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Updates: Bears free-agency tracker

Chicago Tribune

The NFL's new league year began March 10, opening the free-agency market across the league. As deals unfold and players change teams, the Tribune's coverage team is keeping you up to speed with all the latest Bears transactions while also providing insight into what it all means. Check back often for updates.

APRIL 2

-- The Bears announced the release of 14-year veteran center Roberto Garza and also signed Will Montgomery to a one-year contract.

What it means: The Halas Hall housecleaning continues. Garza, after 10 seasons and 145 starts with the Bears, has been sent packing. And while the 36-year-old center missed four games last season with an ankle injury and hadn’t been a dominant presence on the interior over the past couple of seasons, the Bears’ line takes an immediate hit in the leadership department, where Garza was universally admired for his drive and professionalism. The Bears formally announced Garza’s departure in a news release with general manager Ryan Pace stating, “We have a great deal of respect for what Roberto has brought to the Bears over the last 10 years. He has been a great player, teammate and leader. We wish Roberto and his family the very best as he continues his career.” That’s a small gesture to be certain but meaningful nonetheless with the organization making sure to show the proper respect for its longtime leaders, a lesson learned after the callous separation from linebacker Brian Urlacher two years ago. Montgomery, meanwhile, figures to be the front-runner to start at center as the offseason program begins. He has made 71 career starts in 10 NFL seasons, spending 2014 with the Broncos. His familiarity with new Bears coach John Fox and coordinator Adam Gase should ease his transition.

APRIL 1

-- The Bears announced one-year deals for outside linebacker Sam Acho and cornerback Sherrick McManis.

What it means: General manager Ryan Pace continues to hunt bargains in the latter waves of free agency, landing two more potential contributors on one-year "prove it" contracts. Pace's approach has been calculated, aiming to unite with players with the hunger to earn their keep. Acho had a seven-sack season in 2011 as a rookie with the Arizona Cardinals, becoming a full-time starter there. But in 2013, a broken leg set Acho back and he's still working to climb back into a starting role. That won't be easy with the Bears, who are stockpiling competition at outside linebacker as they undertake a major project in transitioning to a 3-4 defensive system. It's not inconceivable that Acho, at 6-foot-3 and 257 pounds, could also be utilized as an inside linebacker during the Bears' offseason program as they experiment to identify players' strengths and proper fit. McManis, meanwhile, is a solid back-up option in the secondary with his most significant value coming on special teams where he has been one of the Bears' best contributors the last three seasons.

MARCH 31

-- Running back Jacquizz Rodgers signed a one-year contract with the Bears.

What it means: Coach John Fox used a committee approach to the running back position in Denver and Carolina, but Bears running back Matt Forte has proved he can be a featured back, unlike many of Fox's previous backs. Fox recently expressed appreciation for Forte's ability to handle such a significant workload, but it remains to be seen whether Forte, 29, will continue that through the upcoming final year of his contract. Rodgers at least adds depth, along with second-year pros Ka'Deem Carey and Senorise Perry. Rodgers excelled with the Atlanta Falcons as a receiver out of the backfield. In four NFL seasons, he had 155 catches for 1,104 yards and five touchdowns. Rodgers, who's listed at 5-foot-6 and 196 pounds, also returned kickoffs for the Falcons from 2012-13.

MARCH 27

-- The Bears signed veteran cornerback Alan Ball to a one-year contract.

What it means: What it means: Ball, who turns 30 on Sunday, adds depth behind first-stringers Kyle Fuller and Tim Jennings. At 6-foot-2, 197 pounds, his ability to play press man coverage should give coaches flexibility against three- and four-receiver sets. Coach John Fox said on March 25 that Jennings could play inside in the slot, and that the main goal for Jennings should be improving on a down 2014. Fox has gushed about Fuller, identifying the 2014 first-round pick as a building block. And if an additional clue was needed to indicate the new regime’s willingness to let Charles Tillman sign elsewhere, this is one.

MARCH 24

-- The Bears agreed to terms with defensive end Ray McDonald and signed end Jarvis Jenkins to one-year contracts.

What it means: From a football standpoint, the Bears addressed their need for run-stuffing ends who can play in the base package. Signing McDonald, however, has deeper ramifications. Multiple incidents in 2014 involving police and accusations of assaulting women prompted the 49ers to release him in December. The 49ers cited a pattern of poor decision making. New Bears general manager Ryan Pace decided McDonald's football talent was worth bringing that baggage into the program in the nascent stages of its construction. It must be noted that McDonald has not been charged with any crimes. The Bears protected themselves by investing little money in him, so the risk has as much to do with public relations as anything. Chairman George McCaskey is convinced McDonald, 30, is sufficiently motivated to be an upstanding citizen because his career is at stake, but he must prove it.

-- The Bears agreed with inside linebacker Mason Foster on a one-year deal.

What it means: Foster immediately becomes a leading candidate to start among a group of undistinguished inside linebackers. After four NFL seasons, the former third-round pick is known as a good run defender and an inconsistent pass defender who occasionally flashes in coverage. He did not thrive last season in Lovie Smith's Tampa-2 defense, a scheme that requires the middle linebacker to defend the intermediate middle, often against tight ends. Foster surely will be motivated to cash in with a productive season on his one-year 'prove-it' deal.

MARCH 19

-- The Bears re-signed tight end Dante Rosario to a one-year deal.

What it means: The versatile tight end reunites with coach John Fox, for whom he played with the Carolina Panthers (2007-10) and Denver Broncos (2011). He's a versatile offensive player who can block out of the back field and catch passes downfield. He's also a special teams contributor. The Bears could still add a blocking tight end, but they're in short supply.

MARCH 18

-- The Bears officially announced the signing of veteran long snapper Thomas Gafford.

What it means: Check another box off Ryan Pace's to-do list for March with the new general manager giving Gafford a one-year deal. Gafford had been with the Chiefs since 2008 and appeared in 105 consecutive contests in Kansas City. At 32, Gafford should provide a level of stability on special teams given his experience and reliability. The Bears struggled to solidify their long-snapper position a year ago. Following the spring retirement of Patrick Mannelly, the Bears took a pair of long snappers to training camp -- Chad Rempel and Brandon Hartson. But both players were cut before the regular season. Jeremy Cain was then signed and handled that role for all 16 games last season before his contract expired earlier this month.

MARCH 16

-- The Bears signed veteran free-agent guard Vladimir Ducasse to a one-year deal.

What it means: Ducasse adds depth to he offensive line. The 6-foot-5, 325-pounder has appared in 63 games and started a total of 11 for the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings. Six were at left guard, four were at right guard, and one was as a sixth-eligible offensive lineman. He joins a Bears offensive line that required eight different starting combinations last season because of injuries and underperformance. Left guard Matt Slauson, the most seriously injured, had surgery in November to repair his torn right pectoral muscle.

MARCH 14

-- Safety Ron Parker agreed to re-sign with the Kansas City Chiefs, choosing them over the Chicago Bears.

What it means: Parker visited the Bears on Thursday, but the two sides didn’t find common ground. Instead, he agreed to a five-year, $30 million deal with the Chiefs, NFL Network reported. Parker was known to be seeking $6 million per year, and he reportedly got it in a thin market for safeties. He would have added versatility to a Bears secondary whose depth was tested last season because of injuries. Parker started 11 games at safety and four at cornerback for the Chiefs, who benefited from his ability to diagnose and defend deep routes. The Bears already signed safety Antrel Rolle on Wednesday, guaranteeing him $4.9 million. This year’s draft class is widely regarded as shallow at the safety position, and the best value lies in the mid to late rounds.

MARCH 11

-- The Bears signed veteran receiver Eddie Royal to a three-year deal, according to a league source. Terms of the contract were not yet known.

What it means: Royal's arrival won't immediately replace the production in the passing game that the Bears lost when they opted to trade Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets. But as a proven slot receiver, Royal should still be a solid addition. He has 338 career catches, 3,750 yards and 25 touchdowns during his first seven seasons -- four with the Denver Broncos and the past three with the San Diego Chargers. He also has a positive history with quarterback Jay Cutler from their one season together in Denver in 2008. As a rookie that year, Royal recorded 91 catches, 980 yards and five TDs. Make no mistake, the Bears still need to add more to their receiving corps and could either strike again in free agency or eye up this spring's draft where a talented class of pass-catchers awaits. With the current needs on defense, it still seems likely that the Bears will push to use their No. 7 overall pick on that side of the ball. But general manager Ryan Pace wants to position himself to be flexible enough to take the best player available when he's on the clock next month. That could open the door for the Bears to eye one of the top receivers in this year's class -- players such as West Virginia's Kevin White, Alabama's Amari Cooper or Louisville's DaVante Parker.

-- The Bears signed veteran safety Antrel Rolle to a three-year deal worth $11.25 million, including $5 million guaranteed, according to Rolle's agent.

What it means: Pace struck for a second time Wednesday night, giving starter’s money to the three-time Pro Bowler. Rolle, 32, has a track record of durability, leadership and playmaking. The former cornerback played alongside safety Ryan Mundy with the Giants in 2013. He may be better suited to play a strong safety role near the line of scrimmage, so it will be interesting to see how coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio deploy him and Mundy. Fox spoke Wednesday afternoon about the importance of competition for playing time, and Rolle establishes it in the deep secondary. Pace also said he valued instincts most heavily when evaluating safeties and Rolle's are proven.

-- Safety Ron Parker is visiting the Bears, according to a league source.

What it means: The Bears' push to upgrade their talent and depth at safety produced a meeting with Parker, a 27-year-old playmaker who spent the last two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Rolle's signing is notable. But an eye on Parker shows the intent of Pace to add further reinforcements to a position at which the Bears currently have only four players -- Rolle, Ryan Mundy, Brock Vereen and Anthony Walters -- under contract. Parker slid into a starting role at safety last season and was dependable on the back end for the Chiefs as part of a pass defense that led the AFC in yards allowed (203.2 per game). He finished the year with 94 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and 12 passes defensed. He is figured to have versatility in the secondary, another trait that may be intriguing to Pace and head coach John Fox.

-- The Bears announced their agreement with former Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, confirming it's a five-year deal.

What it means: Instead of pursuing a high-profile, big-money signing, Pace was measured and deliberate in addressing one of the club's many needs. McPhee, 26, is considered an ascending pass rusher with positional versatility that will allow coordinator Vic Fangio to disguise blitzes and exploit matchups. The deal, which is worth up to about $40 million and includes approximately $16 million guaranteed, surfaced Monday. McPhee, Pace and coach John Fox spoke at a press conference Wednesday at Halas Hall. Said Pace of his new defensive pawn: “This is a player we honestly targeted right from the onset. He’s a highly productive, disruptive and versatile defender. This guy not only brings the top physical talent but also the right mentality and makeup for our football team.” Fox lauded McPhee for his ability to be productive with sound technique, good hands and his body lean.

MARCH 10

-- Receiver Eddie Royal is currently scheduled to visit with the Bears as the team zeroes in on bolstering its passing attack. A deal could be coming soon.

