Daily Herald
Bears still have some free-agent options available
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 3/9/2009 3:44 PM | Updated: 3/9/2009 11:46 PM

Keeping in mind that the Bears aren't going to break the bank for any unrestricted free agent and that they are unlikely to bring in any "big names," there still are a few players on the market who could help them.

Caliph Barnes has been an above-average starter at offensive left tackle the past four years for the Jaguars.

He has been wined and dined by the Oakland Raiders, but they have yet to close the deal, much to Barnes' disappointment. He's also not going back to Jacksonville since, on Monday, the Jaguars replaced him by signing former Philadelphia Eagles left tackle TrA Thomas.

The Raiders, just like the Bears and every other team in need of a starting-caliber tackle, didn't want to be the team that set the market value too high, but now that Thomas has signed, some other deals might get done rapidly.

The Bears could get something done very soon with their own unrestricted free agent lineman, John St. Clair. But if St. Clair takes another offer they'll be left to consider scrambling for someone like the 6-foot-5, 325-pound Barnes.

The Bears' offensive line lacked quality and depth last season, and it is in worse shape now with right tackle John Tait's imminent retirement and St. Clair entertaining offers.

The only addition so far has been Carolina Panthers backup Frank Omiyale, who could play tackle or guard, just like St. Clair.

The Bears also need a free safety, someone who is an asset in coverage. They might have had their eyes on New York Giants free agent James Butler, who late Monday night signed with the St. Louis Rams.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Butler has excellent size and is aggressive against the run but also can be a positive factor in coverage. And he's also only 26 years old.

The Bears do not have anything close to a proven NFL quarterback behind Kyle Orton, but in Jeff Garcia they could have one of the best backups in the NFL.

Garcia is an experienced, productive veteran who still has good mobility at 39. Because there are some durability concerns with Garcia, he may not get many opportunities to compete for a starting job.

He's a great insurance policy, however, and he would provide competition for Orton.

Garcia's passer rating has been over 90 in each of the last three seasons, during which he has thrown 35 TD passes and just 12 interceptions.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo has left open the possibility of adding a veteran quarterback after the draft, but Garcia may be long gone by then.

Among wide receivers, D.J. Hackett was released by the Carolina Panthers after a second straight injury-plagued season.

But the 6-foot-2, 208-pound veteran has great hands, good size and above-average speed, and he doesn't turn 28 until July 3. If he can stay healthy, he would be an excellent complement to Devin Hester.

Last week on the Bears' Web site, Angelo said: "We're not looking for backup wide receivers. What we want are potentially starting wide receivers."

If the St. Louis Rams give wide receiver Torry Holt his release, he's an even better option than Hackett.

Holt will be 33 before training camp starts, but he also would be an ideal complement and mentor to Hester. And he still appears to have something left in the tank, considering he had 64 catches for 796 yards on an awful team.

No one knows this better than Bears coach Lovie Smith. In Smith's three years as the Rams' defensive coordinator (2001-03), Holt caught 289 passes for 4,361 yards and 23 touchdowns.