Matt Forte led the Bears in receptions this year. Matt Forte is a running back, and he missed the last four games. This is a problem, and one that Jay Cutler would like to see solved with the acquisition of a reliable deep target, and preferably a tall one.
It’s customary for players to remain relatively silent regarding their free agency wish list in the days before the NFL’s annual jersey swapping convention begins. Cutler’s belief in common free agency customs is on par with his belief in following through with wedding vows the first time they’re promised to the bride, which means that for the first time in his life he has something in common with Jason Campbell.
Cutler made an appearance Monday morning on ESPN 1000 in Chicago, and although his stated need for his Bears and his offense was innocent, obvious, and innocuous, the fact that he’s willing to speak so openly and freely shows just how desperate he is for a reliable deep target.
He said that he wants and needs a new target, and “anyone over 6’2″ at this point is going to look good.”
Wideout has been a laughably weak area for the Bears since Cutler was acquired from Denver in the spring of 2009. The last semi-reliable deep threat (both in terms of talent and health) to play at Soldier Field was Bernard Berrian, and his 951 receiving yards and five touchdowns came two years before Cutler’s arrival. Berrian was allowed to move on to Minnesota through free agency, when he then posted another 900-plus-yard season before flaming out and being cut earlier this year.
Cutler’s clearly right in his assessment of Chicago’s shopping list this offseason, and with Roy Williams set to depart as a free agent on March 13, the Bears somehow don’t have a wide receiver who’s taller than 6’0″. Devin Hester (a return specialist and converted cornerback) Dane Sazenbacher, and Max Komar are 5’11″, while Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox are 6’0″.
Knox was finally excelling in that deep threat role and finished second in yards per catch (19.6). But he suffered a severe back injury in Week 15 and he’ll be in a brace until mid-March, putting his status for training camp and his effectiveness next year in question. Bennett also briefly showed some chemistry with Cutler as a home-run option, but he struggled with injuries, missing five games, and finishing with fewer than 15 yards in four others.
Eventually the solution has to be found in Chicago before Cutler’s prime years are wasted. He’s 28, and is under contract for two more years. He’s a strong-armed quarterback in a passing league and in a record-setting passing era, yet the lack of a threatening presence at wide receiver is still looming three years after Cutler landed in the Windy City.
New Bears general manager Phil Emery could have north of $25 million to work with in cap room, and with his talks breaking down in Buffalo, suddenly Stevie Johnson looks like a fine solution. Then there’s the thorny matter of Mike Wallace and Pittsburgh’s cap crunch. Franchising or signing Wallace would cost the Steelers at least $9 million annually, putting them roughly $20 million over the cap. They can give Wallace a one-year tender as a restricted free agent for $2.6 million, and then have the ability to match any offer he receives, which will also likely be in the neighborhood of $9 million.
Any team wanting to pry Wallace and his 1,193 receiving yards in 2011 from Pittsburgh needs to be willing to part with both that lofty sum, and a first-round pick since he’s an RFA.
The price is hefty, but the Bears have the cap room, the required desperation and need at the position.