What it means: Jay Cutler could be reuniting with another link from his past. As Brandon Marshall heads out the door to New York, Royal could be on his way in. Royal was a Broncos rookie in 2008 during Cutler’s final season in Denver. That year, you may recall, was Cutler’s lone Pro Bowl season and Royal aided that cause with 91 catches, 980 yards and five touchdowns. The following two seasons in Denver, Royal worked closely with receivers coach Adam Gase, who is now the Bears offensive coordinator. So it shouldn’t be difficult for the Bears to quickly identify Royal’s strengths and identify the right fit for him within their offense. Even with Marshall and Alshon Jeffery last season, the Bears struggled to solidify a No. 3 receiver with a complementary skill set. So out of the gates with Royal, there would at least be a confidence that his ability to be productive out of the slot will help open up the offense. In seven total NFL seasons, Royal has averaged 48 catches, 536 yards and four TDs.

-- Safety Antrel Rolle is visiting the Bears but no deal is yet in place, according to his agent Drew Rosenhaus.

What it means: Safety was considered to be a top priority for the Bears on the free-agent market. And it’s no shock that they cast their line toward Rolle, a heady and durable 32-year old veteran who has played five seasons apiece with the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals. Rolle has 26 career interceptions and 68 passes defensed, an instinctive difference maker on the back end. He also has been a three-time Pro Bowl selection, receiving that honor after the 2009, 2010 and 2013 seasons. It’s hard to gauge exactly what Rolle has left in the tank at this stage in his career. And there’s a sense that he’s optimally suited as a strong safety going forward. It’s also worth noting that Rolle and fellow Bears safety Ryan Mundy started alongside one another for the first seven games of 2013 with the Giants. At the very least, Rolle will heighten the leadership and competition in the secondary.

-- The Bears are expected to officially announce the signing of outside linebacker Pernell McPhee to a five-year contract, worth up to $40 million with $16 million in guarantees. McPhee spent the past four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.

What it means: McPhee, a fifth-round pick in 2011 out of Mississippi State, has developed nicely over the first four years of his career and the Bears are hoping his ascension continues. New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio admires players with an adaptable skill set and figures to have plenty of options tapping into McPhee’s versatility, which may be his greatest strength. At 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds, McPhee brings quickness and athleticism. He’ll be used most for the Bears as an outside linebacker but his aforementioned versatility will allow Fangio to move him around in a variety of ways. The big question for McPhee, coming off a career year with 7 1/2 sacks last season, is how much of his production and worth was heightened by his supporting cast in Baltimore, namely pass rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil and space-filling nose tackle Haloti Ngata.

-- Defensive tackle Stephen Paea has agreed in principle to a four-year deal with the Washington Redskins, according to NFL Network and CSN Chicago.

What it means: Paea excelled in his contract year last season, delivering six sacks for the Bears and putting enough on tape to highlight his unique combination of power and quickness. That sent the 26-year-old onto the open market with heightened leverage and options to explore and he’ll now join the defensive front in Washington, leaving the Bears to continue addressing their depth needs on the interior of the defensive line. Paea is one of five 2014 opening day starters on defense for the Bears whose contracts will expire Tuesday. None are expected to re-sign with the team, including linebacker Lance Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman, safety Chris Conte and linebacker D.J. Williams.

-- The Bears' trade of receiver Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets, a deal that was agreed upon Friday, became official when the new league year began Tuesday afternoon.

What it means: The Bears also gave up a seventh-round pick and received only a fifth-round pick from the Jets for Marshall, who recorded 279 catches, 3,524 yards and 31 TDs during his three seasons in Chicago. Still, Marshall’s unpredictable temperament and history of off-field melodrama became major factors for new GM Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox. The belief at Halas Hall is that Marshall’s exit, while leaving a huge void at receiver, will remove some of the tension and negative energy that mushroomed during the team’s 5-11 skid last year. With Marshall gone, Alshon Jeffery immediately emerges as the No. 1 receiver for the Bears with Pace needing to utilize both free agency and the draft now to add more talent, speed and quality depth to the receiving corps. This year’s draft class, in particular, has been widely touted as deep with quality playmakers at the position. Marshall’s exit also gives the Bears added resources financially as they consider a possible early extension for Jeffery, who’s entering the final year of his rookie contract.


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