AFC cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) of the Buffalo Bills celebrates an interception in the end zone during the Pro Bowl on Jan. 29, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. (Chris O?Meara / AP)

As the opening of free agency at 3 p.m. Thursday quickly approaches, there are two things to keep in mind when it comes to the Bears, who project to have nearly $70 million in salary cap room — once Jay Cutler is off the roster — and have a long list of holes to fill.

Think young, and at the skill positions think playmaker.

There’s only so much value in signing free agents in their 30s, and there are enough risks inherent in free agency to invest in players who have already peaked. The Bears also have a critical shortage of playmakers — players who can get in the end zone and players who can prevent touchdowns — a need driven home by their woefully low 11 takeaways in 2016, an NFL record.

General manager Ryan Pace did better in free agency last year when he focused on players coming out of their first contract than he did in his first foray in 2015. The Bears added defensive end Akiem Hicks, linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman and right tackle Bobby Massie. Freeman was the only one not coming out of his rookie deal.

The Bears are sure to keep that in mind as they look to accomplish two tasks: Fortify a foundation for long-term success and upgrade the roster with an eye toward avoiding another disastrous season, the kind that would likely lead to firings at Halas Hall.

The plan is to accomplish enough in the next week or so to put the team in position to execute Pace’s "best player available" approach when the draft arrives in late April. That’s when the Bears will almost certainly have to draft a quarterback unless they pull off a stunner and acquire Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots in trade.

Deals for last year’s free agents were modest in free-agent terms, and if the Bears are going to add real upgrades, the idea of fiscal responsibility goes out the window for one or two marquee additions. That’s the nature of the first wave of free agency. You have to overspend to get your guy (or guys) or you can wind up being runner-up for a player like cornerback Janoris Jenkins, as the Bears were last year.

Indications are the Bears will hotly pursue Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore and then likely draft a cornerback as they would like to have two new starters this season. That would slot Cre’Von LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan where they belong, competing for the nickel role.

Gilmore is 26 and has good size at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds with the ability to match up in man-to-man coverage as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio likes. How high could the price go? Gilmore could aim north of the $12.5 million Jenkins’ deal averages annually, and that would mean he could be the sixth-highest paid cornerback in the NFL. Good value? No. A necessary addition? Quite possibly.

The Bears need to add at least one starting safety and would be better off with two. It’s a good draft for the position and indications are the team has interest in the Cardinals’ D.J. Swearinger. He won’t command as much as his teammate Tony Jefferson, who is seeking $8 million per season. The 25-year-old Swearinger had his best season last year after previous stints with the Texans and Buccaneers.

Mike Glennon remains a very real option at quarterback. The price sounds shocking to some, but cap space is not an issue for the Bears, and the pay scale for quarterbacks is completely different than every other position. Whether Glennon commands $12 million per year or more, it’s still huge money for a guy who has not started the last two seasons. Understand this: If the Bears sign Glennon, it cannot be the final addition at the position this offseason, and quarterback has to remain the No. 1 draft need.

Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who turns 26 this month, would be a massive upgrade for a poor return game, and sources say he could be in play. Patterson, who could be a fourth receiver, began to fit in Minnesota’s offense last season when he played 50.4 percent of the offensive snaps and made 52 catches.

Ravens right tackle Ricky Wagner remains an interesting option. He’s 27 and coming out of his rookie contract, and sources say the Bears are in play. The Bears’ interest is curious coming a year after they signed Massie, who stands to collect a $1 million roster bonus if he is on the roster Saturday. Wagner is strictly a right tackle. Patterson might not be terribly expensive, but Wagner wants to be near the top of the right tackle market, which could mean $8 million per season.

If the Bears want to make a big show in free agency, they will have to dig deep to convince some players to come to Chicago. And coming off a 3-13 season with the future of the coaching staff at least a fair question, they will have to pay a premium.

Twitter @BradBiggs

This article was sourced from http://newsjeremycorbyn.com