Chicago Sun-Times

February 2008 Archives

Whew. It has been a long 23 1/2 hours since free agency opened, and the Bears haven’t landed a single player. There have been a lot of signings leaguewide, a lot of innuendo and as usual a few misdirection plays. All in the name of the almighty dollar in the frenzied market we find every year.

Some initial reactions:

-- It’s nice to learn a little bit more about Tommy Kelly, the Raiders lineman who agreed to a record contract for defensive tackles on Thursday, $50.5 million over seven seasons with $18.125 million guaranteed. Kelly was an undrafted free agent from Mississippi State and the retiring Warren Sapp has been giving him props for some time. Kelly is even coming off a torn ACL.

That must make the arthroscopic surgery Tommie Harris had on his left knee in January not even worth discussing when it comes to contract negotiations for him.

The market for interior offensive linemen is shrinking and if the Bears are going to pursue one, they will need to act quickly.

Seven-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca did not need the weekend to weigh his offers. He agreed to a $32 million, four-year contract, according to ESPN.com, that includes $23 million guaranteed. The Bears were never involved in discussions with the ex-Steeler.

But the Bears have two holes to fill along their line. They need to replace left guard Ruben Brown and right tackle Fred Miller. The draft promises a handful of talented tackles, and the team interviewed Virginia guard Branden Albert at the combine, another projected first-round pick.

Mike Mulligan checked in this afternoon with some info for us.

The Bears are working to line up a visit with free-agent wide receiver Bryant Johnson. He could be at Halas Hall by early next week.

Any action for Lance?

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Hello.

Anyone out there for Lance Briggs?

The names keep dropping today, now a little more than 12 hours into free agency, and one we’re not hearing is Lance Briggs.

Profootballtalk.com reports that cornerback Asante Samuel has fled New England and will sign a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Adam Caplan of Scout.com and profootballtalk.com reported in the wee hours that linebacker Demorrio Williams would be making a free-agent visit to the Bears.

That information has been confirmed and his itinerary has been nailed down.

Williams is visiting with the Kansas City Chiefs today. He will travel to Tampa Bay where he will meet with the extremely busy Buccaneers on Monday, and Williams is expected to arrive at Halas Hall on Tuesday.

That’s provided he doesn’t strike a deal with the Chiefs or Bucs first. Tampa, armed with $44 million in available cap space when free agency, has been one of the league’s busiest teams. The Bucs have already reached agreements with center Jeff Faine and tight end John Gilmore and have several other players lined up for visits.

Shopping spree nuggets

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If you need running back Michael Turner to satisfy your free-agent needs, you’re going to have to wait.

Turner, according to Adam Schefter of the NFL Network, will visit the Atlanta Falcons.

The Bears are focusing on efforts to re-sign their own players and failed with tight end John Gilmore when it was learned this morning he is on his way to Tampa Bay to sign a three-year contract with the Buccaneers.

Wide receiver Bernard Berrian is visiting the Minnesota Vikings. They could put a full-court press on him. It’s tough to get up and walk out of the room if someone is continuing to throw money at you. If the Vikings’ bid for Berrian comes up short—and the Bears are hoping to get back in the action after not receiving a counter-proposal from agent Drew Rosenhaus last week—Minnesota is expected to turn its focus to Donte Stallworth. He is also represented by Rosenhaus.

Veteran tight end John Gilmore worked to negotiate a contract with the Bears this week.

When efforts failed, he turned to free agency and the interest he received bowled him over Thursday night.

It took tight end John Gilmore a couple weeks into free agency two years ago to start generating interest.

He's a more popular player on the open market this time around.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are reportedly working toward bringing him in for a visit.

Adam Caplan of Scout.com reports that free-agent linebacker Demorrio Williams has lined up a visit with the Bears.

Reports that the Niners were no longer interested in linebacker Lance Briggs appear founded.

San Francisco agreed to terms with another linebacker tonight, Dontarrious Thomas.

His jet does not get the publicity in NFL circles that Daniel Snyder’s does, but that doesn’t mean Zygi Wilf’s wings will not get it done.

The Minnesota Vikings sent Wilf’s personal aircraft to California Thursday night to pick up free-agent wide receiver Bernard Berrian, prompting one league insider to suggest a contract is already in place.

Berrian will meet with Vikings officials at the club’s Winter Park, Minn., facility Friday and a huge contract could be finalized before he leaves the building.

With the free-agent market for safeties thin and the draft class ``anemic’’ in the estimation of general manager Jerry Angelo, the Bears ensured they will not lose Brandon McGowan.

The club tendered the restricted free agent at the mid-level meaning he will be paid $1.412 million in 2008. It virtually guarantees no other team will attempt to sign him to an offer sheet because if the Bears declined to match it they would receive a second-round draft pick as compensation. No one is going to swap that for McGowan even though he did show solid improvement in the second half of the season starting at strong safety.

Free agency is open!

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You've made your wish list, you've checked it twice.

The NFL shopping season is upon us.

Looks like the Bears are waiting to see how the action unfolds for their own free agents -- wide receiver Bernard Berrian and linebacker Lance Briggs.

Check back as we offer details as soon as we gather them -- with a few hours taken off for a nap at some point.

Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who agreed to a contract with he Carolina Panthers on Wednesday, visited with Ray Buchanan on Fox Radio on Thursday.

Again, he said he was not a fit in the offense and pointed out the Bears are still trying to figure out what to do on offense.

