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January 7, 2014 @ 11:35 am
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Bear Raid: Smith May Pluck Several Free Agents From Chicago

Written by Scott
Scott Reynolds


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With the Bucs needing a talent upgrade in several areas in 2014, don't be surprised if Lovie Smith raids his former team, the Bears, in free agency. Chicago has a slew of free agents that could be available this year, including KR-PR Devin Hester and CB Charles Tillman, and won't be able to re-sign them all.
New Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith has obvious, strong ties to the Chicago Bears, the team he coached for nine seasons from 2004-12. As Smith and his new coaching staff begin their evaluations of the Tampa Bay roster they are inheriting, don’t be surprised to see the Buccaneers target some Bears in free agency.

While Chicago re-signed quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerback Tim Jennings and guard Matt Slauson on January 1, likely because of Smith’s hiring in Tampa Bay, the Bears still have a lot of players who are set to become unrestricted free agents this March, including several starters that could help Smith’s Buccaneers in 2014.

During his introductory press conference at One Buccaneer Place, Smith said he believes in all three phases of football – offense, defense and special teams. When mentioning special teams, Smith indicated that he wanted to get a strong return specialist.

“To me, if you play great defense, you can win eight games,” Smith said. “If you have special teams along with that, you can win 10. But in order for us to have three phases that contribute to wins, we need a great returner also.”

Tampa Bay had first-year player Eric Page returning kicks and punts in 2013 with some level of success. Page averaged 24.9 yards per kick return and 10.9 yards per punt return in 2013.

But Smith might have someone else in mind for the Buccaneers in 2014. There may be no better return specialist than Chicago’s Devin Hester, who this year tied legendary cornerback and return man Deion Sanders’ NFL record with 19 total returns for a touchdown. In October, Hester brought back a punt 81 yards for a touchdown. It was his 13th punt return for a touchdown, which extended his own punt return scoring record. Hester has five kickoff returns in his NFL career, and has also returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a touchdown.

“Special teams, we win out,” Smith said. “I, myself, worked out Devin Hester. You’ve got to have a returner. You can win games. We won games based on our special teams and having a good kicker and a good punter.”

Prior to his touchdown against the Redskins, Hester, a four-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler, had not scored on a return in almost two years on November 13, 2011. The 31-year old Hester, could be Smith’s first option in free agency as Chicago won’t be able to re-sign all of its pending free agents due to the recent big contracts doled out to Cutler, Jennings and Slauson.

PewterReport.com has compiled a list of Chicago’s remaining free agents and analyzes which Bears may be targeted by Smith when free agency begins on March 11.

The following Bears free agents are proven performers that could help the Buccaneers in certain areas of need:

WR Devin Hester
Simply put, Chicago may not be able to keep the 31-year old, record-setting Hester in 2014. Hester, who is strictly a return specialist. Hester made $1.9 million in 2013 and may be viewed by the Bears as a luxury the team can no longer afford. The former Miami Hurricanes star still has plenty of playmaking ability, evidenced by an 81-yard punt return touchdown against the Redskins, a franchise-record 249 return yards against the Vikings, a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Rams that was negated due to a questionable holding penalty, and a 39-yard kick return and a 49-yard punt return against the Packers in the playoffs. Hester, who was drafted by Smith in 2006, could really energize Tampa Bay’s return game.

CB Charles Tillman
The talented, 6-foot-2, 198-pound cornerback has been a playmaking machine for the Bears during his 11-year career. Tillman has forced an amazing 42 fumbles and recorded 36 interceptions, including eight he’s returned for touchdowns for Chicago. But are the Bears ready to invest in a player who is coming off injured reserve and turns 33 in February? Tillman, who tore his right triceps in a November 10 loss to Detroit, could be a nice, stop-gap option at the cornerback position in Tampa Bay to fortify the Bucs’ pass defense in the pass-happy NFC South division.

CB Zack Bowman
Bowman was inserted into the starting lineup when Tillman went down with a midseason triceps injury. Known as a good special teams player and a good Cover 2 cornerback, Bowman might be a good fit in Tampa Bay to help bolster the team’s depth at cornerback, a position that isn’t deep past Darrelle Revis and Johnthan Banks. The 6-foot-1, 196-pound Bowman has 10 career interceptions and two forced fumbles in his six-year career, and would bring good size to the Bucs cornerback position.

