Before anything else, the most important thing the Chicago Bears have to do to guarantee improvement in 2014 is to retain the key players from their progress last year. The club was off to a great start with the new contracts awarded to Jay Cutler, Robbie Gould, Tim Jennings and Matt Slauson immediately following the season, and the re-signing of Roberto Garza confirmed today is one of the most important steps of all. In addition to the great leadership he provides both on the field and in the locker room, Garza is in the top half of centers around the NFL and one of the best when it comes to protecting his quarterback.
Perhaps more importantly, while the production of the Bears offensive line was tremendously improved in 2013, it is average at best in terms of overall talent and Garza's veteran savvy and stewardship of youngsters Kyle Long and Jordan Mills was a huge ingredient in that success.
I'm a little surprised Garza didn't hold out a bit longer to test the free agent market and see if there was more than a one-year deal out there, but that's a testament to the player and the fact the team must have made him an offer he is comfortable is more than fair.
Had the Bears lost Garza, his spot would have absolutely required a veteran free-agent signing to replace his experience and other intangibles, and it would almost certainly have been a multi-year deal that would have stretched the Bears already thin salary cap even further. This appears to be one of those rare win-win, moves, great for both team and player.
Garza's signing now leaves just two key free agents of their own for the Bears to consider. While it appears a deal with him will be much more difficult to consummate, if the Bears allow Charles "Peanut" Tillman to leave they will almost certainly take a step backwards at cornerback, regardless of whether or not they re-sign Zack Bowman.
The other veteran the Bears would be strongly advised to consider is D.J. Williams. Granted, he missed most of last season, but it was clear when he was healthy he was far and away the Bears best option at middle linebacker. Jon Bostic was a huge disappointment at the position and is best suited for the weak side, and while it would appear to be Shea McClellin's most natural position, we have no idea whether he can play it or not. A linebacking group with Lance Briggs at the Will, Williams at the Mike and McClellin and Bostic competing at the Sam should be at least acceptable and could prove to be a real strength. But for a team already wildly questionable at best on the defensive line and in the secondary, counting on Briggs, Bostic and McClellin to be your starters is over-the-top optimistic at best and at worst risks making the middle of the defense as shaky as the front and the back.