<
>

Kyle Fuller represents Bears' biggest free-agent decision

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The NFL's offseason is about to heat up.

Barring the use of the franchise or transition tag -- the window for clubs to designate players opens Tuesday -- the Chicago Bears have 25 free agents on their current roster. Additionally, they hold a team option on veteran guard Josh Sitton.

The majority (19) of those players fall under the category of being unrestricted free agents, but the Bears also have five restricted free agents and one exclusive-rights free agent.

Teams are permitted to enter into contract negotiations with agents beginning March 12, but a contract cannot be executed with a new club until the 2018 NFL league year begins at 4 p.m. ET on March 14.

Prior to that, teams must also submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents to retain a right of first refusal (and receive compensation if the players signs elsewhere) and submit a minimum salary tender to their exclusive-rights free agents to retain an exclusive negotiating window.

With free agency fast approaching, here are the top 10 Bears players with expiring contracts:

Kyle Fuller, CB, UFA: Fuller, the Bears' 2014 first-round draft pick, looked all but done in Chicago before the start of the regular season. After he suspiciously missed the entire 2016 season after a routine knee scope, the Bears declined Fuller's fifth-year option. They brought in multiple cornerbacks last spring, in essence to replace Fuller, but the 25-year old defensive back had arguably his best season with 67 tackles, two interceptions and 22 pass breakups.

Prince Amukamara, CB, UFA: For the most part, Amukamara -- paid $7 million guaranteed in 2017 -- worked out for the Bears. While he failed to intercept a pass for the second consecutive season -- Amukamara's inability to take the ball away is probably his biggest downside -- the seven-year veteran played adequately enough to start 12 games.

Cameron Meredith, WR, RFA: Meredith, who had a solid season in 2016 (66-888-4), expressed confidence in January that he'll be ready by the beginning of training camp. However, the nasty nature of the knee injury he suffered in Chicago's preseason game in Tennessee makes it impossible to accurately project when he will be back, or if he'll be the same receiver he once was. Still, Meredith is only 25.

Mark Sanchez, QB, UFA: Chicago's No. 3 quarterback dutifully served as Mitchell Trubisky's mentor last season. The Bears will undoubtedly bring in another quarterback in the offseason (likely to replace Glennon), but there may be value in retaining Sanchez.

Kendall Wright, WR, UFA: Wright was the only Bears receiver to crack the 50-catch barrier (59) in 2017. He caught a season-high 10 passes for 107 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14.

Zach Miller, TE, UFA: Miller -- the Bears' most productive tight end with 20 receptions for 236 yards and two touchdowns -- suffered a gruesome dislocated knee that required emergency surgery to save his left leg. Miller's football career is at a crossroads.

Mitch Unrein, DL, UFA: Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has publicly expressed confidence in Unrein, who had 32 tackles and 2.5 sacks before being placed on injured reserve Dec. 5. Health permitting, the Bears are likely to attempt to keep Unrein around.

Christian Jones, ILB, UFA: Jones has started 31 games for the Bears over four seasons. After falling out of the linebacker mix in 2016, Jones posted 83 tackles and two sacks last season. Jones, 27, is a candidate to be re-signed, especially given the expected departure of veteran linebacker Jerrell Freeman.

Pat O'Donnell, P, UFA: O'Donnell averaged a career-high 47.0 yards per punt in 2017. The 2014 sixth round pick also tied his career-best in net average (39.7), dropped 27 punts inside the 20-yard line and had a long punt of 69 yards. It makes sense for O'Donnell to receive a new deal.

Bryce Callahan, CB, RFA: When healthy, Callahan is a quality slot defender. In 12 appearances (six starts) in 2017, Callahan recorded 25 tackles, two interceptions and six pass breakups.

Chicago's remaining free agents:

Unrestricted: Sam Acho, Tom Compton, Benny Cunningham, Sherrick McManis, Bradley Sowell, Andrew DePaola, Lamarr Houston, Dontrelle Inman, John Jenkins, Mike Nugent and Cairo Santos.

Restricted: Joshua Bellamy, John Timu and Daniel Brown.

Exclusive rights: Patrick Scales.