DT Henry Melton
Melton had a Pro Bowl season with six sacks in 2012 before a torn ACL cost him all but the first three games of 2013. Melton was arrested in his home state of Texas and charged with assault and public intoxication, which didn’t set well with the Bears brass. “Obviously, he has some off-the-field issues that he needs to make sure that he’s focused on football and having a passion for football,” Chicago general manager Phil Emery said. Melton is a talented, disruptive three-technique tackle that was selected by Smith in the fourth round of the 2009 draft that would fit well in Tampa Bay and could provide some insurance at the position as two-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy is entering a contract year.

The following Bears free agents are considered possible targets by the Bucs due to their ties to Smith, but will likely re-sign with Chicago:

DE Corey Wootton
Wootton, whose 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame resembles that of Bucs defensive end Will Gholston, was the Bears’ most consistent defensive lineman in 2013. With 11.5 sacks in his four-year career, including 3.5 in 2013, Wootton has the physical tools to become an excellent defensive end, and the Bucs need to add more quality depth at the end position. With Julius Peppers turning 34 this year and Chicago not having much depth at defensive end, the Bears will need to re-sign Wootton.

CB Kelvin Hayden
Hayden missed the 2013 season due to a torn hamstring, but was effective in Smith’s defense in 2012 when he had a team-high four fumble recoveries in addition to an interception. The 30-year old Hayden, who is 6-foot, 195 pounds, spent several years playing for Tony Dungy in Indianapolis’ Cover 2 defense, and the Bucs could use another big cornerback for depth.

S Major Wright
The Buccaneers have two very good starting safeties in Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron, and probably don’t want to spend starter money on Wright, who who had 100 tackles, two forced fumbles and two interceptions last year. The Bears are interested in re-signing their third-round pick from 2010, but he played collegiately at Florida and may have an interest in returning to his home state and playing for Smith once again.

C Roberto Garza
While Jeremy Zuttah didn’t exactly light it up playing center in Tampa Bay in 2013, it’s not likely that the Bucs would want to make a move in free agency to bring in Garza, who turns 35 in March. Emery has indicated that Chicago would like to re-sign Garza this offseason, but the Bucs need better play at the center position.

QB Josh McCown
McCown, who will turn 35 in July, is a journeyman that had a good deal of success filling in for the injured Jay Cutler this year. McCown, who was signed by the Bears in 2011 when Smith was the head coach, completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 1,829 yards with 13 touchdowns and one interception in 2013. While the Bucs could use a veteran QB to compete with Mike Glennon, there is a good chance that McCown stays in the Windy City despite Cutler’s extension.

The following Bears are restricted free agents and will likely be re-signed by Chicago: defensive tackle Nate Collins, who spent the 2013 season on injured reserve, and safety Anthony Walters.

Chicago cornerback Sherrick McManis, linebacker Blake Costanzo and safety Craig Steltz are mostly special teams contributors and reserve defenders. Of the three, Steltz has the most experience in Smith’s defense.

Journeyman offensive tackle Jonathan Scott was signed by Chicago in 2012 while Smith was still with the Bears, but was released and then re-signed in 2013. Scott is on his fourth NFL team in eight years.

The Bears also have six free agents that were signed in 2013 by Emery and new head coach Marc Trestman and don’t have any ties to Smith: defensive tackle Landon Cohen, middle linebackers D.J. Williams and Larry Grant, guard Eben Britton, tight end Dante Rosario and quarterback Jordan Palmer.
Last modified on Thursday, 06 March 2014 10:38

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  • avatar

    I am not a Tebow fan but it appears he has improved his throwing and hand placement on the ball which was his first and biggest problem.It is embarrassing how bad U Meyer coached him for proper throwing mechanics.He more than likely goes back to his old tendencies but mark my words he has improved.Is he an NFL QB, prob not as he was awful before, but he is much improved.
  • avatar

    no, no, no to tebow...................... yes, yes, yes to hester yes, yes, yes to JARED ALLEN...... plus, we need some offensive linemen..... LOVE THE COACHING STAFF SO FAR....... GO BUCS !!!
  • avatar

