Bears free agent bargains and busts
The Bears have had their share of free agent bargains and busts over the years.
Erik Kramer, QB, 1994: After sharing playing time with the Lions for three seasons, he joined the Bears and set franchise passing records in his second year when he threw for 3,838 yards with 29 touchdowns, the latter of which still stands as a single-season mark. If a neck injury had not derailed his career, he might have had greater success.
Thomas Jones, RB, 2004: Arguably the best free agent addition in team history. After a bad start to his career with the Cardinals and Buccaneers, the Bears signed him to a $10 million, four-year contract in 2004, a deal that turned into a bargain indeed. He helped the team to an 11-victory season in 2005, steadying an offense rookie quarterback Kyle Orton guided, and was the main offensive weapon on the Super Bowl XLI team. Ran for 3,493 yards in only 45 games with the Bears and would have had much more if not for 2005 draft bust Cedric Benson.
John Tait, OL, 2004: The Bears were able to get Tait from the Chiefs, who had placed the transition tag on him, with a $33 million, six-year contract. He helped solidify the line, which was a mess when he arrived. Playing both on the left and right sides, the tackle started 73 games in five seasons. Tait never went to a Pro Bowl, but he was a dependable performer who paved the way for a pair of 1,000-yard backs in Thomas Jones and Matt Forte.
Roberto Garza, G, 2005: Garza was all set to join the Ravens with a $7 million, three-year contract in 2005 before he failed their physical because he was missing the ACL in his right knee. The Bears took a chance on him with a one-year contract and he remains with them today. Garza has played both guard spots and center with 145 starts over the last 10 seasons.
Julius Peppers, DE, 2010: Signed to the largest contract in team history in 2010 — a six-year deal with a max value of $91.5 million and $42 million guaranteed — Peppers immediately righted coach Lovie Smith’s defense, one that had struggled badly in 2009. Named to the Pro Bowl in his first three seasons with the Bears, Peppers was a force and wound up with 371/2 sacks in 64 games before being released because of a bulging salary cap number last year.
Bryan Cox, LB, 1996: A three-time Pro Bowl selection with the Dolphins during his first five seasons in the NFL, the Bears made Cox the highest-paid player in team history in 1996 when he was signed to a $13.2 million, four-year contract. He lasted only two seasons because the team grew weary of his critical remarks.
Thomas Smith, CB, 2000: A solid cornerback for seven seasons with the Bills, the signing of Smith to a $22 million, five-year contract in 2000 was a major miscalculation. Not only did Smith last only one season, he played in the NFL only one more year after that.
Frank Omiyale, OL, 2009: The Bears signed Omiyale to a $14 million, four-year contract in 2009 with the hope that he would be an anchor on the offensive line. He lasted three seasons, two as a starter, but never turned into a building block for the offense.
Chester Taylor, RB, 2010: In the first of a series of regrettable contracts for backups to Matt Forte (see Marion Barber and Michael Bush), the Bears signed Taylor to a $12.5 million, four-year contract in 2010 and he collected $7 million for only one season of work. It was a great contract for the player and an absolute dud for the organization as Taylor averaged 2.4 yards per carry on 112 attempts, the worst average by a back with at least 100 rushes since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Barber and Bush were similar failures with the team.
Sam Hurd, WR, 2011: Normally, a $5.15 million, three-year contract, wouldn’t cost the organization enough money to land a player on this kind of list. But the embarrassment Hurd caused was plenty damaging as he didn’t last six months before he was arrested on charges of attempting to launch a drug-dealing empire. He now resides in federal prison in Bastrop, Texas, with a scheduled release date of Aug. 30, 2025.
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