RAY BUCHANAN: “Not too really burn a bridge with the Chicago Bears man, but what was it like not really being able to be yourself? I know the Moose that we’ve seen back in Carolina, but tell them what it was like actually being there with Chicago.”

You get a sense right about now how productive the Bears’ system of signing draft picks from the second round on down to four-year deals really is.

The Bears started with safety Todd Johnson, a four-round pick in 2003. When he agreed to a four-year contract, they told the remainder of their draft picks from that class that it was their policy to do that.

General manager Jerry Angelo and cap guru Cliff Stein have been successful every year since.

It means higher signing bonuses for the players because they are not doing three-year contracts. And it prevents them from becoming restricted free agents after three years. To compensate for that, the contracts have escalators built into the fourth year of the contracts.

With less than seven hours to go until the opening of free agency Bernard Berrian got a real boost.

Andre Davis’ four-year contract with the Houston Texans can only aid Berrian on the open market. Davis reportedly will be paid $4 million annually with the deal reaching $16 million and containing almost $8 million guaranteed.

If Davis, who made 33 receptions last season for 583 yards and three touchdowns, is worth almost $8 million guaranteed over five years, what is Berrian worth?

More.

San Francisco general manager Scot McCloughan fired back at charges by the Bears that the 49ers were guilty of tampering when it came to trying to work out a contract with linebacker Lance Briggs last season.

The Bears and Niners talked before the October trade deadline about a possible deal, and the Bears charged San Francisco with trying to work out a contract with agent Drew Rosenhaus at the time.

``There’s nothing to it,’’ McCloughan told Bay Area reporters Thursday. ``We have no response because there's nothing to respond to.

``I think it's maneuvering by an organization trying to find the best way to keep their guy. From our standpoint, there’s nothing to it. It doesn't mean we will or we won't go after him. It's something [the Bears] put out and we have no comment.’’

Players like nothing more than for other players to get paid.

They’re smart guys, you see, and they know the trickle down effect of one guy hitting the jackpot will eventually reach them.

Somewhere, Tommie Harris probably felt more of a waterfall than a trickle.

That’s because the Oakland Raiders made defensive tackle Tommy Kelly rich beyond his wildest imaginations on Thursday. Kelly, who played end previously for the Raiders, signed a $50.5 million, seven year contract on the eve of free agency. The deal brokered by agent Gary Wichard contains $18.125 million in guarantees and he will pocket a cool $25.125 million in the first three years.

Being a good soldier and keeping his mouth shut during two years was not enough for Brian Griese to earn his release from the Bears.

The team is going to try to trade him before his $300,000 roster bonus is due Tuesday. If they can’t find any takers by then, he will be released.

We know what the ground floor is for Bernard Berrian.

We also know he’s looking for something located closer to the penthouse.

The contract offer the Bears made to the wide receiver that he turned down included $8 million to sign and totaled $25 million over five years.

The Bears have another wide receiver to consider as a possibility to leave now.

Veteran Rashied Davis, a restricted free agent, was given the lowest qualifying offer of $927,000 on Wednesday. When free agency begins tonight, he will essentially have 45 days to shop himself around the league in search of an offer sheet. If Davis signs one, the Bears would have seven days to match it or lose him without receiving any compensation as he was not a draft pick.

The slot receiver might have some value for another organization. Mike Martz is looking for a host of receivers for his system in San Francisco, and Davis might fill the role of someone like Shaun McDonald well. Houston, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh could also potentially be in play for Davis.

Brendon Ayanbadejo received some good news from Minnesota on Wednesday.

While it’s unlikely the Vikings are planning to earmark any of their reported $30 million in available salary-cap space on the two-time Pro Bowl special teams performer, Ayanbadejo can take heart in the tender the team made its special teams ace Heath Farwell, who is a restricted free agent.

Minnesota tendered Farwell a one-year offer for $1.417 million, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Farwell is free to negotiate with other teams, but the Vikings would receive a second-round draft pick in compensation if they chose not to match an offer. In other words, Farwell is staying put. It bodes well for Ayanbadejo because it’s evidence a team is willing to pony up good money for a special teamer and reserve linebacker.

You can bet the Bears wish they had Justin Gage on the roster right now as they brace themselves for the possibility Bernard Berrian exits via free agency.

Gage, a fifth-round draft pick in 2003, never made it to the open market. He agreed to a four-year contract with the Tennessee Titans on Wednesday worth $14.5 million and including $6.5 million in guaranteed money. It is similar to the package Dallas gave Patrick Crayton earlier this year.

Unless the Bears are pulling a double reverse on us, the focus of the organization entering free agency will be on re-signing players who have already called Halas Hall home.

But if the Bears are going to look elsewhere for help at a position other than wide receiver, it could be safety.

No word yet on Griese

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A source close to the situation said that veteran quarterback Brian Griese has yet to hear from the Bears following the contract agreements with Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton.

Kyle Orton paid a visit with Mike North on WSCR-AM 670 on Wednesday morning.

Here are highlights of the conversation:

On his relationship with Rex Grossman

North: "How about the fact that you said you and Rex
get along, and you've known Rex now for 3 or 4 years
and he seems like a really good guy to me. You said
that you want to compete and that you're sure that Rex
wants to compete too...from one to ten, ten being a
strong relationship, one being no relationship at all.
Where would you put the number?"

