree since Urlacher said no, there may be less money than there was before. Bottom line is it's a real long shot, but not impossible.
Dan, is there an NFL rule that would prohibit Bear fans from raising a "Keep Urlacher Fund" that would be gifted to him if he signed a contract with the Bears? Yes, it's a blatant attempt to circumvent the salary cap. But it'd also be an honest effort by the fan base to enable us to see 54 have the kind of farewell season with the team that he deserves and we desire. And if the NFL can actually interfere in our right to give someone a gift, could they nix a personal services contract? It'd be a pity for his career as a Bear -- as the face of the Bears -- to end the way it apparently will. -- Glen Hanus, Florissant, Colo.
The scenarios which you present would not be allowed. Any attempt to circumvent the salary cap is prohibited, and a team that is party to such an attempt can be docked draft choices. Article 14 of the collective bargaining agreement describes circumvention of the cap this way: "Neither the parties hereto, nor any Club or player shall enter into any agreement, Player Contract, Offer Sheet or other transaction which includes any terms that are designed to serve the purpose of defeating or circumventing the intention of the parties as reflected by the provisions of this Agreement."
With Urlacher sadly out the door. Do you think maybe Lance Briggs could see some time in the middle? I'm not sure D.J. Williams is a good fit in the middle, he would more productive at weak side. I can't think of anyone better to replace Urlacher. -- Terry Wilson, Bushnell, Ill.
I don't believe so. I think Briggs could play well in the middle. But he plays so well on the weak side. He's a sure thing there. Why would you mess with that? The weakside position is very important to the Bears defense, arguably more important than the middle linebacker position.
What are your thoughts about Alec Ogletree as a 4-3 MLB in our system? I've been hearing that he can only play inside in a 3-4, but the similarities to Urlacher are uncanny -- both former safeties with great size, speed and athleticism. Are there any differences between them at the same age besides skin color? -- Keith Richard, Flora, Ill
Ogletree is talented enough to play middle linebacker or weak side linebacker in the Bears' 4-3. Because he is tall, athletic and rangy and isn't real natural when taking on blocks, some scouts think he would be best utilized as an outside linebacker. But he is not a player with a lot of limitations. He probably is the type of athlete who hasn't yet played his best football. Ogletree is somewhat similar to Urlacher when Urlacher came out of New Mexico in 2000, but Urlacher was bigger and faster. Ogletree is more experienced at playing the way he will play as a pro.
With the signing of D.J. Williams, does that mean Marc Trestman doesn't need high character guys on the defensive side of the ball? I sure hope Trestman has some success because all his rhetoric about high character, science of football, and systems is going to get real old with Chicago fans and media. -- Joseph Nowak
If you are looking for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I suggest you book a flight to Utah. You always prefer to have squeaky clean players from the top of the roster to the bottom. But that isn't realistic. Football teams have to have a diverse blend of personalities and problems. Your roster cannot be nothing but choir boys, not in this day and age. It's all about risk management. Sometimes these gambles work out. Sometimes they don't. But you have to take some of them. The Bears always have. So have the other 31 teams in the National Football League. The gamble the Bears took on Williams was a low risk gamble. If he doesn't work out, they don't lose anything. They took a higher risk gamble on another player with a checkered past last year. It has worked out very well with Brandon Marshall so far. Trestman still will need high character guys on defense. If he has enough of them, he can sprinkle in a player or two who may not rate quite as high on the character scale.
Ochocinco is 35 years old and has not had a good season since 2009. In 2010, he showed signs of slowing down. When he went to New England in 2011, he struggled adjusting to a new offense and was a non-factor. With the Dolphins in camp last year, he didn't show enough to convince management he could help a receiver-desperate team. And he was a problem off the field. It's one thing to take a gamble on a player who might be a distraction but can add something of real value to your team. It's another one to take a gamble on a player who has seen better days. My answer to your question would be no, definitely no.
With Lance Louis gone, is there any chance of moving Robert Garza back to guard and plugging in a new center via draft? Centers seem to be valued even less than guards in the draft, which leads me to believe Phil Emery could still trade down, grab an extra pick or two, and pick up a potential top notch center - improving two slots in the line rather than just the guard spot. -- Rob Nielsen, Naperville
I don't gather it's in the plans. But I don't think it's out of the question, either. My take would be that Garza is somewhat of a wildcard. If, after the draft, the Bears still need him at center, he'll be a center. But if they draft someone like Barrett Jones of Alabama and they want to play Jones at center, Garza has the flexibility to play guard. I don't sense the Bears are dissatisfied with Garza at center, if that is what you are getting at. And having a veteran in the middle is never a bad thing.
