Chicago is reportedly $30 million under next year’s salary cap, in part because of the new rule that lets teams carry over unused cap space. Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman will all be at least 10-year veterans next year. The 8-8 Bears will be in huge trouble when they slow down, so they need to win now. That means major upgrades at offensive line, receiver and in the secondary.

Chicago is reportedly $30 million under next year’s salary cap, in part because of the new rule that lets teams carry over unused cap space. Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman will all be at least 10-year veterans next year. The 8-8 Bears will be in huge trouble when they slow down, so they need to win now. That means major upgrades at offensive line, receiver and in the secondary.


New GM Phil Emery should draft a defensive back in the first round and try to sign free-agent Saints guard Carl Nicks. The 6-foot-5, 343-pound Nicks is a 26-year-old All-Pro who would let the Bears move former No. 1 pick Chris Williams back to tackle. Bills left tackle Demetrius Bell is a distant second choice.


Offensive linemen are the safest free agents you can sign. Get the best one. And then sign the best bargain for a pass catcher among several free agents. Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, Mario Manningham, Mike Wallace or even Jermichael Finley would be a huge upgrade.


3 Saints stars are free agents


No team is in more of a cap crunch than the 13-3 Saints, who have 13 unrestricted free agents, including quarterback Drew Brees, All-Pro guard Carl Nicks and five-time 1,000-yard receiver Marques Colston. That’s why Nicks might go.


Where should Peyton play?


Cooper Manning says his brother Peyton is “determined” to play next year. The Colts will surely rebuild with Andrew Luck. So what happens to Peyton Manning? Most of the teams mentioned as possibilities hold little appeal: the Redskins, Cardinals, Titans, Dolphins, Jaguars.


Manning, who will be 36 next year, needs more wins and titles, not more dollars after making $38 million last year, including $15 million in endorsements. He should try to play for the 49ers, who allowed 99 fewer points than any other team in the NFC last year. Or Ravens, who gave up the third-fewest points in football. Perhaps the Jets if he can put up with bombastic coach Rex Ryan. If not them, his best choice among teams prominently mentioned now is going back to Tennessee and playing for a Titans team that was 9-7 with an aging Matt Hasselbeck and a disappointing Chris Johnson.


Packers should draft corner


The Packers’ biggest need is for a pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews, but pass rusher is the riskiest position to predict. If I’m Green Bay, I draft a young cornerback in the first round and, if safety Nick Collins doesn’t return to health, move Charles Woodson to safety or nickel back. I’d also put the franchise tag on inconsistent but sometimes brilliant tight end Jermichael Finley. Green Bay can’t risk him going to the Bears, who haven’t had an explosive tight end since Mike Ditka.


Tom Brady’s legacy on line


If the Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl, Tom Brady may leap him past Joe Montana and John Elway for best QB ever in most critics’ minds. If he plays poorly in a loss, more people will notice his passer rating is 70.0 in five of his last six playoff games (not counting that blowout of the hapless Tim Tebow Broncos).


Contact Matt Trowbridge at 815-987-1383 or mtrowbridge@rrstar.com.