Arkush: Free agency success leaves Bears well positioned for draft

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Nate Collins (93) celebrates with outside linebacker Lance Briggs (55) and defensive end Shea McClellin (99) after sacking New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The way Phil Emery and the Chicago Bears have attacked free agency so far, in terms of both quality and quantity, it’s impossible to say the Bears are done acquiring new veteran talent.

The Bears have signed 23 unrestricted free agents, 13 who played for them in 2013.

Among the 10 free agents signed away from other teams, there is hope that Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen, Willie Young and safeties Ryan Mundy, Danny McCray and M.D. Jennings will have a significant impact on defense.

But while the club does still have significant needs to address, based on what is left in the veteran free agent pool it is most likely the rest of Emery’s offseason construction work will be done through the draft.

Remaining veterans who could be of interest to the Bears include safety Thomas DeCoud and tight ends Owen Daniels or Fred Davis. But, at this stage of those players careers, and as old as the Bears roster is right now, I suspect they may prefer younger prospects.

Three of their own players you’d still love to see them re-sign are offensive lineman Eben Britton, cornerback Zack Bowman and long snapper Patrick Mannelly and I wouldn’t be surprised if all three are in the fold by the time we get to Bourbonnais.

It is likely the fact that the Bears haven’t rushed to secure more depth in the secondary, on the offensive line, at tight end and running back, where there is no one to trust behind Matt Forte, is a road map for us to follow as to what they may be thinking for the draft.

Most mock drafts prior to the Houston, Young and Allen deals had the Bears drafting a defensive tackle or defensive end in the first round.

In Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins, the Bears have added two tackles through free agency, Lamarr Houston is in fact better suited to play the three technique than defensive end and Stephen Paea is still in town.

Allen, Young, Israel Idonije, Austen Lane and Trevor Scott make five pure defensive ends – none of this group but Idonije has the ability to slide inside – the Bears have signed to compete with holdovers David Bass, Cheta Ozougwu and Cornelius Washington.

With eight players already competing for three or four spots at end, and a lack of talent and depth inside, should the Bears waste Houston at end?

Or, looking at it another way, having guaranteed Allen, Houston and Young $34.35 million collectively, do you really want one of them on the bench at all times if all three are playing end?

Houston at tackle with Ratliff, and Allen and Young at end probably puts your four best linemen on the field. Other than being older than you’d like, which is a theme everywhere on this roster, it leaves you with no real need to draft high on the defensive line.

While the Bears could use depth in a number of areas, the most obvious screaming needs right now are for two starting safeties, a successor to Tillman, backups who can contribute something immediately at tight end, running back and wide receiver and a swing tackle, if Britton is not re-signed, who might eventually push Jordan Mills.

The way most draft boards are stacked right now it’s quite possible the best players available at 14 could be safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor, cornerback Justin Gilbert or tight end Eric Ebron, and it’s very likely the best player at 51 will be a wideout or offensive tackle.

Is the best player available also being a fit for your club’s greatest need too much to ask for in the first few rounds? It appears to shape up that way for the Bears.

I don’t pretend to know what Emery is thinking when it comes to the draft, but I sure hope he’s thinking safety, or at least secondary in the first round.

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

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