Since Miami lost left tackle Jake Long, do you think they would be interested in J'Marcus Webb with only right tackles left on the free agency market? What could the Bears get for him? -- Joseph Cichocki, Lemont
Right now, I don't think the Bears could get much for Webb, certainly not as much as he could be worth to them. It's not like he played so well last year that other teams are looking at him as a must-have player. Just like the Bears wanted to get a better left tackle than Webb, other teams will want a better left tackle than Webb. The only way a market for someone like him could develop is if a team is counting on getting a starting tackle in the draft and ends up striking out. But even then it might not be prudent for the Bears to trade him and create a potential hole at the position. Tackles are valuable. You need more than two. I would think the only way he becomes trade bait is if the Bears draft a tackle high in the draft. If that happens, they have too many.
With all of the Bears signings and Jason Campbell gone, could the Bears go QB with the 20th pick in the draft? -- Tom Lane, Lake Forest
I'd be surprised if that happened, very surprised. I can't envision that a quarterback would be available at 20 who is worth the 20th pick. I can envision a quarterback being available in the second round who is worthy of the pick, however. I think if you take a quarterback with the 20th pick of the draft, you probably are overdrafting him and trying to "create" a player. Remember, it's not a strong year for quarterbacks at the top of the draft. The key to drafting one is finding one at the right value.
Dan, can Tom Zbikowski play? Is he any good or was this just a feel good signing? -- @robertflwnwi, from Twitter
I think he can help the Bears, both on defense and on special teams. The Bears always need more than two safeties. I'll be very surprised if he doesn't start at least a few games, if not 16. He can be a core guy on special teams, and even serve as a backup returner. Zbikowski also will bring an element of toughness and leadership.
What's up with restructuring Julius Pepper's contract to free up cap space? There was a lot of talk about that prior to the beginning of free agency. To have a shot at more free agents and draft picks, etc., how soon do the Bears need to move on this? -- Peter, Crystal Lake
I don't think Peppers' contract will be restructured. If it was going to be done, it would have made sense to do it before the start of free agency. Restructuring the contract would require quite a bit of cash. The Bears already have spent a lot, and probably don't have enough left for another big ticket item, which a Peppers restructure likely would be. Restructuring his contract also would mean pushing more of his cap hit into future years, when he is likely to be worth less. That's a slippery slope.
It looks like the guard issue was taken care of with the signing of Matt Slausen. Based on the new free agent additions, it seems that Emery can go for the best guy on the board. What if it's Tyler Eifert? Does he pull the trigger? -- Andrew Molina, Los Angeles, Calif.
Why not? Having two capable pass catching tight ends with speed would give the Bears offense a rare dimension. And I think Marc Trestman is the type of creative offensive thinker who would not be intimidated by having to play with a personnel grouping that is unconventional or unfamiliar to him. I would love to see what he would do with Eifert and Martellus Bennett together. It's not like the Bears have an abundance of depth at the wide receiver position, either, so another offensive weapon would be welcome. Tight end isn't a need anymore, but that doesn't mean the Bears should eliminate the position from consideration.
Any chance the Bears deal number 20 to the 49ers for their two second round picks? The draft chart numbers add up pretty close. Thoughts? -- Rick Cwik
If you go by the draft pick value chart, it would be an almost even exchange for the 49ers to give the Bears the second pick of the second round and the 29th pick of the second round for the 20th pick of the first round. And there are other reasons the deal makes sense. The 49ers have 14 draft picks, and have established the fact that they like to make trades on draft day. In the two years since Jim Harbaugh has been the team's head coach, they have essentially moved down four times and moved up three times. One of their trade-ups netted them quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the 2011 second round. But for this deal to make sense on draft day, two things would have to be in place. The first is there would have to be a player the 49ers covet that they believe will not slip to them at No. 31. The second is the Bears would have to be comfortable that they weren't passing up a can't-miss player, and that there still would be a number of interesting values on the board who would still be available 14 picks later. Another scenario to consider is the 49ers might prefer to give up their 32nd pick in the first round along with the 12th pick of the third round, perhaps with a fifth rounder also thrown in. Put it this way Rick, I would be willing to put a fairly sizable amount of money on the fact that there will be a phone call or two between Santa Clara and Lake Forest before or during the draft.