Chicago Sun-Times

The Bears and the restricted free agent market

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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.

Then there are two restricted free agents to consider: safety Brandon McGowan and wide receiver Rashied Davis. The deadline for submission of qualifying offers by clubs to their restricted free agents whose contracts have expired and to whom they desire to retain a right of first refusal/compensation is Feb. 28.

Angelo has said he cannot count on veteran Mike Brown to return healthy, and it’s unknown if a decision on him has even been made. Brown is under contract for one more season. Safety remains a need position but McGowan could be part of the future. He came on down the stretch and was second to only team leader Brian Urlacher in tackles over the final five games.

McGowan has had trouble staying healthy, being forced out in 2006 with a ruptured Achilles tendon, and tearing an ACL in the final game of 2005. An elbow injury cost him two games during the middle of this past season. He plays with reckless abandon and was improving as the season ended.

``I think I stepped up and did what I had to do as a player,’’ McGowan said. ``I think I still should have made a few more plays. Overall, I think I played pretty well. From week to week and day to day, coming in here and watching film, I got better every day. Working with the coaches more it helped me out a lot.

``My mind set is going into next season as a starter. You never know what will happen.’’

For the most part, the Bears have not had to deal with RFA’s much because the organization began a consistent policy in 2003 of having draft picks from rounds three on down sign four-year contracts. By paying a higher signing bonus (and setting up an escalator on the back end) the Bears avoided players hitting the semi-open market as an RFA after their third season. That’s when other teams can have a say in how you conduct your business, and how the Bears snagged cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. from the Carolina Panthers.

It’s part of the reason cornerback Nathan Vasher had his nose wrinkled after reaching the Pro Bowl at the end of his second season. He was on the hook for two more seasons with his rookie contract. It’s something that fueled Briggs’ ire when he was drafted, but his only recourse was to hold out as a third-round pick. That would have been a worse decision than signing a four-year contract. But the Bears have been consistent—seventh-round picks get the higher signing bonus on a four-year deal even though their chances of making the roster are remote.

In the case of McGowan and Davis, neither were draft picks so there can be no compensation at the low level tender.

Here are the tender numbers for 2008 restricted free agents:

Level 1 Right of first refusal (ROFR) $927,000
Level 2 ROFR and original round draft pick compensation $927,000
Level 3 ROFR and second-round draft pick $1,417,000
Level 4 ROFR and first-round draft pick $2,017,000
Level 5 ROFR and first- and third-round draft picks $2,562,000

So the Bears could tender Level 1 offers to both players and pay them that salary for 2008 if the marketplace doesn’t bring any offer sheets.

With the offense struggling as it did, Davis didn’t take a step forward from his 2006 season when he emerged as a slot receiver catching 22 passes and two touchdowns, one a game-winner at Minnesota. He had only 17 receptions and went seven games without one. Still, he found a way to make more significant contributions on special teams when numbers were thinned, and might create interest from other teams who envision him doing more in their schemes.

It’s not altogether a bad thing to have another team negotiate a contract for an RFA, either. It establishes a market value for the player and allows you to decide if you want to pay the going rate. It’s what the Bears did with Israel Idonije when Buffalo signed the versatile defensive lineman to an $8.2 million, four-year offer sheet in March 2006. The Bears also matched an RFA offer sheet Minnesota had used to sign kicker Paul Edinger in 2003. Two years earlier, they passed when the Vikings signed receiver D'Wayne Bates away with an offer sheet.

If the Bears choose not to tender qualifying offers to the players, they will become unrestricted Feb. 29, free to negotiate with anyone. That’s entirely possible as the lowest tender is more than double the $435,000 Davis and McGowan each earned this past season.

So the question is, do the Bears want to more than double the pay of Davis and McGowan for 2008? At least the team is operating from solid ground with roughly $20 million in available cap space.

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Keep Rashied Davis. He's been great in his limited role on special teams either leading the way for Devin or taking it a few yards himself on short kicks which we'll be seeing more and more. He's also a good, quick receiver that should have seen more playing time on the offense.

John Gilmore is the glue!

if the bears keep any of the free agents for 08' they will be in the same mess they were this year. the last two games of 07' should be the team in 08.

John Gilmore is the glue? To what? ... to a team who's offensive MVP is the punter. Ya gotta get the ball in Brad Maynard's hands he's special.