Orton: "I don't know about a number. We've never had
an issue at work. We've never had an issue outside of
work. We're certainly not best friends outside of
work, we don't spend a lot of time together outside of
work, but we have a great relationship inside the
building."

Just as he signed with the Bears on the eve of free agency three years ago, Muhsin Muhammad has returned to the Carolina Panthers with the NFL’s shopping season about to return. Muhammad, who turns 35 in May, will get a two-year contract.

While it was difficult to justify his salary-cap figure of more than $3.3 million with the Bears, the organization is going to have an even harder time justifying the depth chart if general manager Jerry Angelo cannot strike in free agency. Keeping wide receiver Bernard Berrian is a top priority, and it will be interesting to see how the market unfolds for him. Most view Berrian as a very solid No. 2 receiver. But he has contract wishes that are more in line with a No. 1 receiver.

Phone lines and fax machines will begin lighting up in 36 hours when free agency opens.

The Bears will tender one-year offers to wide receiver Rashied Davis and safety Brandon McGowan before then. Those will likely be made today before Thursday's deadline.

General manager Jerry Angelo is hoping linebacker Lance Briggs, wide receiver Bernard Berrian and special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo determine that the grass is greener in Lake Forest after they dip their toes into free agency.

Kyle Orton Q&A

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Minutes after signing his name to his one-year contract extension, Kyle Orton visited with media in a teleconference from Halas Hall Tuesday afternoon.

HOW MUCH DID STARTING IN THE FINAL THREE GAMES OF 2007 HELP YOU?

KO: Just my attitude, it made the offseason a lot easier and just left a little bit better taste in my mouth and I’m obviously ready to get back to work and excited to get back and compete.

DID THEY HAVE TO CONVINCE YOU THIS WOULD BE A REAL COMPETITION WITH REX?

KO: Obviously, I wouldn’t have signed the deal if I didn’t think that. Like I said, I’m excited for this year. I think I’ve got a great opportunity here, I’ve got great teammates around me that I know and I am just ready to get back to work.

The Boston Globe reports safety Eugene Wilson, and Illinois product, will reach the free-agent market.

The Globe also says ex-Bears linebacker Rosevelt Colvin will hit the market as his salary-cap figure is too high. He is expected to be released. Colvin missed the Super Bowl with a broken bone in his foot.

Four days at the combine and a flurry of activity since has left the in box stuffed with some good questions. So we’ll do our best to tie up some loose ends before moving toward free agency, which opens at 11 p.m. Thursday.

The action should be furious from the start. So many teams have an abundance of salary-cap room and the agents are going to prey on this, working one deal against another to score top dollar for their clients in the first two to three days. It will be a whirlwind of activity with the Bears doing their best to monitor linebacker Lance Briggs, wide receiver Bernard Berrian, special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo and don’t forget about tight end John Gilmore.


Q: It would be nice to have some follow up on how Shane Longest, the local Saint Xavier University kicker performed at the combine. How did he do?

Ron C., Chicago

A: Most workouts, including those for punters and kickers, are closed to the media. So, I tracked down a scout who was in attendance and got his take on Longest’s day last week. He wasn’t overly encouraging.

``He didn’t have a good workout,’’ the scout said. ``He’s a combination guy, he tried to do both, and he’s not a punter. If he makes an NFL team, it will be as a kicker. But he’s got a long way to go. It seemed like he was nervous and it was a bit too big for him. He just looked nervous as hell. He missed two out of three extra points when he first started out. But he settled down, I can say that. At the end, he made all three 50-yard field goals. He’s got a ways to go.’’

Don’t bet on an old-guard organization like the Bears jumping behind the idea of commissioner Roger Goodell to reseed the playoffs.

Goodell discussed a possible change at the Super Bowl in which wild-card teams could have a home game in the first round of the playoffs if they have a better record than a division winner. In the case of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, it would have meant they would have been at home for their wild-card round game with Tampa Bay. Instead, the Buccaneers as the champs of the NFC South hosted the Giants (10-6) even though they had a worse record at 9-7.

Under this plan, Jacksonville (11-5) also would have hosted Pittsburgh (10-6) even though the Jaguars were a wild card and the Steelers claimed the AFC North.

One thought is that by doing so it will make more games in Weeks 16 and 17 meaningful, and thus create more interest in the league, etc.

This isn’t a weighted competition.

The one-year contract Rex Grossman agreed to on Saturday has the same elements as the one-year extension Kyle Orton agreed to Monday night.

The money in the deals is identical for the quarterbacks, just spread a little differently because Orton is now under contract through 2009.

Quarterback Kyle Orton is the next player to cash in on the Bears' plan to re-sign and extend their own players.

He agreed to a one-year extension Monday night that will keep him in place through 2009.

The Sun-Times reported Sunday that a deal was nearly finalized. Orton is the third player in as many days to agree to a deal, following quarterback Rex Grossman and tight end Desmond Clark.

INDIANAPOLIS—Gloomy with a chance of there being some coach killers.

That’s how one veteran quarterbacks coach summed up the workouts by the passers Sunday in the RCA Dome. No position draws more scrutiny than the quarterback, and he’s the guy that often times the fate of offensive coordinators, head coaches and general managers are tied to, like it or not.

The coach we talked to after he was done surveying the action sounded like a man who wants no part with any of the Class of 2008. He shared his assessment of the action:

``Awful. This is the worst I have seen. There were a lot of bad football players on that field.

The details of Desmond Clark’s two-year contract extension are in.

