Chicago Sun-Times

January 2008 Archives

PHOENIX—The NFLPA released the official 2008 franchise and transition tender amounts at its annual meeting Thursday afternoon.

The numbers are based on the top five and top 10 players at each position using salary-cap numbers from 2007. It’s no surprise that quarterbacks will again be highest with a franchise number of $10.73 million and a transition figure of $9.5 million.

The highest cap number for a safety in 2007? The Bears’ Adam Archuleta at $5.095 million. Tenth on the list was Mike Brown at $3,106,666. Archuleta’s base salary for 2008 is $730,000 as the bulk of his money has already come.

Briggs passes on Pro Bowl

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It could very well be Lance Briggs wore a Bears helmet for the final time on Dec. 30 against the New Orleans Saints.

The linebacker backed out of the Pro Bowl on Tuesday. He had an ailing groin muscle at the end of the regular season, although it was not believed to be serious and he played down the stretch. The league didn’t specify a reason for the decision, which led to Greg Ellis being named as the 13th Dallas Cowboy to the NFC roster. That is an NFL record.

Bears add P Pakulak

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The Bears must have liked what they saw in punter Glenn Pakulak the first time they had him in because he’s back.

The club signed him to a reserve/future contract on Tuesday.

Pakulak was in a group of a half-dozen punters that were worked out when the team signed Dirk Johnson as a temporary replacement for Brad Maynard on Sept. 16. Maynard had a balky groin, and the team chose Johnson while also taking a look at Pakulak, Scott Player and Danny Baugher.

PHOENIX—The story has been out for a few days and it’s worth taking a look at it if you haven’t seen it.

ESPN.com ranks the 82 starting quarterbacks in the history of the Super Bowl.

From San Francisco’s Joe Montana in Super Bowl XXIV at the very top of the list all the way down to New England’s Tony Eason in Super Bowl XX. The Bears got after him in such a way he was gone during the second quarter after completing none of his six passes and losing a fumble.

PHOENIX—It was a year ago tomorrow that the Bears landed in Miami for Super Bowl XLI.

My how things change in the course of a year,

The Bears stumbled to a 7-9 finish, made more palatable by meaningless season-ending victories over Green Bay and New Orleans. The club is in the process of preparing for the draft and free agency, and organizational meetings that will shape the 2008 season will begin shortly after the Super Bowl. The month off from the end of the season ought to take some of the emotion out of the critical decisions that need to be made.

So, you say you want to place the franchise tag on wide receiver Bernard Berrian for the 2008 season.

That move will cost the Bears $7.8 million for 2008 as the figures for franchise and transition tags have been released (see below for complete breakdown).

That’s a lot of money to fork over for a receiver coming off a season with 71 receptions for 951 yards and five touchdowns. Of course, with a more settled offense and a stable quarterback position, his production would no doubt be enhanced.

General manager Jerry Angelo, in his postseason address, did not rule out the possibility of using the franchise tag on Berrian. The transition tag number is $6.9 million.

The debates have already been fired up when it comes to where the New England Patriots will rank in football immortality should they win Super Bowl XLII and finish a perfect 19-0.

Some favor the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were dominant on offense in 1979 with a still rock solid defense. Previous versions during the decade of disco had more dominant defenses. Pick whichever one you like.

It’s hard to make any case against the 1972 Dolphins, who were a perfect 17-0. But consider this ... the unbeaten Dolphins were actually underdogs going into Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins. How is the greatest team of all-time a ’dog on the sport’s ultimate stage?

Harris bows out of Pro Bowl

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Tommie Harris took about a month to make it official as he bowed out of the Pro Bowl on Thursday because of his left knee that was troublesome almost all season.

He will be replaced on he NFC roster by Arizona’s Darnell Dockett, who had a career year for the Cardinals with 75 tackles and nine sacks.

Word out of Baltimore is that Ron Rivera could be back as a defensive coordinator in 2008.

Rivera has close ties with new Ravens coach John Harbaugh from their days together in Philadelphia, and something could materialize soon.

Lance Briggs has been laying low in Chicago since the season ended and his headed to Arizona, where he recently purchased a home, next week. His arrival will coincide with Super Bowl week in Phoenix. Briggs visited with Andrew Siciliano and Krystal Fernandez on FOX GameTime Live Tuesday evening.

Here are some highlights from he radio interview:

Siciliano: You're going back to Arizona next week, you'll run into all of your friends. They're going to ask you, where are you going to be next year. What are you going to tell them?

Briggs: I'm going to tell them I don't know right now. I don't know, I can't say, but wherever it is, I'm going to be happy.

Found a familiar face in the New England locker room inside Gillette Stadium Sunday night when Rosevelt Colvin came hobbling along using a small cart to keep his right leg up.

The ex-Bear suffered a broken bone in the Patriots’ 11th game that knocked him out for the season. He’ll miss his second Super Bowl with the Pats next week in Glendale, Ariz. Colvin didn’t talk a lot about the injury, but insisted he’s on the comeback trail. It was an odd little contraption he was scooting along with, and the AFC Championship Game is the first game he’s attended since being injured making one wonder if he underwent surgery.

``They don’t think it’s serious,’’ Colvin said. ``Obviously I’m with the cart, but I should be cool when everything comes around.

``I missed the first [Super Bowl since signing with New England] in Houston in ’03 when I first got here. But fortunately, the next year we went back. Hopefully, the guys are going to take care of business. They’ve been playing good all year.’’

A recent project for the Sporting News forced me to take a look at the Bears’ draft needs. The direction the team will—or should—take heading to April has sparked great debate on here already and no doubt will continue to do so.

There are a number of ways you can arrange the team’s needs and make plenty of sense. I framed my responses with the knowledge that general manager Jerry Angelo has already stepped out and declared offense to be the organization’s No. 1 priority for the offseason. Angelo’s known for being honest in making these types of assessments, and it’s something to keep in mind when you are thinking about moving safety or defensive tackle up on the club’s list of priorities.

Free agency will shape a lot of what happens in the draft ... but here is one man’s list:

Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Thursday that the NFL would return to Europe for a game in the 2008 regular season.

Miami and the New York Giants met at London's Wembley Stadium in October and more than 80,000 fans showed up for the game.

Goodell called the experience one of the highlights of the season.

Pitchers and catchers are less than a month away from reporting to spring training ... but more importantly the countdown to the NFL draft is at 100 days.

That gives you enough time for, what, a few dozen mock drafts to enjoy, study or just plain mock.

The Bears added a third wrinkle to the changes on the coaching staff as assistant defensive backs coach Gill Byrd was promoted to assistant DB’s/safeties coach.

GREEN BAY, Wis.—In an NFL career that spanned 19 seasons, Dave Krieg never got to do what he always wanted to—play for the Green Bay Packers.

And if he couldn’t do that, he’d have liked to have joined the Bears before 1996 when he was in the twilight of his career at 37. Spotted Sunday night at Lambeau Field, Krieg said he’s well aware of the Bears’ incessant issues at the position. He’s on the list of 21 quarterbacks to start for the franchise during the ironman streak of the Packers Brett Favre, who he was waiting to visit with in the locker room following the game.

Krieg was raised in Wausau, Wis., and went to now defunct Milton College, not far from Janesville, Wis., just north of Rockford, Ill. The three-time Pro Bowler still ranks among the most prolific passers in league history with 38,147 yards. He made 12 starts in ’96 and compiled a passer rating of 76.3. Of the club’s regular starters since only Erik Kramer (1998), Shane Matthews (1999) and Jim Miller (2002) fared better.

Drew Rosenhaus makes a good point.

It’s one of the primary reasons why weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs is expected to be the gem of free agency, or at the very least one of the top players available.

“How often does a three-time Pro Bowler make it to free agency in the prime of his career?’’ Rosenhaus said Tuesday afternoon appearing on ESPN News.

His point is well taken. Briggs is 27 and has missed only two games over the last five seasons. He said last offseason he wanted out of town to escape the shadow of teammate Brian Urlacher. It’s believed the Bears will have to pay a premium to retain his services after Briggs earned $7.206 million this past season when he finished second on the team in tackles.

Lovie Smith will not be conducting job interviews as the Senior Bowl next week.

Not for a linebackers coach, anyway.

The team moved quickly to fill the vacancy created last week by the resignation of Hardy Nickerson, promoting defensive assistant Lloyd Lee into the position.

Green Bay middle linebacker Nick Barnett, he with the chip on his shoulder the size of the state of Wisconsin for not making the Pro Bowl, stood at his locker Saturday night at Lambeau Field after the Packers had dismantled Seattle 42-20 to reach the NFC Championship Game.

The Packers defense, which has been overlooked at times, lost in the immense shadow cast by quarterback Brett Favre, had just limited the Seahawks to two field goals in the final 56 minutes after two Ryan Grant fumbles staked Seattle to a quick 14-0 lead.

There was a team more banged up than the Bears this season.

In fact, there were seven of them.

Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News charts annually the effects of injuries leaguewide, and filed his report earlier this week. It’s worth checking out.

By Gosselin’s count, the Bears lost 60 games by starters (from the outset of the season) to injury.

The Bears trailed Buffalo (89), Indianapolis (81), Arizona (75), St. Louis (71), Miami (70), Houston (64) and Denver (63). Notice, the Colts were the only one of the bunch to make the playoffs. In fact, Indy and Washington (57) were the only two clubs in the top 12 to qualify for the postseason.

Len Pasquarelli of espn.com is reporting that the Buffalo Bills will make a promotion from within to fill the general manager position vacated by Mary Levy, who retired following the season.

That means Bears college scouting director Greg Gabriel will not be leaving to return home, a fit the Buffalo News reasoned would be natural.

It’s an interesting move by Lovie Smith to add an assistant defensive line coach to the mix in Northwestern’s Eric Washington.

It makes sense with the numbers on the line and the youth. The Bears are going to be counting on a big season next year from tackle Dusty Dvoracek, and will need a bounce back season from Mark Anderson at end. The team insists he graded out well for the season, but the fact is his production wasn’t nearly what it was as a rookie. Then there’s Matt Toeaina, the late-season pickup from Cincinnati, who made a nice impression in the final three games.

Northwestern defensive line coach Eric Washington will be hired to the Bears coaching staff.

It's not known exactly what role Washington will hold yet, but Lovie Smith has decided to add an assistant defensive line position to the staff, and interviewed candidates for the position this week.

Surprise, surprise.

Devin Hester was chosen as the punt returner for the Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America All-NFL team. The record breaker was picked as the returner for the Associated Press All-Pro team earlier in the week. He was the only Bear selected.

Rookie Greg Olsen was chosen as the tight end for the All Rookie team.

After New England’s Randy Moss, Bernard Berrian figures to be the biggest name on the free-agent market for teams seeking a wide receiver.

Berrian is coming off a career year with 71 receptions for 951 yards and five touchdowns, numbers that would have been slightly higher had the offense not gone into a run-first mode in the final three games with Kyle Orton at quarterback. Berrian had just seven catches for 68 yards and one score in those games.

Teams looking to add a vertical threat to their offense will look at him as a possibility, and interestingly general manager Jerry Angelo indicated that the franchise tag isn’t out of the question for Berrian. What’s striking is that figure for a receiver next season will approach $8 million. That’s roughly the amount in guaranteed money the organization offered Berrian in a longterm extension last summer when it also made inquiries with cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher.

There have not been decisions like this for Bears general manager Jerry Angelo in regards to free agency since shortly after he came on the job in 2001. The club has been that good at keeping its own players in-house, and now it faces the possible exit of two Pro Bowlers, the top receiver over the last two seasons and the quarterback that took the team to Super Bowl XLI.

Yes, big decisions loom and the Bears are not the one with complete control of the situation any longer. The players have a say in their futures. While the focus is on linebacker Lance Briggs, wide receiver Bernard Berrian and quarterback Rex Grossman, who all will become unrestricted Feb. 29, they’re not the only ones.

The organization needs to determine at what price they will go after these players, and chart a course of action in the event that dollar amount does not get the job done. There are going to be plenty of factors at play, and they’re not even the only unrestricted players. Special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo would be a nice piece to the puzzle, but is seeking top dollar. Third tight end John Gilmore is also headed to the open market.

Not that the Bears were going to be a bidder for the services of Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson anyway ... but it looks like the Browns are going to make a run at re-signing him longterm which would keep him off the market altogether.

Anderson will be a restricted free agent starting March 1, and the Browns are expected to tender him with the highest offer, which would give them the right of first refusal and first- and third-round draft picks as compensation should he sign elsewhere.

But word out of Cleveland is the Browns will look to get something done with Anderson, while also taking care of coach Romeo Crennel.

Return specialist Devin Hester was voted to the Associated Press' All-Pro team for the second time. Hester scored an NFL record six touchdowns on returns this past season, four on punts and two on kickoffs.

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is Tuesday, giving eligible players six more days to toss their hat in the ring.

Four running backs have already announced they will forgo future college eligibility to turn pro, including Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall.

There will be some turnover on coach Lovie Smith’s staff afterall.

The Sun-Times learned Tuesday linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson will not return to the Bears for the 2008 season, leaving after one season of working under Smith, who was his position coach for a stretch during the prime of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A player said Nickerson resigned.

Word out of Washington is the Redskins could be interested in Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs ... again.

The Redskins swung and missed angling for Briggs last March when the Bears declined to trade the linebacker and the 31st overall pick in the draft for the No. 6 pick which GM Jerry Angelo would have used to select LSU safety LaRon Landry. Rumors are that the Bears tried to get Washington to add linebacker Rocky McIntosh to the deal but the Redskins balked.

The five-day window teams have to exclusively negotiate with their own players for futures/reserve contracts has ended, meaning the Bears can begin shopping elsewhere. Futures contracts are essentially what teams use to retain the services of players who were on the practice squad whose contracts expire at the end of each season. It's what the players allocated to NFL Europe used to sign before the developmental league went belly up.

The Bears had hoped to sign cornerback Greg Fassitt to such a deal, but he is believed to be checking out what other offers could be available after spending the season on the practice squad. With starting corners Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher recently signing longterm extensions, and with veteran Ricky Manning Jr. and draft picks Trumaine McBride and Corey Graham blocking him, it only makes sense.

There is a breakdown of the top 15 salary-cap figures on the Bears’ roster for the 2007 season in the Sunday print/online edition.

It’s interesting to see how the pie was divided for the season and what the organization got for its money. The figures are not what the players earned in pay for the season, but the space they took up under the salary cap, which was at $109 million unadjusted. The good news moving forward for the Bears is they are in solid footing under the cap, a product of strong drafting on defense and careful work by contract negotiator Cliff Stein. In fact, the Bears have so much room it may be a question of cash on hand and the spending budget instead of the salary cap when it comes to getting major deals done.

General manager Jerry Angelo and the front office will put values on players. You typically have to overpay in free agency, but if the Bears opt to do a big deal—like signing Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs to a longterm contract—the room is there and then some. Briggs commanded the most cap space in ’07 by virtue of the franchise tag for $7.206 million.

The agent for Canadian Football League running back Joe Smith said the Bears are not one of the teams in the mix for his services.

“To be honest, no,” Harold Lewis told the Sun-Times Saturday morning when asked if the Bears had extended a contract offer to Smith, who has set records with the British Columbia Lions. “We don’t have an offer from the Bears. We have a lot of interest from a lot of teams around the league. There are about four or five teams interested in signing Joe.

“We’re going to make a move with somebody. We don’t know who yet. We’ve gotten quite bit of interest from a few East Coast teams, and some teams that are going through coaching changes, but I have not had dialogue with the Bears.”

Could the Bears be looking to the north for the first person to provide competition general manager Jerry Angelo has promised for running back Cedric Benson?

The Metro News of Toronto reports that the Bears and New York Jets have offered contracts to running back Joe Smith, of the British Columbia Lions of the CFL. Smith set a Lions’ franchise record with 1,510 yards this past season, scoring 18 touchdowns. In two seasons with BC, he’s totaled 2,397 yards with 27 scores and a 5.4-yard per carry average.

Devin Hester took the offensive as a wide receiver in the season finale, and it's going to cost him.

The league announced Friday that Hester was fined $5,000 for unnecessary roughness stemming from the facemask penalty he was called for at the end of the first quarter. In trying to elude New Orleans Saints cornerback Jason Craft, Hester went to stiff arm him and instead got ahold of the facemask. A 15-yard penalty was called.

The Bears have expressed interest in signing cornerback Greg Fassitt to a futures contract, but after spending the entire season on the practice squad, he is open to exploring other options.

Meet the press: Angelo

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When Jerry Angelo finally emerged to discuss the season that disappointed him to the point of making him scarce for a few months, at least the Bears general manager stood and talked for a solid half-hour.

What he actually revealed was very little as he prepares for organizational meetings that will chart a course for the coming months. Sure, he shared his disdain for the state of the offense, but those expecting a bold proclamation were not entering Thursday’s press conference realistically. The nucleus for a top 10 defense remains in place and Angelo likes some of the pieces on offense.

We’ll run down some of the highlights from the session:

Q: Will you explore opportunities to upgrade at the quarterback position?
A: We’ll look at anything. I know that sounds cliché-ish but we will. We’ll look at anything that we feel that will be able to upgrade our roster. But we also have to be pragmatic about it as well. So I’m not going to rule anything out at this point. We were a 7-9 football team. Obviously we have things that need to be corrected and fixed and we have to be honest in our evaluation and we will be honest in our evaluation. And once we determine what our needs are then we’ll address those first and go from there.

Jerry Angelo will address the Bears’ 7-9 season this morning at 10. It will be the first time the general manager has met with assembled media since Halloween as he became unavailable during the second half of the season after years of mingling in the press box on game days. Perhaps Angelo allowed coach Lovie Smith to be a single voice for the organization during the season.

Whatever the reason, Angelo’s voice will be the one that resonates in the offseason as the club prepares for free agency and the draft, where it holds the No. 14 pick. Smith has already let everyone know he would like his entire coaching staff to return, as well as the entire 53-man roster.

A league source said no permission has been requested for the Buffalo Bills to speak with Bears college scouting director Greg Gabriel.

It remains to be seen whether Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson or coach Dick Jauron would be interested in him for the now vacant GM post there, but the Buffalo News seemed to think Gabriel would be a fit to work for his hometown Bills.

Pro Bowl returner Devin Hester was named the NFC's special teams player of the week for the fourth time this season and the seventh time in his career after a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown vs. New Orleans.

It marked the sixth return score of the season, an NFL single-season record.

Boise State's Ryan Clady announced on Tuesday he would forego his final season of eligibility to turn pro for the April draft.

Clady is viewed as a potential first-round pick, adding depth at a position the Bears have to address early after ignoring it in the draft for five years.

He becomes the sixth offensive tackle with credential to potentially be a first-round selection, meaning there will be some choices for Jerry Angelo at No. 14 should he opt for a tackle there.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2007 is the previous archive.

February 2008 is the next archive.

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