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Muller: What Should Bears Do In Free Agency?

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Sidney Rice. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Sidney Rice. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

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By Shawn Muller-

(CBS) The world feels like a different place now that NFL football is officially back in business, doesn’t it?

I mean really. No one was actually surprised that a deal was reached were they? There was no way that the owners were going to lose any preseason games. There is too much money to be made—even if they are just glorified practices—so it really was just a matter of time before a deal was reached, especially the closer we got to the official start of training camp.

So the time is now folks.

Get that Bears jersey out of storage and into regular wardrobe rotation. The Monsters of the Midway are close to being back in action!

Speaking of the defending NFC North Champions, it is no secret that the team has some holes to fill, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

So I ask you: Who would you like to see the Jerry Angelo pursue?

How about offensive linemen?

The Bears offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL last season. Re-signing Olin Kreutz is most likely going to happen. They did draft Outland Trophy winning offensive tackle, Gabe Carimi, with their first round pick out of the University of Wisconsin. Getting Kreutz to re-sign along with drafting Carimi is a step in the right direction, but there would still be work that needs to be done. But look at the bright side: Anyone one else who signs on can’t be any worse than what Lovie Smith had to work with last year.

Maybe you want help on defense?

If you are hoping for defensive help, you can forget a max contract for any big names out there. After throwing Fort Knox at Julius Peppers, I just can’t see the Bears going that route again this offseason.  Strong side linebackers Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa have expiring contracts, so Jerry Angelo will need to figure out what he is going to do over there, but overall, I am not as concerned about who the team puts on the defensive side of the ball.

That leaves us with the wide receiver position.

Wide Receiver is where the Bears need the most help if you ask me. Not a shocking revelation I know, but true nonetheless.

When I think “big-time” wide receiver, the name Johnny Knox does not enter my mind. Yes, Knox had a more than respectable 2010 season, leading the Bears in receptions (51), receiving yards (960), and tying Greg Olsen with the most receiving touchdowns (five), but I just don’t think he is—or will become—that “go-to guy” that Chicago has seemed to be lacking for what feels like an eternity.

Just to be clear, I am not knocking Mr. Knox. I think he is a very capable ball catcher. It’s just that when you have a quarterback with an arm like Jay Cutler, you need a real playmaker on the outside—someone who can spread the field and make big plays—other than a guy like Devin Hester.

I’m sorry, but, Johnny Knox is not going to be that guy.

So which wideout would you like to see the Bears go after?

It is no secret that this free agent crop of receivers is deep, so the Bears will have options.  It just depends on how they decide to pursue those options. Will they be conservative—settling on a player like Santana Moss (whom I think is a quality receiver, but aging)—or will they try to make the big splash like they did with Julius Peppers?

Do they go after a guy like Steve Smith (of the New York Giants), Sidney Rice, Braylon Edwards or Brad Smith?

Or do they go after a player that—while big-time on the field—off the field issues could present a problem. Players like: Santonio Holmes, Donte’ Stallworth, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, or Plaxico Burress?

There is definitely no shortage of quality options, that is for sure, and if it were up to me, I would try everything in my power to land Sidney Rice.

I also like Braylon Edwards as a possibility.  He is very talented and has the chance to be a great receiver in the NFL, but he can also be a bit of a diva and a liability.  He has been known to drop big passes.  He has shown a less than favorable attitude in the locker room and, though he played well in 2010 for the Jets, I have a feeling that if he signs a big deal, his “diva” will be on full display wherever he ends up.

As for guys like Terrell Owens and Randy Moss? No thanks.

Owens has been in the league for 15 seasons and Moss 14. Yes, both are two of the greatest to ever play the position, but there is no way I want them anywhere near the Bears locker room. If there are players around the league that are considered to be “cancers” to team chemistry, then Owen and Moss are of the terminal variety. They are high-risk/high-reward, but for a team like the Bears? No thanks.

That is why Sidney Rice is the ideal man to go after if you are Jerry Angelo.

But there is a catch.

While Rice has everything the Bears are looking for in a “go-to guy” – size (6’4’’), speed to stretch the field, youth (24), and great hands – there is the question of his ability to stay healthy.

In 2007, Rice missed a couple of games due to injury. In 2008, he suffered a knee injury that kept him out for three games during the regular season. In 2009, he suffered a hip injury in the NFC Title game. He decided not to have off-season surgery to fix the issue and ended up missing action until Week 11 of the 2010 season.

But, despite his injury problems in the past (he has missed 16 games in four seasons), he can be quite a handful for opposing defenses. In 2009– his lone season of playing in all 16 contests–Rice caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards and eight  touchdowns for the Vikings. There is no doubt that Rice is definitely capable of being one of the premier receivers in the league and with a quarterback with an arm like Jay Cutler, it would be very exciting to see what he could do in Mike Martz’s offense.

Plus, it never hurts to take away one of the best players from a rival team, right?

Needless to say, I am definitely excited to have football back.

The lockout was a long and—at times–utterly ridiculous display of greed and foolishness. But at least we can now move on and focus on actual football games.

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