Clark, who was entering the final year of his contract, is signed through 2010 now as he receives $5 million in new money.

Ex-Bears wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad could be reuniting with his former team the Carolina Panthers.

Profootballtalk.com reports that Moose is close to a deal that would return the 34-year-old to the only other franchise he has played for.

The Bears continued to get business done at the combine as tight end Desmond Clark has agreed to a two-year extension that will keep him in place through 2010.

Clark has been durable in five seasons with the Bears, and was to enter the final year of the $9 million, six-year contract he signed in 2003.

INDIANAPOLIS—The Bears’ offseason plan to spend money on their own extends beyond Bernard Berrian, Lance Briggs and Brendon Ayanbadejo.

In fact, it goes well beyond efforts to re-sign the three players who will be free agents when the clock strikes 11 p.m. on Thursday.

Quarterback Rex Grossman agreed to the terms of a one-year extension which could be worth nearly $5 million on Saturday.

Next up?

Looks like quarterback Kyle Orton will be paid. He is believed to be on the verge of receiving a two-year extension, and an announcement could come in the next few days for the former fourth-round draft pick.

INDIANAPOLIS—In the event you were counting on the Bears to get involved in the Alan Faneca sweepstakes, count them out.

As the Bears’ plan for free agency begins to unfold with the team ramping up efforts to use the $30 million in salary-cap room on its own players, it’s become evident they don’t have large dollars earmarked for players who will be in the marketplace that have come from other teams. So you can effectively cross Faneca, the perennial Pro Bowl guard from Pittsburgh, and San Diego running back Michael Turner off your wish list if they were on there.

``I haven’t heard any name attached to the Bears in free agency in three days down here,’’ said one prominent agent. ``There’s absolutely no buzz about them. They’re all about their own guys.’’

INDIANAPOLIS—General manager Jerry Angelo took time out in between his schedule of meeting with agents and Bears personnel to assess the contract agreement in place for quarterback Rex Grossman Saturday afternoon, as well as other semi-related topics.

The transcript from the press conference:

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON RE-SIGNING REX?

JA: “We’re real happy about it. As I said when we last talked, that we felt this was the best place for Rex, and in talking to Rex’s agent, they felt that too, given that they bantered some other things back and forth, but in the end they felt like we did: This is the best place for him. It gives him the best chance to do the things that he wants to do. We decided on a one-year deal. It served everybody’s best interest. Certainly he’s looking at the monetary value.”

“We felt as he did that would be in his best interest. I know that the monetary part of it as I said played a role into this. We thought that this would serve in that best interest. He really wanted to come back here and do the things that he set out to do, and we were happy to hear that. And as I said to you before, we wanted Rex back because Rex wanted to be back, and by coming back before free agency started, that this is the place where he wanted to be. So good news and we’re real happy that we were able to get it done as quickly as we did.”

INDIANAPOLIS—Rex Grossman will be paid a base salary of $3 million this coming season per the contract his agent agreed to with the Bears at noon local time.

The deal includes incentives totaling a little less than $2 million that are easily attainable according to his agent Eugene Parker, provided Grossman is the starter.

INDIANAPOLIS—Rex Grossman is coming back to the Bears.

The quarterback agreed to terms on a one-year contract Saturday morning, meaning he and Kyle Orton will battle to be the starting quarterback.

The Sun-Times reported Saturday morning that a deal was imminent. The contract includes incentives based on play time and performance.

Combine: Drew holds a pow-wow

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INDIANAPOLIS—Nothing has generated more excitement this morning than an impromtu hallway press conference held by none other than Drew Rosenhaus. Primarily, he discussed the signing of his client Zach Thomas with the Dallas Cowboys, but the Bears came up as well.

Rosenhaus reiterated what he told the Sun-Times Friday, that he is engaged in ongoing discussions with the Bears in regards to impending free agents Bernard Berrian, Lance Briggs and Brendon Ayanbadejo.

INDIANAPOLIS—The Sun-Times reports that the Bears will reach an agreement on a one- or two-year contract with quarterback Rex Grossman soon, perhaps as early as today.

General manager Jerry Angelo met with agent Eugene Parker multiple times on Friday at the NFL scouting combine, and a deal is expected soon.

Check here for details.


INDIANAPOLIS—Teams are allotted 60 interviews at the combine, a 15-minute opportunity to probe the mind of potential draft picks.

The Bears kicked off theirs on Thursday by meeting with two offensive linemen—Boise State tackle Ryan Clady and Virginia guard Branden Albert. Both are juniors who came out early and thus were unavailable at the Senior Bowl.

INDIANAPOLIS—It was during the late dinner hour at the combine in 2002 that the Bears put the finishing touches on a contract for a quarterback, agreeing to a pact with Jim Miller.

The team is seeking to get a deal in place for Rex Grossman here, and will meet with his agent Eugene Parker starting this morning. General manager Jerry Angelo revealed Thursday that the team has presented the player with a contract offer already, but would not say whether it was a one- or multi-year contract.

INDIANAPOLIS—The NFL is looking into whether or not the San Francisco 49ers engaged in tampering by discussing a contract with the agent of Bears linebacker Lance Briggs during the past season.

Yahoo Sports reports that the league is investigating the circumstances surrounding the Niners’ alleged negotiations with Drew Rosenhaus on a contract for Briggs during the 2007 season. If San Francisco is found guilty of such a charge, the organization could be fined or stripped of a draft pick.