Rashied Davis did what on offense? Hey if you have noticed the starting WRs would not even make into 4 WR set on the Colts, Patriots, Steelers, Cowboys, Rams, hell maybe even the Raiders. So why should the Bears keep the 4th WR on one of the worst offenses in the NFL. Can't catch, ourun anybody ,but you gotta resign him. Meatball fans (aka those who constantly look back to 85)see these "Ham & Egg" players as the next potential Pro Bowler help keep this team below average. Hey hears one, Bring back Zorich and convert him to LB to replace Briggs.

I have more fingers than guys that should be kepted on offense. Most of the players are old or just bad or both.

First priority is to keep Briggs and Ayanbadejo. They are elite players at their positionns which is hard to come by. Berrian has not shown me enough to warrant a big contract. He drops too many passes and does not score enough TDs. Brown is a keeper, eve with his injury-riddled past. I would like to see the Bears take a run at Michael Turner and a front-line receiver (Davis and Bradley have not shown enough). Davis is good on special teams (so he may be a godd fit for there and as a 4th receiver).

Gilmore is the third TE on one of the worst offenses in the league. enough said. We should be active in the fa market.

One player that impressed me was Toenaina, very strong and aggressive. And also Jimmy Kennedy. Sign them to long term deals. Don't worry about Briggs, but sign Berrian. With a decent quarterback and a improved offensive line, he will become a very dangerous wideout. I predict that Jamar Williams will be an all pro in two years.

Been watching Mike Brown work out in CA. He looks outstanding. No braces, just hard workout. Bears would be brainless to let him go.

there's three people we keep the rest let go .#1 BRIGGS (you read that right now read it again. #1 Briggs .Where known for our lbs . (If he stays at this pace to Urlacher?and we've got TWO players for the hall of fame please)#2 Brendan Ayanbadejo The guy is a special teams killer who finds the ball.(must be from chasing D.H. in practice?)#3 Berrian - just starting to peak...

players win games,coaches and mgrs. pick teams ,and mistakes are seen by all.The worst mistake a team can make is to let the wrong people go...

we do this and add a OL ,Safety,DT in the draft ,sign Faneca, and trade for McNabb .

Rashied Davis is an ok, likeable player, but he can go. That 3rd down/ special teams role could/should be filled by a draft pick/ young guy. They should keep McGowan - he has play-maker potential. Bradley, Muhammed and Berrian need to go (why invest big $ in a #2 receiver when you need to rebuild your O-line anyway) & the receiving corps needs to be completely revamped (ala New England w/ Moss, and the lesser-knowns Welker, Stallworth & Gafney). A mid-tier free agent, a draft pick & Hester are your top 3 receivers in 2008.

The only way Briggs and McNabb end up on the same team is if they're in Philly. Neither one will be in Chicago next year. Any thoughts to the contrary are pure fantasy. I like the idea of getting Faneca in FA. Then draft OL Loadholt out of Oklahoma (if he lasts to 14, that is; Jake Long with the Beloved, again, is pure fantasy), and you got yourself an almost decent line, if nobody gets hurt and Tait decides to not suck. Also, Michael Turner should be a priority, especially with all the cap room. I have no idea what to do at WR, though. On defense, Lord, please let the Ravens start *rebuilding* and trade us Ed Reed for Brian Griese and a second round pick (OK, i guess its my turn for pure fantasy).

The only way we would get a Great QB in chicago is if it was a fluke!Hasn't happened yet!Hpoefully Jerry Angelo will sign Alan Faneca.Re sign Briggs.Draft a star LT.Sign Fred taylor or burner Turner if ava.Re sign mike brown and Rex at way lower incentive deals.Dont resign Jhon Gilmore or Rasheed Davis.Only re-sign B.Berrian if its at a fair price.

Lets get something straight. Briggs is not irreplacable. I heard the same things being said about the last two linebackers that vacated his position. the system makes that position and williams will fill in nicley ay a much nicer price which will free up money for more pressing needs. Need #1)O-line, We are too old. We need to draft a young lineman with our first pick if a good one is still available and bring in a veteran whos not over 30. A better o-line will make our quarterbacks better and improve our running game for our #2 need. Michael the Burner Turner. Cedric Benson is not an elite back but can be second to none if splitting carries with another feature back. The money we dont spend on Briggs should cover for Turner. #3)resign Berrian, and Ayanbadejo we need them back as long as berrians price tag isnt too high, hes not a top ten reciever yet, but hasnt had the opportunity with the quarterback carosel and an o-line that dosnt give enough time. Keep Mike Brown. His risk is worth the reward, he is a stud. However we need to restructure his contract for playing time and bring someone in to back him up. Toeina need to be tied up for a few years. The Bears defense when at full strengh next season(barring injuries) is going to dominate again. Let the good times roll.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on January 10, 2008 11:28 AM.

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