    I would love to see Hester come to Tampa. Tillman and Melton would be nice if he price is right. But McCown is way overrated
  • avatar

    What a great idea Owlykat. Tebo(w) could come in here and become the franchise QB we all have been praying for since 1976. The other 31 teams who have failed to see his God-given talent and that one lucky pass in the Steelers game will have to pay for their lack of faith. Lovie spoke to Father Dungy and the two of them reached up and asked the almighty one (not Bruce Allen) to nix his TV gig and deliver the savior Tebo(w) to the troubled masses in Tampa Bay. He will surly lead us to the promised land where Superbowl champions reside. He will feed the starving Buccaneer fans with the fruits of victory. He will make the blind once again see the talent on this team that had gone unnoticed. The lame, like Nicks, Bowers and Joseph will once again be able to walk among us. The team will fear no evil with Tebow and Smith with his coaching staff to comfort them. He will restoreth the pride the congreation of Bucs fans once had in our team. Divine intervention, like occurred when Dungy's Colts overcame a 35-14 deficit to defeat our Bucs, will always be in our playbook. We will chant his name "TeeeeeeeBoooooooooow" until the truth is revealed and he cant complete a pass to convert 3rd and short, throws an interception, gets sacked for holding the ball too long and the team loses three in a row. Then the cry from the masses will be "Tebo(w) Sucks! "
  • avatar

    Scubog; Amen
  • avatar

    Scubog & Horse: DOUBLE AMEN!
  • avatar

    Good bet Smith brings in some of his ex players in order to help teach his systemduring the off sseason and training camp.
  • avatar

    I would like to see Hester in a Buc Uniform. We need someone who has a chance at running it back for a touchdown. Sure made a big difference in the National Championship the other day. I am not sold on any of the other Bear FAs. We need a decent CB who has the speed to stay with the top burners in the league. We already have plenty of playmakers on our defense. We also need a young tackle who has the ability to eventually play LT if our best OL goes down and can also play RT right now. We can move Penn inside to LG and he should be an ALL PRO for awhile there if he works out there all of the off season. The highest need we have is for a First Round QB with a strong arm and is highly mobile as well. Clemson's QB or Central Florida's QB could fill that need or we could get Tebo or another experienced NFL QB with those same qualities. Keep Glennon and let him learn the system but have him compete with them in Preseason--he won't win the job with any Coach with NFL experience--unlike foolish Schiano.
  • avatar

    I'd be interested to see who is available and has positive ties to Sparano if he's confirmed as OL coach.
  • avatar

    Thanks, plenty of options. We'll need them considering the future of Penn, Joseph, Nicks. We could use an upgrade everywhere on our line save Dotson.
  • avatar

    suferdudes, if the Bucs choose to reload, here are some of the top O-Line FAs out there: Jared Veldheer/LOT, Branden Albert/LOT, Eugene Monroe/LOT, Roger Saffold/ROT, Austin Howard/ROT, Jon Asomoah/ROG, Geoff Schwartz/LOG, Wade Smith/LOG, Alec Mack/C, Evan Dietrich-Smith/C ,
  • avatar

    Tillman and Peppers!!
  • avatar

    I was just reading an article about the Bears on weather to keep Peppers or cut him.. What I found in the article was how the players loved playing for Lovie. I think the Blazers might have got it right this time. IMO it would be nice to have a winning coach for about ten years.
  • avatar

    I'd go all in for Tillman. The guy is just a turnover machine. Tampa really needs another viable starter at CB.
  • avatar

    I dont know about Tillman. The guy is getting old and there are a lot of younger CB's with higher ceilings avaliable in FA this year. Cromartie, Verner, and Shields just to name a few. Why bring in a bunch of old guys that only have a year or so left. 33 is really old at CB.
  • avatar

    Scott how about a list of free agent offensive linemen? We have plenty of defense, free agent O linemen would be the best way to get this offense going, who might we really target?
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