The Bears have a need to stabilize the nose tackle position next to Tommie Harris this offseason. It was a revolving door of players next to the Pro Bowler last season, starting with Dusty Dvoracek, moving to Darwin Walker, then Anthony Adams and back to Walker before rookie Matt Toeaina got a turn.

But is that position a greater need than finding some help at safety where there were four starters for two positions -- Mike Brown, Danieal Manning, Brandon McGowan and Adam Archuleta?

The Bears have made the decision they want to re-sign three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs to a longterm contract.

If their price matches what he is seeking remains to be seen.

The club is comfortable with writing a big check, though.

INDIANAPOLIS—Under the cover of the scouting combine, the Bears announced they will be raising ticket prices across the board in Soldier Field for the 2008 season.

The press release follows:

INDIANAPOLIS—Yes, Miami's Kenny Phillips is a top talent at safety and most project he will be selected in the first round.

Don't look for a lot of top-tier talent after him. Bears general manager Jerry Angelo gave a broad overview of the draft and called safety "anemic."

Obviously, the Bears are in need of some help at the position. It's unlikely they would use the 14th pick on Phillips at this point, although Angelo did not address that possibility.

INDIANAPOLIS—Coach Lovie Smith said earlier in the day that he hoped veteran Mike Brown would have a role this coming season, and general manager Jerry Angelo backed that up.

Brown, who turned 30 earlier this month, has missed 43 of the last 64 regular-season games with injuries. He tore the ACL in his left knee in the season opener at San Diego, and is entering the final year of his contract.

The biggest news out of a 45-minute sitdown with GM Jerry Angelo is that WR Bernard Berrian will not have the franchise or transition tag placed on him. The deadline for tagging players is 3 p.m. today.

LOVIE SMITH

OPENING REMARKS

After a disappointing season as you look at the body of the work I was excited the way we were able to finish the last couple of games and beat a couple of good football teams. I feel like that started hopefully our climb back on top for the 2008 season. Since then, for the most part, we have been able to keep our coaching staff in place. We’ve lost one coach, we’ll probably end up losing two coaches, but I feel like we have someone in place to fill all of those positions. Then from there it is about our personnel, No. 1 trying to keep as many of our core players as possible, which hopefully we’ll be able to do. We have a couple issues with that, but we feel like we’re making progress with some of them. And we’ve had to release a couple players that have meant a lot to our ballclub, guys like Fred Miller, Muhsin Muhammad, Darwin Walker, players that played a big part in what we did this past year. But with the new year change comes about. We feel excited about the direction we are going. Of course it is always good to come down to the combine. You feel like you get a chance to look at some other players that will be a part of your ballclub the next year. So, that’s where we are, I’ll take your questions.

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO BRING BERNARD BERRIAN BACK?

It’s very important. Players that you’ve brought up, we drafted Bernard, we’ve seen him grow as a person, of course as a player. He’s a very good football player. He’s a 1 receiver. It’s important. Hopefully we can find a way to keep him in Chicago.

IS IT VIABLE TO TAG BERRIAN?

Well, of course we are keeping all options open. Right now, as much as anything, I am just interested in us trying to find a way, however we have to do it to keep him there.

ASSESS YOUR QB SITUATION CURRENTLY?

Well, right now, just like most of our ballclub, we weren’t happy with everything that happened this past year. But right now Rex Grossman is an unrestricted free agent who is out there. We of course would like for him to come back, along with our two other quarterbacks we have right now. Every position we’re trying to improve right now. That’s where we are with the quarterback position and again hopefully we can stabilize it a little bit more coming up.

IS THE WINDOW STILL OPEN FOR YOU TO COMPETE FOR THE SUPER BOWL OR ARE YOU REBUILDING?

Well, we’re definitely not rebuilding. As far as Super Bowl window, it was a long time ago it seems like we played in the Super Bowl. But we like the core of our team still. I feel like we’re close. It’s a fine line between winning and losing. This past season it went the other way for us. The Super Bowl champion New York Giants had an excellent year, we were right in it with them right up until the end. So we feel like we are close. We’ll make a few changes which you do normally and go from there.

DO YOU HAVE MORE HOLES TO FILL NOW THAN A YEAR AGO?

Again, that’s a long time ago thinking about what we talked about then. I know we do have a few things we do need to get taken care of right now though. But I feel like the good part about, I guess not being in the playoffs, is you get a chance to start the process a little bit quicker which we’ve been able to do. It’s been a while, we missed the last couple of Senior Bowls, we were down there watching them this year. So we have some holes but we feel like we are making progress.

HOW DO YOU VIEW THE LANCE BRIGGS SITUATION RIGHT NOW?

Well, just like I said with Bernard, my entire time in Chicago I have been with Lance Briggs. He’s been an All-Pro player for us, how many teams would like to see an all-pro go somewhere else? So, I’m optimistic. My glass is half-full always. Hopefully, that will be the case. I know we have made statements, we realize when you have a player out there like Lance a lot of teams want him. We’re one of them that do.

DO YOU SEE MIKE BROWN RETURNING FOR 2008?

We sure do. Mike is another part of the core. Even though he has missed a lot of games, Mike means quite a bit. I’m a big Mike Brown fan. I always have been. Yes, we would definitely like to have Mike back with us.

INDIANAPOLIS—Brief highlights from the remarks made by Lovie Smith:

1. He reiterated the club's desire to re-sign Rex Grossman.

2. He had optimism about the club's attempts to re-sign other impending free agents, including WR Bernard Berrian and LB Lance Briggs.

