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Free Agents to Walk, Keep or Ponder

The Bears will have 24 unrestricted free agents which that makes for a good situation if your team is going to do a purge or even soft reboot, so here's who looks good for retention at the moment.

The decision on regime change at Halas Hall always has multiple sides to it.

Normal surface reasons include: 1) is a team mired hopeless on offense for the past three years; or 2) have they badly misread when they should have been playing their brilliant, young quarterback, Justin Fields; or 3) is the defense underperforming or just old or both?

There is also the economic aspect of it. In the NFL, economics means the salary cap, and the Bears currently are situated well for a purge if they choose this route. 

There are a few other individual factors, as well. Players like Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson eat up big chunks of the cap and Mack continues to prove with both his production and even his absence that he is worth every penny.

Eddie Jackson and also veteran Danny Trevathan have not been doing this and both are still under contract next year. Having players with big salaries who are less productive and are becoming free agents is the ideal situation for a purge. 

The Bears would need to make personnel decisions on those two and it would be a very tough one with Jackson because of outstanding play from 2017-19.

Still, there are plenty of players whose contracts are up and the Bears in a rebuild/purge situation could simply let many of these veterans walk and use some of the money they'd owe to find someone else in either free agency or the draft.

There are 24 Bears currently slated to become unrestricted free agents next season and seven are starters. A few others are starting specialists. Here is one view of who best to keep and who best to let walk considering the team's like state of affairs.

The good thing about this list is it can still change greatly based on eight more games and what players could show.

Turning walkers into keepers is more fun than the other way around because it means a team is winning.

Trending Keepers

TE Jesse James

A third tight end this year, he could become the second tight end next year and has already developed an excellent rapport with Fields. More receptions and playing time are warranted.

P Pat O'Donnell

The only reason to jettison him would be to bring in a much cheaper, young punter. But it's not easy finding someone who has been so effective and grown at his trade.

James Daniels

His play hasn't been elite and he's committed too many penalties for a contract year, but it's been solid enough. Unless they're planning to convert Borom or Jenkins to right guard, there's no reason to be cheap with him. They are paying practically nothing at the moment for their offensive line as it is. The better play might actually be to go into free agency and find a better option than Daniels, a proven guard from the league's upper echelon. They've been trying to get by on the cheap with the offensive line for too long. The only one they've paid is Cody Whitehair. Now there's someone worth protecting back there so getting some real help blocking is necessary.

Deon Bush

They found two nice backup safeties in Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson, so there's no need to dump one. What they need is a starter ahead of them.

Christian Jones

"Cheese" is a useful, versatile backup who is worth retaining at backup salary.

Joel Iyiegbuniwe

As long as they're retaining him at a special teams player and backup player's salary, it's fine to have him. Iggy has been one of the more dependable coverage men, although their punt coverage team is the league's worst.

Patrick Scales

This no longer an automatic. He has been saved on a few poor snaps by Pat O'Donnell's quick grab and placement. It happened on the go-ahead extra point Monday night. It's a situation at this position where you bring a player to camp who can compete and try to take the job from him because Scales is extremely well paid for a player who just snaps the ball on kicks.

DeAndre Houston-Carson

The question is why do they have to keep giving him one-year contracts? He's obviously capable of being a backup safety and is their best overall special teams player. Pay the man already. He's the last defensive player to intercept a pass, but it's been so long ago now few remember it.

Jakeem Grant

A tough call. He'd be worth bringing back at a lower price. If Tarik Cohen is able to return from the ACL tear next year, there's no need for Grant as a punt returner. and Khalil Herbert was doing a solid job as kick returner before being elevated to backup running back. Then again, they could just bring him back to return kicks and punts and take the pressure off Cohen.

Trending Walkers

Allen Robinson

With the way Robinson takes care of his body and has mastered both route running and leverage, he could be very productive three or four more years. However, the Bears should be trying to get younger and faster at receiver to complement a young playmaker at quarterback, and they should be trying to reduce payroll to bring in promising younger players.

Nick Foles

It's a year too late for this but monetary constraints dictated it.

Andy Dalton

It's doubtful he would want to return after the was "promised" the starting job and then lost it after two starts due to an injury.

Jimmy Graham

A useful player still in the red zone if they recognize when he's open but definitely too old to be part of the future at 35.

Germain Ifedi

He received a $5 million deal for this year and has not played much. Call it reward for the nice season he gave them in 2020 and everything is square as he moves on to be a backup elsewhere.

Tashaun Gipson

Being a media favorite doesn't make him a productive enough player for retention at his age. He's playing a position difficult to handle for players in their 30s. They've needed another young safety who can start for three years.

Marquise Goodwin

Goodwin's play has been borderline keeper. It's not because he's made a great contribution, but he has started to show up more with big plays. What is surprising is the team-first attitude he has shown as a blocker who is extremely undersized. Still, you need to see much more in terms of big-play catches downfield to retain him. He might be a player worth returning for camp competition.

Damiere Byrd

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A far less productive version of Goodwin. It's hard to believe Rodney Adams couldn't have been pulled up from the practice squad to perform at a higher level.

Elijah Wilkinson

Backup tackles who also can play guard are valuable but to be a swing tackle you need to be able to block on both sides of the line. Wilkinson seems to have a strong preference for the right side. They should make an attempt to have backup help at tackle who plays both sides well.

Damien Williams

COVID-19 and injuries have given Khalil Herbert the chance to replace him this year. Long term, his position is only a temp job until Cohen returns.

Alec Ogletree

They need to get younger and faster at inside linebacker.

Artie Burns

He hasn't really played and there's a need to bring in young cornerbacks to challenge the young cornerbacks they already have playing who aren't getting the job done.

Flip a Coin

Akiem Hicks

This could easily be turned back to the keeper category if Hicks doesn't find a big market, but any contending team with cap space to add a veteran for one year would want him. The Bears have seen little in high-level production from him this year because of injuries but when he has been available he looked like the old Hicks.

Jason Peters

If he's willing to put off retirement and cost is low enough, the Bears could keep him on as the swing tackle if they're planning on Teven Jenkins as the starting left tackle next year. He's playing so well, he might even convince them he could start another year and let Jenkins either break in slowly or move to right tackle with Larry Borom moving to right guard.

Bilal Nichols

Before this season, Nichols seemed headed for a big pay day. He's potentially better than Roy Robertson-Harris, who got a $23 million deal from Jacksonville. But Nichols also has been plagued by minor injuries, a toe and a knee. They seem to have affected his performance. He hasn't stepped up. Bringing him back depends on the cash and whether they decide it's time to let go of Akiem Hicks.

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