Chicago Sun-Times

Berrian can shoot for the sky with help from unlikely source

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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.

While that offer was just an initial feeler to see where Berrian stood, it would mean his value has gone up substantially in the eyes of the club in a year’s time to pay him that much for just one season. Especially when most consider him a No. 2 receiver.

Someone has to catch the ball

Certainly, there is great need at the position. Muhsin Muhammad turns 35 and is in the twilight of his career. Former second-round draft pick Mark Bradley is coming off a season with six catches. While it’s a mystery who will be throwing the ball for the Bears when the season opens in September, it’s just as big a puzzle when you ask yourself who is going to be catching those passes. Certainly Devin Hester possesses all of the tools to continue excelling on offense, but to see him become a No. 1 next season, well, that might be wishful thinking. Berrian was certainly the closest thing to a No. 1 for the Bears in 2007.

Here's where the help comes from

The Bears have plenty of salary-cap room to re-sign Berrian longterm. But there’s a wild card out there and it has nothing to do with any of the other available receivers. Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald is expected to revamp the way receivers are paid. By being named to his second Pro Bowl in four seasons, Fitzgerald triggered a $10 million escalator in his contract that makes his salary nearly impossible for the Cardinals to handle. He’s coming his second 100-yard catch in three years and tied previous career highs with 1,409 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Fitzgerald’s base pay for 2008 is scheduled to be $14,592,500. His cap figure for ’08? An even more unpalatable $16.49 million. Couple that with a base pay for 2009 that is currently $17,355,000, and it screams restructure. And it will be a doozy when it’s re-done.

How high is the ceiling?

With Fitzgerald, the third pick from the 2004 draft, owed $31,947,500 over the next two seasons, what is he going to demand? A lot of agents use the money in the first three years of a deal to judge contracts side-by-side. The reason is a lot of times the big dollars in the back end of deals are never fully realized. If a star player signs a lucrative extension, chances are he’s going to be around to collect every buck in the first three seasons.

Here’s a guess at a figure Fitzgerald will be gunning for—try $40 million over the first three seasons of the contract. If he’s owed nearly $32 million for the next two seasons, why would he angle for anything less? Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney picked up $37.5 million in the first three years of his blockbuster extension. Fitzgerald has hit the levers in his contract to trigger a massive pay day, or massive pay days, and his windfall is going to come one way or another.

For the sake of comparison, say Fitzgerald gets just that from the Bidwill family -- $40 million over three seasons --where does Berrian stack up? No one is going to compare Berrian on the field to Fitzgerald, but in a pass-oriented system like Fitzgerald, Berrian’s numbers would be enhanced. In a market with multiple bidders, could he could approach half of that $40 million? Remember, after Moss there just isn’t competition for Berrian, not after Patrick Crayton took that four-year extension for $14 million in Dallas. Crayton's deal included only $6 million guaranteed, and no doubt many will want to use that as a measuring stick with Berrian.

Of course, timing will be an issue. It’s not a matter of if the Cardinals go to Fitzgerald for a new contract, it’s when. If that occurs before free agency, or in the midst of the action, the ripple effect could reach Berrian. Certainly many teams would scoff at Berrian and $20 over the first three seasons of a contract. Probably even the Bears. But it only takes two teams to create a market.

Jerry said it best

``We are entering into a new marketplace,’’ Angelo said. ``I think that’s why you didn’t see a lot of extensions throughout the league because players, agents want to see what the marketplace is going to be now.’’

For what it's worth, the deadline for placing the franchise tag on a player is Feb. 21.

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3 Comments

Is it me, or is every team in Chicago content with mediocre these days. I am tired of waiting for our players to "develop". Whether it's Rex, Kirk, or Ramirez...it seems that the GM's in chicago are still earing revenue from the Jordan, Payton, and Sandberg era. Those days are gone! It is time to bring another marquee name to the windy city. Let's not forget where the city got it's name...not from the wind but from all ther hot air the politicians gave off. The only differnce is, it's the GM's of our beloved Chicago teams that are throwing empty promises at us faster thant a Mark Prior fastball. Another Ex-Chicago hopeful.

As much as we have wiffed on developing players, we as Chicagoans have seen our sports team let go good players and have left a void at positions, or let them go with no compensation. I wold like to see Berrien back, but at a deal similiar to Patrick Crayton. However if we lose him (and losing Briggs is inevitable) I would go after Brant Johnson of the Cardinals ( not the burner Berrien is, but at 6'3 he is a bigger target and runs good routes) and use the cap money to sign Michael Turner, Max Starks (could replace Miller) AND try and Sign Faneca. I still would draft an OL with the first 3 picks as well as as an Qb to devlop, and a defensive back. I would also cut Archuletta, Griese, Fred Miller and re-do Mooses and Mike Brown's contract. I hate to say it, but I would bring back Rex as well, and let him and Kyle battle it out for the number 1 spot with the drafted Qb waiting in the wing being devlop. That is, as long as the price for McNabb (which Philly isn't trading) and Anderson out of Cleveland are way to high.
I think the Bears could be not that far off. Thoughts?

If Berrian demands 20 over 3 then I say let him go. Everyone, outside of Jerry "even my hindsight sucks" Angelo, knows of the problems with QB, RB and esp O line. Those have to be fixed 1st before paying Berrian that type of money. There are only a handful of receivers that make your offense go good to great and while Berrian is good his type can be found in the draft. If you want to sign a wide receiver then look at Bryant Johnson of the Cardinals last I knew he was UFA and the Cardinals probably won't be able to pay him and Fitz, and Boldin. Just a thought. Oh yeah unless Matt Ryan is somehow available, draft OL in 1 and 3 and a quaterback like Flacco, in 2.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on January 11, 2008 6:54 AM.

The Bears and the restricted free agent market was the previous entry in this blog.

Hester makes another all-league team; Olsen selected too is the next entry in this blog.

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