3. He said he wants S Mike Brown back for 2008.

INDIANAPOLIS—The Bears wasted little time in filling their coaching vacancy.

Chris Tabor will sign a contract later today as the new assistant special teams coach, replacing Kevin O’Dea, who left Wednesday to become the special teams coach for the New York Jets.

Kevin O’Dea didn’t waste any time getting started as the special teams coach for the New York Jets.

Head coach Eric Mangini called to tell him Tuesday he was hiring him, that the contract would be signed in Indianapolis at the combine. O’Dea, who assisted Bears special teams coach Dave Toub the past two seasons, got some congratulatory calls from long snapper Pat Mannelly, punter Brad Maynard and kicker Robbie Gould, and was out the door to the combine.

He interviewed kickers, punters and long snappers tonight at the combine, getting back to his hotel room after 11 in Indianapolis. He’ll be driving to New York from there on Friday.

Lovie Smith will address the national media at 9 a.m. from the combine in Indianapolis tomorrow.

General manager Jerry Angelo will have an informal visit a few hours later. Plenty of questions will be answered by both men.

Check back for updates through the day Thursday and through the weekend as we dig up all we can find in regards to free agency and the draft.

The Bears just got some more work to do this weekend at the combine.

They need to replace an assistant coach as Kevin O’Dea, the No. 2 special teams coach, has left to take over the top position with the New York Jets.


The ramifications of Black Monday, when the Bears cut ties with three veteran starters in right tackle Fred Miller, wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad and defensive tackle Darwin Walker, will be felt ultimately when the team begins signing players in free agency. General manager Jerry Angelo is trying to do that before the market opens at 11 p.m. Feb. 28 in pursuing linebacker Lance Briggs, wide receiver Bernard Berrian and special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo, who will all be unrestricted free agents. He’s also offered a contract to defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who is entering the final year of his contract.

Here is exactly what the Bears saved in the salary cap by cutting these players:

A source close to the situation said Marty Booker has left New England without being offered a contract by the Patriots.

Muhsin Muhammad perfected the art of walking a fine line when it came to criticizing his quarterback like a good receiver knows how to get his feet down along the sideline during his three seasons with th Bears.

Signed to be a big-play receiver in 2005, that never really materialized here and he let his frustration with Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman and Brian Griese be known from time to time.

Muhammad, who was released on Monday with three years remaining on his contract, produced 164 receptions for 2,183 yards and 12 touchdowns while enduing six changes in starting quarterbacks. That’s hardly the turnover the team has seen in other recent seasons. For his efforts, he was paid $16.27 million.

He suggested in an interview Tuesday on WMVP AM-1000 that there will be multiple options for him in free agency. He also walked the line in criticizing offensive coordinator Ron Turner.

``I still have a lot of football left in me,’’ he told the station. ``Everything feels good.’’

He did not say if the surgery Brian Urlacher had on his neck last month was a contributing factor in the Bears’ decision to make a final contract push for the services of three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, but Jerry Angelo became the first member of the organization to speak on the medical issue publicly through the team’s PR machine on chicagobears.com.

``We feel good about the prognosis and what the doctors have told us about Brian’s surgery and that he’s going to be 100 percent healthy,’’ Angelo said. ``He continues to go through the rehab process, which is going well. It’s a concern anytime a player has surgery. But we feel good that he’s going to be back and going. Nobody’s said anything to the contrary, and we’ll just go from there.’’

It’s interesting to consider what the extension of Alex Brown and commitment of $5 million up front to him means for fellow defensive end Dan Bazuin.

The second-round draft pick never got going last season as an ankle injury in rookie minicamp eventually led to him being placed on injured reserve and then surgery. Bazuin is fully recovered, but he was supposed to be the man to replace Brown. Remember, general manager Jerry Angelo was working to trade Brown heading into the draft last April and there looked to be a deal with Seattle.

The Bears are not going to give up on their own stars. Not without a final effort.

That became obvious Monday when it was discovered the release of three starters from last season and extension of defensive end Alex Brown was not the only business going on at Halas Hall. Along with dispatching right tackle Fred Miller, wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad and defensive tackle Darwin Walker, the Bears have made contract offers to linebacker Lance Briggs, wide receiver Bernard Berrian, defensive tackle Tommie Harris and special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo.

Harris is signed through 2008. The others are set to become unrestricted free agents and general manager Jerry Angelo wants to start his free-agent shopping with his own. All four offers are under consideration, and all four players are represented by Miami-based power broker Drew Rosenhaus. If the Bears meet with success they could build some real momentum at the scouting combine in Indianapolis later this week, a place the organization looked so foolish last year.

The deadline for clubs to place the franchise tag on a player is 3 p.m. Thursday, and it could be leverage the Bears have when it comes to negotiating with wide receiver Bernard Berrian after the team offered him an extension. Most players aren’t happy with the tag, and linebacker Lance Briggs sure was not last year. Berrian and Briggs are both represented by agent Drew Rosenhaus, who also works for defensive tackle Tommie Harris and special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo, the four players the Bears are working to re-sign.

Rosenhaus has had clients in the past who have been tagged and it has not been an issue. It would cost $7.848 million.

Another deadline is looming as well, as Feb. 28 is the deadline for the submission of qualifying offers to restricted free agents such as safety Brandon McGowan and wide receiver Rashied Davis. Chances are the Bears will submit offers to both players. Because neither was drafted by the team—McGowan was an undrafted free agent and Davis was signed away from the Arena League—the Bears cannot receive draft pick compensation for losing them at the low tender level of $927,000.

A week before the Super Bowl, Alex Brown had an inkling something might happen with the Bears in his favor.

But he said he was serious about the disappointment in his contract and the fact that he lost his starting job at about this time last year to Mark Anderson. If something wasn’t worked out, he was going to show the team how upset he was by skipping the offseason workout program and in turn having to write a big check back to the team for failing to participate.

It won’t come to that, not after the veteran defensive end signs a two-year extension worth up to $15.5 million today when he arrives from Puerto Rico.

That was quick.

Paul Edinger’s stay with the Rush of the Arena League lasted only a week as it was announced he was released Monday evening.

Booker to visit Boston

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The New England Patriots tried to get Marty Booker on a plane to Boston last week.

The wide receiver wanted to wait and see if there was a possibility something with his former team the Bears might open up after being released by the Miami Dolphins Feb. 11.

As we pointed out here earlier today, it’s apparent that is not going to happen, not even after Monday’s release of veteran wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad. So Booker is headed to visit the Patriots Tuesday as reported by the Boston Globe’s Mike Reiss.

Bears confirm Miller let go

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The Bears confirmed RT Fred Miller has been released.

He was due a $500,000 roster bonus on March 4 and had a base salary of $4 million for 2008.

Now more than ever you know they will be eyeing an offensive tackle in the first two rounds of the draft, perhaps with the 14th pick of the first round.

DT Walker next to go

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Defensive tackle Darwin Walker’s $5.2 million roster bonus was far too much for the team to consider paying.

Thus, the veteran was released on Monday in another of the team’s moves. Walker battled knee, elbow and wrist injuries for most of the season after being acquired at the start of training camp from the Buffalo Bills for a fifth-round pick.

RT Miller will be released

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The offseason purging continues.

The Bears are going to release right tackle Fred Miller. He had two years remaining on his contract and was due a $500,000 roster bonus on March 4 with a base salary of $4 million.

Don’t link the release of wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad with the arrival of Marty Booker.

Just because Muhammad is gone does not mean the Bears are going to re-sign Booker, who was let go by the Miami Dolphins last week.

Alex Brown gets new contract

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The release of wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad wasn’t the only business the Bears conducted with agent Joel Segal on Monday.

The club also signed defensive end Alex Brown to an extension through 2011.

Bears cut Moose

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Muhsin Muhammad is no longer a Bear.

It could be that the return of Rex Grossman is down to just a little negotiating.

General manager Jerry Angelo, who has not spoken to assembled media since four days after the season ended, reiterated his desire to see the former first-round pick return in comments made public on the organization’s Web site.

``We would definitely like to have Rex back,’’ he said. ``We’ve talked internally, and at some point we will visit with him and see if we can create a situation that’s workable for all of us. We’ve invested a lot in Rex, and we see him competing for the starting position.

``Given the familiarity that he has with our system and us with him, there’s no downside. He’s been a good soldier for us in terms of whatever role we’ve asked him to play, particularly this past season. We feel that having him in the mix makes us a better football team.’’

Ruben Brown has not talked to Brian Urlacher about the neck surgery the middle linebacker recently underwent.

He has heard it wasn’t as serious as the surgery Brown had on his neck midway through the 2004 season. That’s a good thing.

``Mine wasn’t a big deal, either,’’ Brown said Thursday. ``Mike Alstott had it done, a lot of guys had it done. I don’t know what Urlacher had, but it isn’t even similar to mine. Mine was a pretty serious fusion. His is way less, way less.’’

One turned 36 on Wednesday and will not be returning to the Bears.

The other reached 30 on the same day, and his future remains very much up in the air.

Both had their 2007 seasons ended by injury. Both still want to play football.

``It was great,’’ the elder Ruben Brown said Thursday afternoon. ``I got a call yesterday from Mike [Brown] and he wished me a happy birthday. It was his birthday too. Man, I hope they bring him back. He’s such good person on and off the field.’’

The Bears are expected to wrap up their organizational meetings today at Halas Hall, and the decisions reached will shape the offseason. General manager Jerry Angelo said last month he couldn’t count on Mike Brown, the safety, for 2008 after he’s missed 43 of the last 64 regular-season games. He didn’t say Mike Brown, who has one year remaining on his contract, was out of his plans.

It didn’t take Chris Harris too terribly long after being traded to the Carolina Panthers at the start of training camp to realize the move was the best thing for his career.

A sixth-round pick by the Bears in 2005, Harris was going to a team that really wanted him. Castoff players in camp get dealt for conditional draft picks, often times seventh rounders. Carolina forked over a fifth to the Bears, which helped them replace the one they gave up to acquire defensive tackle Darwin Walker, and that showed a commitment to Harris.

Pete Prisco broke down the free-agent class that will be upon us soon, and Mike Mayock of the NFL Network has checked in with his rankings for the April draft.

He puts Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan atop the heap. It will be interesting to see what Bill Parcells does in Miami with the Dolphins owning the No. 1 pick. They’ve already made it know the pick is in play and available for trade.

On your mark, get set, shop!

Most view the upcoming free agency period as a little underwhelming overall, but that doesn’t mean there are not some star players available for the right price.

Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com breaks it down here with an interesting take on the top 32 available players. He makes the strong point that the Bears are not the only team in great position in terms of the salary cap.

According to Prisco, 18 teams will have $20 million or more in available cap room, the Bears included. All of that room could mean hot bidding early and produce some whopper contracts like cornerback Nate Clements scored last March from San Francisco.

Marty Booker Q&A

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Marty Booker checked in on Tuesday, a day after the Miami Dolphins let him go. He’s upbeat about being a free agent even though he was due to earn $4.3 million in the final year of the $28 million, seven-year contract he signed with the Bears in June 2002.

``I cleaned it up,’’ he said. ``And that’s hard to do these days, to make it to the back end of your contract. I’m gracious for having done that.’’

Here is what Booker had to say:

Q: You knew you would probably be released, but with the Dolphins making you free now is it actually a good thing that you get to pick your next employer?

Booker: That’s the good part about this and then also, the free-agent market for receivers is not big like it has been the last couple years. That is so big [I’m free to sign now] because I get to sit down, pick and choose, weigh out everything and see which team gives me the best opportunity. I’m not locked into `I have to be with this team.’ I’ve got a jump on the game.

The Bears kicked off free agency in 2005 by signing wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad before the market opened.

The veteran had been released by the Carolina Panthers in a salary-cap move just before the end of the league year, and as a vested veteran he was free to negotiate before the free agency actually opened.

Marty Booker, the ex-Bear, is in a position to find himself a new home in advance of free agency, which will begin at 11:01 p.m. on Feb. 28. He can shop his services around before the bidding begins for players like Bernard Berrian. Booker is the last Bears receiver to go over 1,000 yards in a season. He is also the only Bears receiver since Dick Gordon in 1972 to go to the Pro Bowl, representing the Bears following the 2002 season.

The Bears will not be planning a trip to the White House like the Super Bowl XLII champion New York Giants, but that doesn’t mean Roberto Garza will not be rubbing shoulders with world leaders.

Garza will meet Felipe Calderon, the president of Mexico, this afternoon at Lawndale High School. Garza is among a little more than a dozen Mexican-Americans currently active in the NFL, and he grew up in Rio Hondo, Texas, a border town his parents emigrated to from Mexico before he was born. His grandfather still lives in Mexico running a family farm. Garza is expected to be bearing personalized No. 63 Bears jerseys as gifts.

It’s a good thing for Lawrence Tynes he nailed that 47-yard field goal in overtime to topple the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game last month.

The New York Giants are close to signing Tynes to a $7 million, five-year contract, the New York Daily News reported.

You’d better believe the news has reached Robbie Gould, who is entering the final year of his contract. Tynes, who missed two earlier kicks against the Packers, was set to be an unrestricted free agent Feb. 29.

Paul Edinger is back. The ex-Bears kicker was signed by the Rush today and will compete in training camp with incumbent Dan Frantz.

Edinger has been out of the league since 2005, when he kicked for the Minnesota Vikings. He’s had a few tryouts here and there, most recently last April with the New York Giants, but otherwise it’s been odd as his name hasn’t surfaced. Typically, veteran kickers don’t go away, they go from city to city.

``Since (last playing), I’ve been doing a lot of fishing and wondering if I’d ever get another chance,’’ he told the Sun-Times’ Lacy Banks earlier today.

Even after he was gone, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo occasionally referred to him as ``our Marty Booker.’’

That spoke to the level of affection Angelo and many in the organization had for Booker, who was dealt to the Miami Dolphins weeks before the start of the 2004 season for defensive end Adewale Ogunleye.

The Bears can take a shot at bringing Booker back to the Bears after the Dolphins made him one of nine cuts by new team president Bill Parcells on Monday. Also released were quarterback Trent Green and defensive tackle Keith Traylor, another ex-Bear.

The Bears are No. 1 again.

While far from that lofty position in the standings, the team ranked tops again in the league in special teams in the rankings released today by Dallas Morning News football writer Rick Gosselin.

Gosselin has been crunching the numbers since 1980 when he got the formula from Frank Gansz, then the special teams coach for the Kansas City Chiefs and later their head coach.

The teams are ranked from 1 to 32 in 22 categories ... getting one for being the best and 32 for being the worst. The Bears wound up with 236.5 points, 5.5 ahead of San Diego. It’s the second consecutive year Dave Toub’s unit has finished on top, in large part due to return man Devin Hester, who will compete in the Pro Bowl later today along with special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo.

PHOENIX—Tommie Harris underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee during January, a source at Super Bowl XLII said Saturday, but the defensive tackle is well enough to be out and about the Valley of the Sun.

GLENDALE, Ariz.—The second to final game of the season will go down later today at University of Phoenix Stadium in Super Bowl XLII.

The Pro Bowl will conclude the 2007 season next Sunday in Honolulu. Bears linebacker Lance Briggs (hip) and defensive tackle Tommie Harris (arthroscopic surgery on his left knee) have backed out of the all-star game, but return specialist Devin Hester and special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo will be there to represent the organization. Maybe Hester can pick the brains of some of the best receivers in the game while he is there and get a few plays in on offense.

It’s expected that Briggs has played his final game wearing a Bears helmet. Agent Drew Rosenhaus said last week that it was simply a precautionary measure for Briggs to remove himself from the game. He expects his client to be in top shape when free agency opens Feb. 29, and he’ll have to pass a physical to get the big-money contract he has been seeking.

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