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.
-- Obviously, it’s a little surprising there has not been more news regarding three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs. Most considered New England cornerback Asante Samuel and Briggs to be the jewels of the free market, and Samuel did not take long to cash in with the Philadelphia Eagles.
I suspect one holdup for Briggs has been the fact that San Francisco and Washington—two teams most figured would be among the top bidders for his services—are not approaching him. Just remember, it can all change with one short phone call. The absence of a bidding war enhances the Bears’ chances of re-signing him and it could be they are down to only the New Orleans Saints in competition for him.
-- Here is a name to keep in mind if the Bears are unable to lure wide receiver Bernard Berrian back—D.J. Hackett.
Hackett played in only six regular-season games last year, hampered by a lingering sprained right ankle, and produced only 32 receptions for 384 yards and three touchdowns. He’d probably come at a better price than Javon Walker or Donte Stallworth and he has more speed than Bryant Johnson, who the team is exploring bringing in for a visit.
-- I no longer require any evidence to lead me to believe the Bears will make a concerted effort to restructure the contract of return specialist Devin Hester before the middle of the 2008 season. Seeing the money that has been handed out—the Kelly deal, $37.5 million in Tampa Bay for center Jeff Faine, and $39 million in Oakland for safety Gibril Wilson—you don’t need to do a lot of math to realize some teams are cringing while shopping on the open market.
It used to be clubs would be proactive and approach players during the their final season under contract.
``Hey, we’ll give you a nice signing bonus now so you don’t have to wait until March. You like playing here. We’d like to have you longer. Sign on the dotted line.’’
Then, clubs began going to players before they entered their final season. It’s how the Bears signed cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher last summer. It’s what they tried to accomplish with Berrian at the same time, and Briggs the year before prior to the ugly little business of franchise tagging him.
With the salary cap climbing and the market being redefined each offseason, players and agents alike are driven to wait it out until free agency. It’s why general manager Jerry Angelo explained in the fall you see fewer and fewer deals being done in midseason. Hester would be immensely popular in free agency, and more so if he develops as a receiver this year.
The Bears would figure to approach the former second-round pick soon about a deal with two years remaining on his rookie contract. It’s safe to say Hester’s party will want more than the $4 million Andre Davis’ deal averages annually in Houston. Davis is known as a returner and third receiver.
-- The beginning of free agency is for everyone now. A blocking tight end in John Gilmore and a kicker in Josh Brown both got deals completed on the first day. It used to be the opening days of free agency were reserved for skilled position players, cornerbacks and those who can rush the passer.
I'll let my laptop take a break. Until the phone rings again.