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 club was stumbling through efforts to reach agreement with coach Lovie Smith on a new contract during the combine last February when agent Frank Bauer ripped the team. There were other moves being made on the coaching staff, and the shaky beginning to an offseason coming off Super Bowl XLI proved to be an omen for a rocky season to come.
If Angelo manages to re-sign all four players—and a meeting is in the works at the combine with agent Eugene Parker about a new contract for quarterback Rex Grossman—many of the club’s offseason questions could be answered before free agency opens at 11 p.m. Feb. 28. It would also bring in to focus the draft, where the Bears are expected to choose an offensive tackle in the first two rounds.
Miller might have another season of decent football left in him after undergoing surgery on his right ankle. His agent Harold Lewis indicated he expects his client to receive serious looks in a thin market. The Bears had to get a young tackle, really something they probably should have done before this year, and Miller’s play had slipped at 34.
Muhammad also can remain productive but it’s questionable whether anyone will view him as a starter. He’s closing in on 10,000 yards for his career and can help a team needing a possession receiver. His departure probably has as much to do with the need for Devin Hester and Mark Bradley to blossom as anything. Muhammad was going to pocket $2.1 million this season, not an overwhelming figure.
``The Bears did this at a time which allows Moose to catch on with another team,’’ agent Joel Segal said. ``We appreciate that. Any time a guy who has had a prolific career like Moose gets released, it’s a surprise. But he’s still playing at a high level and he looks forward to his next opportunity.’’
By the end of the season, the Bears preferred Anthony Adams to Walker at defensive tackle. Adams suffered an arm injury, but should be healed during the offseason program and the real hope is Dusty Dvoracek will remain healthy. Look for the team to address defensive tackle, however, through free agency or the draft.