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Chicago Bears: Most Important Players to Bring Back Next Season

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COMMENTARY | The Chicago Bears have been busy, uh, since their season met an abrupt end at the hands of the rival Green Bay Packers.

After signing kicker Robbie Gould to a four-year extension and fullback Tony Fiammetta to a two-year contract, the Bears wasted no time in signing Jay Cutler to a monster seven-year deal (which I said was a good idea in a previous piece), and then Matt Slauson and Tim Jennings each got four-year contracts of their own.

Even after all that, the Bears still have 26 free agents to be, and have a tight money window in which to make their choices.

Here are the most important players the Bears should strive to keep:

Charles Tillman - Cornerback
The rumors around the Bears are that they would be unable to afford to keep both Jennings and Tillman. And with Jennings already getting a contract, you have to wonder if the Bears are preparing to let Tillman (and his $8 million salary) walk. Zachary Bowman filled in capably, and it's easy to forget that the Bears played the entire season without their nickelback, Kelvin Hayden (also a free agent).

All that said, Tillman has to be someone you want in your secondary if the money issue could be worked out. His career that boasts 36 interceptions, 40 forced fumbles, and 9 defensive touchdowns makes him a welcome addition. But with Lovie Smith hired in Tampa Bay, there are rumors Tillman may head there. The Bears' cornerbacks weren't all that bad this season, but losing someone like Tillman is never easy.

Henry Melton/Jay Ratliff/Nate Collins - Defensive Tackle
We all saw what happens to the Bears' defense when they don't consistently rush the passer and don't control the line of scrimmage. Melton's injury early on hurt. The Bears not only lost a Pro-Bowl defender, but they also took a hit to their depth.

With the jury still out on Shea McClellin and Julius Peppers soon to be gone (possibly even being cut), it looks like the Bears will need to get their results in the near future from the line's interior. Ratliff was a great find for the Bears late in the year, and Collins looked strong before going down. Money probably prevents all three of these guys getting signed, but the Bears should try for at least two of them.

D.J. Williams - Middle Linebacker
After rookie Jonathon Bostic played a strong preseason, many of us wondered why the veteran D.J. Williams got the starting nod despite being injured. After Williams went down again midway through the year, we saw that Bostic was still very raw. Another year or two playing behind someone like Williams might give Bostic time to properly develop.

Josh McCown - Quarterback
With Jay Cutler's mega-deal, McCown clearly won't have a chance to start. The Bears could still go after a late-round quarterback in the draft to serve as the backup, but that might make more sense a couple of years into Cutler's contract when they might realistically begin grooming a successor.

McCown, at 34 years old, would be a superb security blanket for those two years because 1) he clearly thrives in Mark Trestman's offense, and 2) Jay Cutler has to be looked at as injury prone. Like most of the players on this list, the money will be the deciding issue, but having lackluster backups has cost the Bears a couple of chances at playoff runs during Cutler's tenure. Until Cutler shows lasting durability, McCown would bring a lot of stability to an ever-improving Bears offense.

Honorable Mentions

Devin Hester - Kick/Punt Returner
The Bears would survive just fine without him, but he's a legend. And it would be nice to see him finish his career as a Bear while he continues to break records.

Roberto Garza - Center
The offensive line has the other four positions locked into contracts, so Garza isn't a huge deal. However, despite his age (34), keeping a stellar offensive line intact (after being awful for several years prior) might be a priority worth considering.

Zachary Bowman / Kelvin Hayden - Cornerback
If Tillman walks, sign both of them. If he doesn't, the Bears can probably get by with one or the other.

Brian is a lifelong Chicago Bears follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him an opportunity to closely follow Chicago sports and has allowed him to contribute to Yahoo Sports,Yahoo Voices, and various independent sports blogs. Brian is also a senior in college majoring in creative writing.

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