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Bears Face a Tough Call with Defensive Line Free Agents

Free Agency Frenzy 2020: Nick Williams and Roy Robertson-Harris could both be leaving or could both be retained depending on how much cash eventually is available under the salary cap to the Bears

Free agency starts at home and the Bears have a week to get their home in order.

They have to decide how much and who among their own free agents to spend their salary cap money on, a total which sits at $24.47 million according to Spotrac.com.

Some of their own free agents are more vital than others and need to be prioritized.

Obviously Nick Kwiatkoski and Danny Trevathan rank Nos. 1 and 1A, since both will not be back.

Beyond those two, the next most important Bears free agent to retain becomes vague.

They might want to sign Ha Ha Clinton-Dix but the cost could be too great to keep him in Chicago. Besides, his playing style isn't an ideal fit for being in the same secondary with Eddie Jackson. He does the same things as Jackson but not as well, and the Bears can use a more physical safety.

So the next important free agent to be retained seems to be defensive tackle/end Nick Williams. After him, the biggest decision might not be a UFA but the tender level they give to restricted free agent defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris.

Keeping the defensive line depth they've built would be critical.

With Williams and Robertson-Harris, it might come down to keeping one or the other because of cap space, but it would be a little different than the either/or situation with Trevathan and Kiwatkoski because playing time is not an issue with the backup D-linemen.

Last year Williams became important when Akiem Hicks went out with an elbow injury and Bilal Nichols wasn't quite ready to play after suffering a broken hand. Williams had played only 28 games over four years and never more than 17% of the defensive snaps in any season of his career with Kansas City and Miami. He got on the field only two games for the Bears in 2018.

Suddenly Williams comes up with six sacks and 42 tackles when playing 49% of the defensive snaps in 2019. So there is speculation he has priced his way out of the Bears defense.

At age 30, though, would Williams really be likely to pull in big money?

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A closer look at last season shows he didn't have a sack over the final seven games and averaged 2.6 tackles per game in that period.

Williams did come through with two sacks and seven tackles in the 16-6 win over Minnesota when neither Hicks nor Nichols could play. But two of his six sacks came earlier when Hicks was playing. After the Minnesota game in Week 4, Williams had only two sacks. 

The Bears might actually be better off cap-wise letting Williams seek out a deal and then either matching it or letting him leave instead of pursuing a contract.

Arizona Cardinals nose tackle Zach Kerr has played 75 games now and six seasons as a backup, and is a 30-year-old free agent like Williams. Spotrac.com has assigned a $4 million annual average market value to Kerr.

That's not the kind of money to break anyone's bank.

The Bears are going to have to pay Robertson-Harris, as well. He's a restricted free agent, and what they might want to do with him is what they did with safety DeAndre Houston-Carson last year. They declined to tender him an offer, but then sign him later for less than the tender offer level.

The minimum tender offer for a restricted free agent is $2.14 million and that doesn't provide protection for the Bears in Robertson-Harris' case if another team signs him to an offer sheet. He was undrafted, so the Bears wouldn't get compensation if they lost him at $2.14 million.

Is Robertson-Harris worth $2.14 million as a backup? If Williams is still with the team, maybe they can't afford this. 

They could even refuse tender and then later give Robertson-Harris a long-term deal. 

The proposed collective bargaining agreement might impact this situation because it could elevate the cap level so the Bears have enough available to retain both defensive tackles.

With some other free agents, like Trevathan and Kwiatkoski, the increase in the cap amount likely will not be enough to make a difference. Even if it did, one of those two linebackers will not want to come back and sit on the bench behind the other one anyway.

The decision on tender-offer level for restricted free agents like Robertson-Harris is due at 3 p.m. on March 18 when the signing period begins for unrestricted free agents.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven