BREAKING NEWS
CTNOW

Clubs and free agents begin mating dance before opening of bidding season

Agents, teams begin game of 'peek-a-boo' as lead-up to free agency begins.

The lead-up to free agency opened Saturday with NFL teams and agents doing a familiar dance of gauging interest while working to get a handle on the marketplace.

One agent described it as a game of "peek-a-boo" while another who did high volume signings a year ago called it a waste of time and said last year he didn't receive a legitimate offer until free agency opened Tuesday.

Clubs were permitted to contact agents at 11:01 a.m. to express "negotiating positions" but no deals can be consummated until 3 p.m. Tuesday and no visits or physicals can be taken until that point.

Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is the most coveted player available and there is speculation he could receive a contract with $60 million guaranteed. The Dolphins have been mentioned prominently and the Lions don't seem to have quite as much optimism they can retain him as they did recently.

A big name to watch for the Bears is Devin McCourty, who is regarded as the best safety in a thin class of free agents. Multiple reports indicate the Eagles will be heavily involved. They freed up more than $20 million in cap space last week with a slew of moves, including the trade of running back LeSean McCoy. It would be a mistake to rule out a possible return to the Patriots and the Giants also have been linked to him.

In a surprising move, the Patriots chose not to place the franchise tag on McCourty at $9.6 million. Perhaps they didn't deem he was worth that much, near the top of the safety market, in their budget. But supply and demand could push his price high, maybe even near the $10 million annual average of the Seahawks' Earl Thomas, the highest at the position in the league. Obviously, the Bears would have to make a huge commitment with what is more than $30 million in cap room available to new general manager Ryan Pace.

Chiefs safety Ron Parker could be a secondary target for the Bears, who might pursue Rahim Moore from the Broncos given coach John Fox's experience with him. Parker started 15 games for the Chiefs last year with 94 tackles and 12 pass breakups.

One general manager called it a slow day and said it was mostly quiet. Teams don't want to extend firm offers at this point and give agents what would amount to three days to shop in search of a better one. Dollar amounts often don't get tossed around until Monday and sometimes even Tuesday in the hours leading up to the start of the new league year.

The Bears are known to have expressed interest in a pair of outside linebackers, O'Brien Schofield and Brooks Reed. The 27-year-old Schofield, a North Chicago product, had two sacks as a situational player for the Seahawks last season. Reed, 28, has 141/2 sacks as a four-year starter for the Texans.

While neither would be a splash addition, the Bears have a lot of money and cap space tied up in players who will be tried as outside linebackers — Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young to name a few. So, the plan could be to add a moderately priced player and augment the position in the draft when the Bears could get a top pass rusher with the No. 7 overall pick.

Sources also linked the Bears to cornerback Davon House and linebacker Dan Skuta, who probably would play on the interior. House, a fourth-round pick of the Packers in 2011, has started 14 games over the last three seasons. He has good size at 6-feet, 190 pounds, and the Packers have expressed interest in bringing him back.

The Texans kept one cornerback off the market by re-signing Kareem Jackson Saturday to a $34 million, four-year contract, and the Chargers were reportedly close to keeping Brandon Flowers. Those moves will thin out the top of the cornerback market somewhat.

Some have suggested the Bears would be in the market for a nickel cornerback. They could add a starter and slide veteran Tim Jennings to the slot in the sub package.

Skuta has experience playing for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in San Francisco. He has made 18 starts over the last two seasons and had five sacks in 2014 with three forced fumbles.

The Bears likely will be in the market for help on the defensive line. The Dolphins' Jared Odrick has experience in a 3-4 and has versatility making him an interesting possibility. It's possible after being major players in free agency during March for many of the last several years that the Bears will be more conservative.

But it's early in the game and it's more of an exploratory process than anything else until it gets closer to the time for players to sign on the dotted line.

Tribune reporters Rich Campbell and Dan Wiederer contributed.

bmbiggs@tribpub.com

Twitter @BradBiggs

Copyright © 2018, CT Now
59°